Download the Froh Aussicht article from the September/October 2012 issue of Sculpture Magazine: froh Aussicht article
There are many examples of art projects using the natural landscape, of course going back to the Land Art movement of the late 60s and 70s, with artists not only locating their work in nature but utilizing the environment as material, as an existential part of the work.
But there is a new trend taking place in Switzerland with art projects and sculptures being placed and exhibited in the large expanses of the rural areas, thus creating a new way of viewing and appreciating art. It is helpful to this strategy that people in Switzerland are very physically active, and around any given village or small settlement you will see people with Nordic walking sticks making their way through the green expanse of neighbouring fields for a nice afternoon hike. This strategy gives a new meaning to the concept of public art and its public…
“Since we began this project, we have had about ten or more local people stopping by daily to check out the artwork on their way to the woods for their regular walks, and this is really new,” says Martin Blum, the founder of Froh Aussicht, a working farm in Canton Zurich which he has also turned into a sculpture garden since 2008.
The project began when Martin met a student at the University of Basel who, knowing about his farm, and about his interest to start an exhibiting venue there, approached him with the idea of using it for a temporary installation. In the first year two temporary projects were developed and installed: Heavy Cloud by Mia Marfurt, a part of a brick wall inserted into the grazing field of Froh Aussicht’s cows, commenting on the construction development surrounding the farm and its encroachment on the natural landscape, and a study by the collective Airtrain, whose practice is between public art and performance. Ironically, Heavy Cloud had to be removed in 2010 because it itself was an intervention in the land, and according to Swiss authorities, despite it being private property, it was not safe for the land. Thus another layer is added to the question of what is private and what is public.
Every year since then, Martin Blum, who is also a practicing artist and farmer, has supported the installation of two projects. The New York-based Swiss artist Christophe Dräger created an electrical maze based on the one in the movie The Shining for the same grazing cows. The grass underneath the electrical wires grew while the rest was eaten by the cows during the four month duration. Amazingly, the labyrinth that was formed in true Land Art fashion was visible from space at the end of the four months. Other artists also integrated the space of the farm and its resources within their projects. Their interventions were direct responses to the land and the concerns around that very particular space, while others also used the land as a material.
Yet in 2010 a new guest temporarily moved on the farm: the Migros Museum for Contemporary Art based in Zurich and funded by the supermarket chain Migros, hosted an exhibition of sculptures called The Garden of Forking Paths. The idea came from an existing interest of curator and director of Migros, Heike Munder, in the tradition of “Follies”, architectural constructions popular in 18th century French and English gardens that served no other purpose but to decorate and offer a Romantic element.
The projects in the exhibition, The Garden of Forking Paths, don’t so much utilize the land as material as many of the initial projects do, but rather as an exhibition space and maybe romantic inspiration, exactly as the original follies did two centuries ago.
One of the most humorous sculptures included in the show is a 3m tall snowman made of marble by Swiss artist Peter Regli, part of his Reality Hacking series. The intervention of a wintry image in the summery landscape of the farm at the time of the exhibition offered a comical juxtaposition, and the material, so full of historical weight and gravitas, poked fun at the seriousness with which many sculptors approach their practice. But it also alludes to the ambiguous position that the farm occupies in our psyche. A place of both romantic meditation on nature and our inability to control it, but also the place where we are most in control of nature, where our culture wins over the forces of nature. Thus a snowman that is made of universally available material during a certain season, snow, is now sculpted out of one of the most precious building stones.
Another interesting project dealing with the duality of nature vs. culture on a farm is Fabian Marti’s Heroic Dose, a small greenhouse decorated with psychedelic swirls in black and white, growing psychoactive plants, including cannabis, opium poppy and others. The plants that grow in the greenhouse are the ones found in nature, but can be turned into drugs through human intervention, just as agriculture has domesticated plants that grew in the wild. Therefore the farm is the frontier on which the battle between humans’ power to control their environment and the forces of nature is most bitterly fought.
Then there was the horrible post-modern installation of Liz Craft, the Los Angeles based artist, which really took the idea of the “exclusively decorative architectural element” of the folly to extremes. Mixing all sorts of materials, bronze, wood, gypsum, and others, as well as styles, Liz Craft creates a mishmash unforgettable for its heavy-handedness. Ms. Craft went so far as to import a real tree for her installation rather than integrate the existing trees on the farm. Now that’s real folly…
With the departure of the Migros Musem’s exhibition, Martin Blum is in the process of planning for the upcoming year. He is currently getting ready to host the production of a music video by Roman Keller & Christina Hemauer, featuring the Rap musician “Big Zis” and in April there will be the opening of a piece by Swiss sculptor Bob Gramsma as well as a performance by Lutz/Guggisberg. In the fall Swiss artist Isabel Krieg will also contribute a sculpture to the ongoing project.
The success of the collaboration with Migros strengthened Martin Blum’s conviction that exhibiting work in this new way is not only good for art but also good for his farm’s business. Martin estimates that about 3000 people visited the Migros Museum’s exhibition and were thus introduced to contemporary art in an unlikely place, a place of tradition and ritual. So, not only is the farm a battleground between humans and nature, but it is now, thanks to Martin’s initiative, also a more engaging battleground between the contemporary and the past, where both are set up to learn from each other.