As the first exhibition dedicated to experimental Swiss cinema, Film Implosion! sheds light on a little known aspect of art history in Switzerland. It presents a wide panorama of genre practices within the medium of cinema more specifically, but also video work, from the 1960ʼs to today. Through formal interventions directly on the celluloid, various in-situ installations, unconventional documentaries, political, feminist, animated, and fiction films, all these artists challenged the traditional codes of cinema.
For the past four years, and with the help of the SNF (Swiss National Fund), researchers François Bovier, Adeena Mey, Fred Truniger, and Thomas Schärer have been investigating experimental cinema in Switzerland. From this considerable excavating and mapping work, stems Fri Artʼs proposal for the firstever exhibition on this subject. For the most part unseen, some 70 artworks, in digital or 16-mm format and signed by artists ranging from Fredi M. Murer, Dieter Meier, Carole Roussopoulos, Dieter Roth, HHK Schoenherr, Hannes Schüpbach, or Peter Stämpfli will be shown. The exhibition will also include video works, installations, and para-filmic objects spanning 50 years of radical creativity.
With its polymorphic and fragmented dynamic, the Swiss reality stands out in this field of creation. The displayed artists often started experimenting with film early on in their careers which were later pursued elsewhere, for instance into the realms of contemporary art, documentary, or traditional narrative film. Experimental film in the Swiss sense can be considered as a “manner” of considering the creative process, rather than a genre linked to a specific medium. Reflecting this fragmented history, Film Implosion! extends from documentaries that have been conceived, filmed, and edited in an emancipated and experimental spirit, to works that belong to the contemporary art field. This retrospective features many major names from cinema, a number of artists who have dedicated their lives to manipulating the scope of filmic image, such as HHK Schoenherr, Eva & Guido Haas, Werner von Mutzenbecher, Hannes Schüpbach, or Urs Breitenstein.
This mapping of Swiss art also reveals the works of international artists, like those of American-born Robert Beavers and Gregory J. Markopoulos, who settled in Switzerland, finding artistic synergy for their work there.
Documentaries and psychedelic cinema
This exhibition offers a reflection on important, yet rarely seen artworks that constitute the creative framework of their authors. Thus, the digital projection of Jean-Luc Godardʼs first film Opération Béton, (an industrial short on the construction of the Grande-Dixence Dam, shot in 1955) will be one of the rare public screenings of this movie. Better known for his television or fiction films such as Höhenfeuer, Fredi M. Murerʼs career debuted with Chicorée (1966), a dreamlike and surrealistic portrait of poet and activist Urban Gwerder, one of the faces of counterculture at the time. In a similar impulse, yet a more amateur form, the film lʼAuge (1971) by Fribourgeois Jacques Thévoz places Genevan actor Jacques Probst in a Jodorowskian psychedelic satire.
Music will also have a place of honor, with works like Peter Liechtiʼs Kick that Habit (1989), a documentary on the Voice Crack duo musicians Norbert Möslang and Andy Guhl. Step Across the Border by Nicolas Humbert & Werner Penzel follows experimental musician Fred Firth as he tours through Switzerland, Japan, and the United States. The amusingly provocative documentary made by sculptor Bernhard Luginbühl and photographer Leonardo Bezzola shows the farming activities in the Emmental valley, accompanied by a cartoonish score by Swiss jazzman Heinz Bigler. The film is an ironic homage to mountain traditions and farming.
Political activism and feminism
Political cinema also provided a rich testing ground, as Züri Brännt (1980) demonstrates - the legendary collective documentary on youth revolts in the 1980’s austere Zurich. Among the reintroduced feminist works are Scum Manifesto (1976) by Genevan videomaker Carole Roussopoulos and Mano Destra (1988) by Cleo Uebelmann, which presents the ambiguous sadomasochistic relationship between two women through a carefully stylized photography. Die Angst, die Macht, die Bilder des Zauberlehrlings by filmmakers Herbert Distel and Peter Guyer is a hypnotic editing of found footage representing historical events throughout the 20th century.
Experimental film, a creative laboratory for protean artists
Experimental Swiss films, like those of Dieter Meier or John M Armleder and the ECART group, and even Dieter Roth’s widely-known movies, are often the creation of artists for whom film is one of many mediums for experimentation. In the 1960 ’s, a number of painters took up experimental filmic practices, like Peter Stämpfli who, while better known for his large format pop paintings, also created pop art in Super 8 format. Works by André Lehmann, Werner von Mutzenbecher, and Rolf Winnewisser, who were all originally painters from “Basel’s formalist scene”, will also be presented.
Video art has been institutionalized in the past, through important artistic retrospectives, whether it be in Switzerland or around the world. In this aspect, the exhibition shows the filmic work of artists whose practices are underrepresented, while directly interacting with the field of experimental film like those of Muriel Olesen, Janos Urban, or Chaux-de-Fonds native René Bauermeister.
Some filmmakers explore the very material of film by deconstructing its fundamental elements, the light, and ultimately, the celluloid itself becomes the object of repeated aggressions, thus questioning the illusionist nature of film. This filmic research is illustrated by Urs Breitenstein’s monumental installation in which the viewer is placed in the film projector’s beams of light, by Dieter Roth’s punctured film, or the works of Eva and Guido Haas, Hans-Jakob Siber, or ECART and John Armleder who drew directly on 16mm film found in the street.
Partitipating artists: René Bauermeister, Robert Beavers, Leonardo Bezzola, Bernhard Luginbühl, Urs Breitenstein, Rudy Burckhardt, Philippe Deléglise, Herbert Distel, Peter Guyer (Schubladenmuseum) , ECART ( John M. Armleder & al.), Jean-Luc Godard, Véronique Goël, Eva Haas, Guido Haas, Alexander Hahn, Nicolas Humbert, Werner Penzel, Clemens Klopfenstein, André Lehmann, Peter Liechti, Urs Lüthi, Klaus Lutz, Gregory J. Markopoulos, Dieter Meier, Gérald Minkoff, Tony Morgan, Fredi Murer, Werner von Mutzenbecher, Muriel Olesen, Isa Hesse-Rabinovitch, Dieter Roth, Carole Roussopoulos, Reto, Andrea Savoldelli, HHK Schoenherr, Hannes Schüpbach Hans-Jakob Siber Daniel Spoerri, Peter Stämpfli, Jacques Thévoz, Janos Urban, Videoladen, Tjerk Wicky, Rolf Winnewisse