The application was originally written in French. This version can be requested as a PDF by email.
Art is most powerful when it pushes past borders, disciplines, and any other established category.
I see the Swiss Cultural Center as a place where contemporary Swiss creation can express itself beyond the typical borders of artistic disciplines. Art navigates between forms and formats, with exhibitions being only one possibility among many. The performing arts can be understood beyond the stage, film beyond dark rooms, architecture beyond forms and functions, and literature beyond texts.
I see the Swiss Cultural Center as physical space with a digital extension. The experience of visiting the center can continue on digital platforms, which would help promote the Swiss art scene through new means and make it potentially accessible to every visitor on the planet.
The project’s communication strategy should address visitors who are familiar with the center, as well as readers of Phare and professionals from the Swiss and French art scenes. I also firmly believe in the importance of reaching a larger public, notably newer generations who discover art online: artists, students, the curious, Swiss or not, Parisian or not, people who aren’t necessarily involved in Franco-Swiss relations but who are interested in new forms of artistic creation and a high-quality, experimental, and multidisciplinary space. The Swiss Cultural Center should become this space.
II. Draft Program
If art is where disciplines cross paths, interact, and complete one another, one question remains: where do they all gather? There is likely no better, or more intimate, place for them to do so than in a library.
That’s why the library would take center stage and function as a starting point for many of the elements set to make up the new Swiss Cultural Center. Private libraries are mysterious, variegated, and deeply revealing of their owners. From novels to poetry, essays to graphic novels, the books that inhabit our shelves are unique in their subjects, genres, and forms. They reflect our lives, our backgrounds, our education, our careers, our hidden passions and past obsessions. Libraries are always collective, multiple, and versatile:
Artists read more than just monographs, filmmakers more than screenplays, and theater directors more than plays.
If you can browse a book, shouldn’t it be possible to browse a library, too? Much like books, personal libraries can be commented on, analyzed, and developed into objects of interpretation.
The starting point for the Swiss Cultural Center would be Swiss private libraries that have one thing in common: they all tell a story. This program would explore a number of questions raised by the books, and themes, that inhabit them.
A program about private libraries would…
Developing a program about private libraries
A library can contain novels, essays, poetry collections, art books, plays, dictionaries, travel guides, magazines, and personal documents. These different forms could be drawn from in collaboration with each library’s owner, the Swiss Cultural Center’s team, and selected guests to produce a number of proposals for interdisciplinary projects.
Each trimester, the Swiss Cultural Center could highlight the library of a Swiss public figure. This person would generally be someone working in the arts: artists, curators, writers, architects, musicians, designers, filmmakers… A special emphasis would be placed on linguistic and regional diversity, as well as on different genres and socio-cultural backgrounds.
Possible proposals, or how a program based on books found in libraries could branch out into other disciplines:
All of Joël Dicker’s emails are now archived by Switzerland as part of an effort to conserve its cultural heritage. This could inspire a publishing cycle of email exchanges between creators, like Emails 2009 - 2010, which retraces the correspondence of Jérôme Bel and Boris Charmatz. Or, a book by Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz (also conserved in Mani Matter’s archives) could be the focus of a series of readings organized alongside laureates of the C.F. Ramuz Foundation’s poetry prize.
Susan Sontag’s On Photography could inspire an exhibition about the voyeuristic relationship between artist and spectator. There are various examples of works by Swiss artist around that topic.
Tehran North, Shirana Shahbazi’s latest book, could form the basis for an exhibition about road trips, showcasing works created on the road (possibly including artists who’ve taken part in Pro Helvetia or Swiss town workshop residencies).
Yan Duyvendak and Omar Ghayatt used this approach to write the play Still in Paradise, based on Samuel Huntington’s book The Clash of Civilizations.
The program could also ask artists who work with text to develop projects about language, such as a series of posters, a poetic audio guide, exhibition texts written by artists about other artists.
Another possibility is to explore the idea of photo/questions used in The Frenchman - A Photographic Interview with Fernandel de Philippe Halsman (for the digital program).
Some people use libraries to store photo albums, others use them to hide love letters, little sculptures, or unfinished lists. These objects could make up a digital cabinet of curiosities or form the basis for an exhibition bringing together objects that don’t appear to be artistic in nature, but which inspire or surround creators in their studios.
How can a library spark new ideas?
Art and beyond
Collective and individual exhibitions should continue to make up an important part of the Swiss Cultural Center’s program. Here are a few ideas for exhibitions using the Center’s spaces that I see potential in:
I plan to simultaneously exhibit the work of two artists of different ages, with different cultural backgrounds, and who are in different stages of their respective careers. The link between each of their projects could take different forms depending on how willing each artist was to collaborate with the other. One possibility would be to have them install two simultaneous solo exhibitions in the space, or to display a first solo exhibition that gradually transformed into a second one.
Self-directed art spaces are an integral part of the Swiss arts scene. They’re the first to recognize, support, and showcase young artists with innovative, experimental approaches. Every two months, an independent space could be invited to present a visual artist of its choice in the courtyard space adjacent to the Center’s offices. This would contribute to showing both off-spaces and very young artists working in Switzerland, all while giving the Swiss Cultural Center the opportunity to keep an eye on the Swiss scene’s latest evolutions.
We don’t just lead one life in life. In reality, the majority of art school graduates will never make a living from their work. Yet this subject remains taboo. This exhibition would focus on artists who have stopped their art practice for specific reasons (financial, physical, mental…). It would stay as close to real life as possible, reflecting on the economy of young creators, their training, and their working conditions (in poss. collaboration with Catherine Quéloz, Head Genève).
Literature and beyond
Given that this program is based around private libraries, literature would take center stage. Several options are possible here.
The program could organize a series of debates or even a reading group about literature, art, and criticism in collaboration with Paul Nizon. (The author himself worked as an art critic for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung). Paul Nizon is a key link between these scenes, as well as between Switzlerand and Paris, where he has lived since 1976.
It could also develop a digital program around Matthias Hübner’s L’Uso di Libri(The Use of Books), which is a humorous exploration of what might happen if books one day become obsolete.
Film and beyond
The artists’ cinema cycle would showcase films directed by Swiss artists. The program would focus on experimental films that mix contemporary art and cinematic images. Each projection would be followed by a discussion. Possibilities: In the museum by Mathis Gasser, The L Word - No Mas Metales by San Keller, or Fassung #1 by Gabriela Loeffel.
Taking a cue from the idea of private libraries, film library or film festival directors would be invited to share their favorite films with the Swiss Cultural Center. Their selections, which would have to be either Swiss or French, could act as starting points for discussions, the idea being to build a bridge between the Swiss and Parisian art scenes.
The program could also project films by international directors that have been inspired by Swiss authors. Possibilities: Just An Ordinary Jew by Oliver Hirschbiegel, based on the book by Charles Lewinsky, The Pledge by Sean Penn based on the eponymous novel by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, or the Quay brothers’ adaptation of Robert Walser’s Jakob von Gunten.
Architecture and beyond
The Center could start an architecture program with an artist. Swiss artist Not Vital has built several homes that lie somewhere between sculpture and architecture, such as his home for watching sunsets in Agadez (Niger). His work could form a starting point for a program or cycle of conferences about the links between art and architecture.
Music / theater / dance and beyond
The music program is currently partnered with the Montreux Jazz Festival and the Swiss Music Prize. These partnerships would be maintained. Programs for dance and theater would also need to be developed. A specialist with knowledge of new works in dance and theater could be hired to support the performing arts program.
The Center could organize a series of concerts by visual artists who create music.
The Swiss Cultural Center would continue its collaboration with Daniel Fontana, the founder of Bad Bonn (Fribourg), by organizing a Kilbi night once per trimester.
The Center could partner with the Belluard Bollwerk International Festival, which is known for its selection of Swiss and international artists, directors, and dancers.
III. Digital Transformation
The internet has had a considerable impact on culture across the world. It has transformed and continues to transform the way our societies communicate, as well as the ways artists develop and transmit their ideas.
The internet has had a considerable impact on culture across the world. It has transformed and continues to transform the way our societies communicate, as well as the ways artists develop and transmit their ideas. I’d like to push the Swiss Cultural Center’s mission forward by increasing its use of new technologies, whether through a digital communication strategy or the creation of new digital projects.
I see this happening in two main ways:
A program that sees digital tools as an opportunity for creating new dedicated exhibition formats. These digital initiatives could also be a way of sharing the Center’s work beyond borders and expanding its target audience.
The Swiss Cultural Center needs a digital strategy that reflects upon its role as a content producer and digital publisher. This would also be an opportunity to use its current data (online visitors, followers, or newsletter subscribers) to create a targeted communication strategy. The goal being to increase the Center’s visibility and improve the promotion of contemporary Swiss art across the world.
This strategy is all the more important considering the extent of the construction planned at the Swiss Cultural Center between 2020 and 2022. It will be essential to develop a strong digital presence to continue promoting the Swiss art scene while this construction takes place.
1. Digital Program
Digitalization has had a lasting impact on the production and distribution of cultural goods and services. If music, film, and literature have gone through considerable changes since the arrival of digital platforms, the same can be said of the visual and performing arts. These days, the organization of a show or an exhibit is only one way among many to present a work of art. Thanks to digital platforms, new forms of dialogue between works and spectators are now possible.
The digital sphere shouldn’t only be seen as a way to promote culture, but also as an additional space that culture can take root in. The Swiss Cultural Center could use digital platforms to build an innovative program aimed at creating new exhibition formats, capable of reaching new audiences beyond borders as well as audiences who are limited by mobility impairments or who can’t attend exhibitions in person for logistical reasons.
Here are a few examples of possible digital programs:
The Swiss Cultural Center Stream would be a continuous stream of videos that could be organized in the following way:
Each week, a Swiss artist, curator, dancer, musician, or illustrator would be asked five questions. Their response would have to take the form of a photo or drawing. These questions could initially be asked to people with significant followers on Instagram, in order to create the Swiss Cultural Center’s own online community. This online space would eventually surpass the number of real visitors to the Center in Paris.
2. Digital Communication
Digital communication is a powerful resource. A high-quality digital strategy can significantly increase the Center’s field of action. To encourage the public to take an interest in culture, it’s important to target the place where they spend much of their time: in front of a screen. Here are a few possibilities for developing the Center’s communication tools:
Phare would continue to be published in physical formats and distributed within the Swiss Cultural Center and in other cultural centers in France and Switzerland. Phare would also be accessible on digital formats through the Center’s online editorial platform. Publishing editorial content online would increase Phare’s visibility and accessibility for audiences who are used to browsing and searching for content on the internet. Here are some ideas for developing Phare’s digital strategy:
The Swiss Cultural Center’s new communication strategy should be centered around its website (improved with new functionalities, better social media connections, and a newsletter). Online visitor numbers would be unlimited and unconstrained by questions of time and space. This would be a non-negligible tool for promoting Swiss art and attracting visitors to the Center in Paris.
It’s important to propose new online projects linked to digital platforms, such as the re-streaming of live performances, digital recordings of music, interactive blueprints of architecture projects, etc. Building a new website that’s better-suited to the exponential possibilities of digital communication would be essential for reaching these goals.
Social media isn’t just a way of sharing news about the Center, it’s also an opportunity for developing new content with artists (see the Digital Program).
IV. During construction
How can a cultural center continue to promote Swiss artists internationally when it won’t have a space to host them in during its two year-long renovation?
Building its networkI’m convinced that the closing of the Swiss Cultural Center is an opportunity that would allow it to become less centralized and reinforce its links with French cultural networks outside of Paris. This would be especially true during the summer months, when important cultural events are organized across the country.
Digital presenceIt’s essential to develop a strong digital presence to increase the Center’s visibility and allow it to continue promoting the Swiss arts scene. Fostering the Center’s presence on digital platforms and publishing a physical version of Phare would help inform the public about its activities, especially during the construction period.
Continuing program in ParisI’d also maintain a program presenting Swiss artists in Paris by collaborating with strategic partners in each discipline, with a focus on interdisciplinary work. For example, the Center could organize exhibitions by artists working with photography at the Bal, concerts and performances at the Théâtre de Belleville (its stage is the same size as the Swiss Cultural Center’s), temporary exhibitions at the Ménagerie de Verre (the Studio Balanchine is the same size as the Swiss Cultural Center’s exhibition space), or it could have the Plateau host the Off-Space program.
In parallel, I’d propose a nomadic program called The Swiss Cultural Center without walls:
The Swiss Cultural Center could be present at several prestigious festivals, like the Rencontres d’Arles (photography), FIDMarseille (documentary film), or the Festival d’Avignon (theater).
The Swiss Cultural Center’s summer neighborhoods would explore new territories. In Arles, the Center could establish a presence in the Parc des Ateliers (founded by the LUMA Foundation’s president, Maja Hoffmann), and in Avignon it could do so on a public square or in the courtyard of the Collection Lambert museum. At the Festival d’Avignon, it could also reinforce the Swiss selection with a program centered around performances, for example.
To welcome visitors, present performances, and organize roundtable discussions, the Swiss Cultural Center could build a space linked to its Paris location, using a typical building block of Swiss urbanism: the gabarit*. This architectural element symbolizes the Swiss right to participation by allowing citizens to become involved in local decisions. Gabarits would be installed, modeling the blueprints of the new center set to open in 2022. The Swiss Cultural Center without walls would become nomadic and flexible in ways it never has been, allowing for an exploration of what an institution is capable of developing beyond its walls.
This nomadic, open, performative, conceptual, and shifting structure would form the basis of a program centered around architecture and performance, understood in the largest sense of the term (visual arts, performing arts, music), exploring the functions and mutations of contemporary cultural institutions.
For our failed application to direct the Swiss Cultural Center in Paris, some parts were reused in later projects by Random Institute, some were freely appropriated by others for their own programming, and some will remain nuggets of unrealized potential – whether that’s for good or bad reasons remains to be determined.
Just like authors have unpublished novels in their drawers, every curator has exhibition ideas stashed away in secret folders on their MacBook Pro or scribbled into half-empty notebooks. These can range from plans for quiet performances to wild nights out, and everything in between. In an effort to give old ideas new life, Random Institute regularly releases some of these failed projects or unrealized projects online. Some weren’t ripe yet, some were flat-out rejected, and some just didn’t make any sense at all. But each of them brought us new ideas, and we hope they’ll find a home someday or catch some digital flâneur’s eye here on the world wide web.