Furka Pass


Furka Pass

The Furka Pass, over 7,500 feet above sea level near the Rhône glacier, is a spare, raw, mountainous region accessible by the pass road for only three to four months each summer. This is the kind of wild landscape that stimulates perception through the deep sense of awe it arouses. The Furka is a deserted place—a hotel at its top has long been closed, and today the only traffic on the road is of people there for pleasure. In a figurative sense, the isolated splendor of the pass can be seen as symbolically appropriate to the situation of art and the artist.

On June 24, 1983, at noon, James Lee Byars performed a piece called A Drop of Black Perfume on the Furka as an extension of an exhibition of his in the Galerie Media, Neuchatel. Dressed in gold, his face covered by a black cloth, Byars set a drop of “black perfume” on a rock, where a small crystal jutted from the stone. The drop soon evaporated, its fragrance prey to the mountain winds. But it left the memory of a gesture of tenderness among the vast Alps. The event moved Marc Hostettler of the Galerie Media to explore further uses of the mountain pass. This spring he brought two artists there to camp for four days and do some photography; last summer he moved his space there for the season, offering artists a work and performance situation outside the usual art sphere. Byars, Joseph Beuys, Yutaka Matsuzawa, Panamarenko, and Marina Abrarnovic and Ulay accepted the invitation, which Hostettler hopes to repeat in the future.

The “Furk’Art” of 1984 opened with a performance by Beuys and Byars, The Introduction of the Sages to the Alps. Their symbolic walk along a ridge of the Blau Berg, moving from west to east and slightly south, introduced a new myth to the already myth-rich Alps—the figure of the “sage,” the artist in his or her search for form and meaning in a formless and meaningless world. The two “sages”—one in gold, one in dark clothes—trudged through the deep snow until they gradually disappeared from the audience’s view into the whitish gray distance. Gazing after them one was left watching the landscape, the varying whites of the snow interspersed with bare patches of stone and grass. Looked at this way the view became abstract, evoking painting, whiteness, the spirit. Beuys and Byars had set an idea rather than a material work against the mountain, a symbolic action whose presence would remain long after their footsteps in the snow had disappeared.

The next morning Matsuzawa presented On the Ground of Several Places. The Japanese artist laid out sheets of paper on a small, rocky plateau, anchoring the corners with stones to keep them from blowing away in the wind . First, nine white sheets with a red inscription: “the day when the very this place was at the bed of the sea in 70000007 before Christ.” Then nine red sheets with a white inscription: “the day when the very this red paper will be at the bed of the sea in 2002.” Together, the papers formed a mandala shape. Finally, Matsuzawa unrolled a large pink scroll completing his message—the transience of all things—in beautiful Japanese calligraphy. A delicate bow to his work, personal thanks to those present for their participation in the performance, and the action was concluded; the gestures’ effect in heightening the feeling of the event made them more than just traditional Japanese politeness. As if in agreement with Matsuzawa’s evocation of the desirability of according to the all-encompassing processes of nature, the distant peaks stood out sharply against the deep blue sky, a silhouette against the void.

Panamarenko installed himself in a run-down garage where he worked for about seven weeks on two versions of his Rocksackflug (Flight knapsack). This machine plays with the ancient dream of flying of overcoming gravity. In a kind of pack to be worn on the back, a fan run by a two-stroke engine sicks air into a transparent care; here the air is compressed and expelled downward. Reality and utopian and careful construction of the machine. The RuckSackflug may never have lifted Panamarenko of the ground, yet on the Furka he was briefly closer to the sky than in his native Antwerp.

“Fruk’Art” had no theme, as for example the artistic mastery of the Alps. But it brought attention to the work of artists most of whom stand outside the usual channels of art business, and who on the Furka found themselves physically in the lonely, outsider position that is their figurative home below. In the 78th day of Abrarnovic and Ulay’s discontinuously repeating performance Nightsea Crossing, the two sat across from each other for seven hours in the scantily prepared dining room of the old hotel. Their feeling for their bodies seemed to dissolve; time became timeless, and in this disintegration lay communication. Again the mountain participated: outside a blizzard raged so ferociously that it covered all with silence.

Max Wechsler