“Another Swiss Panorama”

Centre for L'image Contemporaine

The theme of “Another Swiss Panorama” is, unsurprisingly, loosely based on the notion of the landscape—both real and imaginary, rural and urban—as represented in a selection of videos by thirteen Swiss artists. Given the mythic qualities of Switzerland’s topography, it is surprising that the works included—videos by both young, lesser-known artists like Judith Albert, Nicolás Fernández, and Laurence Huber, and firmly established ones like Sylvie Fleury, Roman Signer, and Beat Streuli—do not necessarily reflect on a sense of place or on the history of landscape as an artistic genre but rather are open-ended considerations of the concurrence of nature and artifice.

Bucking prevailing taste, which favors the spectacular presentation of videos as wall-size projections, here each individual piece was shown on a monitor suspended from the ceiling, attached to the wall, or placed directly on the floor. This more traditional approach to video installation not only emphasized the medium’s roots in television but also, in at least one case, disregarded the context in which the piece was meant to be seen. Stefan Altenburger’s I don’t remember anything, 1998, was originally conceived as a wall projection within a larger installation but was shown here on an upside-down monitor, so that the flecks of light move up rather than down the darkened screen, like snowflakes in reverse.

If the exhibition succeeds as a whole, it is on the strength of specific works that are able to engage the viewer with a convincing balance of image and context; for example, Fernández’s enigmatic and starkly beautiful Por los homeless, 1990, in which simple white rectangular forms slowly emerge from darkness and become what look like two slightly ajar doors opening onto a makeshift and tightly confined interior space. Less subtle, but with a similar, socially directed tone, is Huber’s Hell, 1998, a sampling of found images showing a variety of simple human gestures made by scientists in a lab. The sequences have been slowed down and repeated and set to an eerie Philip Glass–like sound track, conjuring the countless scientific experiments that are the basis of a booming biotechnology industry—a field, not coincidentally, in which many Swiss companies are at the forefront.

Less convincing are those pieces that seem to take the exhibition’s premise more literally, as in Florence Paradeis’s Juillet 94, 1995, a clichéd (and largely European) vision of an expansive American vista, or Patrice Baizet’s forced (and facile) confrontation between nature and technology in Objets Virtuels (Virtual Objects), 1995, which shows computer-designed geometrical objects floating down a country stream.

If anything, an exhibition like this, which focuses on videos by artists who work in a variety of media and takes place in a venue strictly devoted to the presentation of photography and the moving image, draws attention—however unintentionally—to the limits of showing art according to the self-imposed confines of medium and technique. Like photography, video has clearly moved beyond its early constrictions, when the distinction between Artist and Video Artist was clear, and when a critique of TV and a command of the technology superseded questions of aesthetics.

Elizabeth Janus