None other than the former German Federal President Joachim Gauck offered this year’s “Engadin Art Talks” as the opening speaker. His lecture last Saturday had less to do with art, but was a lesson in resistance to dictatorships.
What Gauck explained is authenticated by his own life, whose Christian coloring he made vivid in retrospect of his own childhood. But in the “certainty of existence”, which he drew as a practical conclusion, he gave the motto of the lecture series held in the tranquil town of Zuoz, “Hope? Hope!”, a tone acceptable even to less religious participants.
“Hope” is a particularly Christian topic, as pointed out by “Art Talks” co-organizer Philip Ursprung, who is a full-time professor of architectural history at the renowned ETH Zurich. Civilized people are reluctant to be committed to this, and even Friedrich Nietzsche, who spent several summers in nearby Sils, had nothing but contempt for hope, as Ursprung woven in. Only to then emphasize the relationship between hope and artistic utopia all the more clearly.
Otherwise, the well-known saying that art is what artists do also applies in the Engadin. For example, 94-year-old Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, an American artist who designed a 24-metre-long and four-metre-high lettering with the word “Welcome” for the nearby, much larger and, above all, more sophisticated St. Moritz, which is now emblazoned at the train station and greets you from afar across the winter frozen lake.
“Bobby” Solomon, who no longer wanted to expose herself to the journey across the Atlantic, joined the “Art Talks” via video, while Ai Weiwei, the artist who is now truly at home all over the world, was personally present. In conversation with the equally ubiquitous curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, who lives mainly in London, Ai Weiwei did not want to be pinned down to a role as a beacon of hope, and on the current conditions in China, where he had experienced the omnipotence of the regime years ago as a political prisoner must, he only took a very hopeless position.
The omnipotence of the regime
He doesn’t think much of protests of a political nature, at least not anymore, as he casually pointed out. The evening before, he had opened an exhibition in a St. Moritz gallery with images of Chinese zodiac signs pixelated from Lego bricks, surrounded by a cosmopolitan audience who were definitely not in the mood for political action.
Hans Ulrich Obrist, director of the London exhibition institution “Serpentine Gallery” in his main job, ranks high up in the hit list of the most influential art mediators and idea generators. In addition to numerous artists, he had engaged the linguist Mohomodou Houssouba, who lives in Basel and comes from Mali, for the Art Talks.
He is busy transporting the languages of his homeland, some of which are spoken by millions of people, into the Internet age, for example by creating a lexicon of his mother tongue Songhay. The Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets spoke to him about climate change in the Engadine, and Talks co-organizer Philip Ursprung, as a professor of architecture, is already involved with it.
The eponymous “hope” of the Art Talks in the Engadin is more on the metaphorical level. Strengthened by the lectures, the art community gathered for the talks then set out for the Muzeum Susch (with a “z”!), the exhibition space of the Polish collector Grazyna Kulczyk built into a former monastery in the town of the same name. Under the sunshine and the ice-blue winter sky of the Engadin, all facets of hope come to life magnificently.
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