I left Zurich. On a train. Bound for the alps. I left some smart clothes and anything heavy in a locker at the station. I bought some risotto meals from a Migros in the station, and some methylated spirits from a camping shop in Zuriwest. I was going into the hills for a bit. It is illegal in Switzerland to do wild camp below the tree line, so you have to go up. The weather was not promising, but the schedule was not to be ignored. An hour and a half later, on a £60 return ticket and I was in Engelburg, angel mountain, and climbing, up towards the Jochpass in the warm summer rain amidst and a pile of mountain bikers. This part of the alps is preoccupied by the day trippers, who all take the cable car off the mountains by 5pm, so for several hours it is just me up there, in the slowly dying light of midsummer, listening to the wind and the creaking ice high up on the mountains. I stay here for three nights, moving the tent around the hillside, reading, thinking, writing… so a little background perhaps:
In 2009, I walked from London back to the house I was born into in Switzerland, a house with a nuclear bunker in a village called Engelberg near St. Gallen, I undertook the walk in the wake of my estranged fathers death, I undertook the walk because I wrote a letter to the house asking whether I could visit and they replied saying I would be welcome to visit and stay. This journey became the foundation of a practice based PhD into walking, writing and performance through an autoethnographic lens. The study of the culture of walking as an arts practice, through drawing, walking and writing a place into practice.
This trip is post-PhD, in the academic aftermath, revisiting and revising what is possible, taking those methods adapted from ecology and ethnography over years and reapplying them to gallery spaces. This trip is for conversations and for time spent alone in the hills. I go back to the station in Engelburg, transition through Zurich where I contemplate having a shower until I check the entry price, then board a train for St. Gallen and walk once more, out of town and up into the hills on a rainy afternoon, looking for the bakery by the church and the lane opposite, that leads down and up and across a road, onto a tiny path to the back of a house to which I walked in 2009. I am dripping wet this time. The family welcome me in. Their English has improved, my Swiss-German is still non existent. I shower and rest, and eat some melted cheese. I am here for a few nights, a week perhaps. And have a few meetings in St. Gallen with the Kunsthalle and the Kunsthaus, to try and figure out how all this might work, how the fuck the fucking art world works…
No one seems to know. I have asked a few people this question now, in high up places where it is just not the done thing, to ask such a blunt and distasteful question. Each art world spins in its own universe apparently, composed from its own version of the various constellations that make up these places we attempt to traverse as makers and thinkers. Through my PhD I now view my practice more as a visual form of philosophy than a mere factory of products. One day I sit in a chair in the garden and read a book from cover to cover, it is a book by the artist Roman Signer, a series of walks and conversations with his friends, colleagues and his brother. He has two pieces of advice. One was that to survive in the art world you need a couple of people who really like your work, and the other is that you need to occasionally be willing to get a job in order to survive. Roman was not financially sustaining himself through his practice until his 60’s, it’s a long slog. I climb the mountain he climbed with his brother, I am disgustingly unfit and yet still order some Rosti from the Berghaus at the top. Everyone here is fit, and beautiful and very well equipped. I have learned that I need to exercise more, that I need to find commercial representation to approach the sort of work The Plan of St. Gall is aiming to become, that I need to chance my luck more, and that I need to find those few people who really like my work and are willing and able to support it every now and then. I learn that I really do love the mountains, and that I wish I had done this in winter, or at least autumn, that I am not designed for hot weather, and that arts practice is a myriad cycle of never ending questions and problems, that finding the solutions is a futile quest, and that there is room for hope amidst these contradictions.