Pascal Merz
16 Jun – 21 Aug 2011

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Lines (Paradise) by Pascal Merz, a Swiss filmmaker and artist, is an installation bringing together electoral campaign structures and landscape portraiture in a minimalist scenography. Photography by Antoine Baralhé.

Etymologically, the concept of Paradise comes from the ancient Persian word Paradeiso. The term referred to an orchard surrounded by a high wall, which protected it from sand storms. Referring to this original meaning, the term is used here to question a popular Swiss myth: that of a country protected by the Alps, a mountain range that has allegedly been acting as a local and natural high protective wall of a Swiss Paradeiso.

In Switzerland, images of mountains can be found virtually everywhere – in museums, children books, on chocolate boxes, and advertisements praising the stability of a bank or the pureness of a mineral water…. Depiction of mountains has also been widely used to promote ethnocentric political programs, e.g., most Swiss Heimatfilme from the 1930-1960 were located in the mountains.

In this type of iconography, the Alps exalt the values of the country, balancing the moral purity of the people living in these regions with the purity of the surrounding nature. In Mythologies, Roland Barthes recalls that French writer André Gide went as far as linking a certain idea of "Swissness" and Protestantism to the fantasies induced by the rugged landscape of the country: "Regeneration through clean air, moral ideas in front of the high peaks, the upward mobility as a civic behaviour."

The high skyline and the dramatic grey clouds contrast the idyllic, tranquil representations of the Alps used in advertising. Here, the mountain is depicted as ominous, disquieting and tempestuous; this depiction is reminiscent of Caspar David Friedrich, Romantic painter of the 19th Century.

Lines (Paradise) is a sculpture that consists of six electoral panels. (In Switzerland and most parts of Europe these panels carry the posters of local politicans, advertising the viewer to be elected). The panels are arranged in a row forming the diagonal of a square (760 x 760 cm). The physicality of electoral panels enhances the perception of the mountain as a barricade. Each panel features a photographic fragment of a high mountain cliff. Because of the overlapping of the panels, the photographs do not immediately reveal that they have been shot on the same location.

This fragmented panoramic view of the mountain cliff provokes the viewer to recreate the vista in his mind. Depending on his viewpoint, the viewer may see the fragmented view of the mountain cliff or a metallic structure used for crowd control. Whatever the point of view is, the installation acts as a structure that delineates one space from another.

Lines (Paradise) confronts seemingly unrelated notions and leads the viewer to question the ethnocentric political programs which are still feeding isolationnist reflexes in the second decade of the 21st century. A tendency, it can be relevant to note, that is far from being limited to Switzerland.

During the exhibition at SALTS, Lines (Paradise) is installed in the garden (itself bounded from the surroundings by a fence) located on the banks of the river Birs, a river that marks the border between two Swiss cantons, Basel-Land and Basel-Stadt.

Photography: courtesy Anna Leuenberger