UNLOADED – Coming Up For Air

Deutsch | English


At the end of the of the cold war the Swiss army was obliged to question its function and purpose. The new world order,after the fall of the Berlin wall and the dwindling danger of an attack in the crossfire between east and west, made a reform of military policies necessary. This reform – which is still in process – concerned the nature of the army itself and consequently affected its infrastructure. Owing to the new strategic situation a whole series of military constructions – bunkers, forts, „Toblerone“, etc. – became obsolete and expendable. The army downgraded them – „demoted“, to use the military expression – and now plans to put them to new uses, by selling them for example.

But these structures are more than just military constructions: they are symbols. The basic idea of ArtBunker-Verein can be formulated as follows: at the end of summer 2002 (7/8 September) we will be organising a contemporary art event that will take the form of a walk between some of these military facilities in Oberschan (in the Werdenberg area near Sargans). This event, called UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air, will be the point of departure for a publication that will thematise the transformation and symbolic weight of military structures. Inspired by Hakim Bey‘s idea of the „Temporary Autonomous Zone“ (T.A.Z), the event can be seen a temporary appropriation by art of spaces severely marked by history. The T.A.Z. aims to encourage a debate on the themes of history, (in)security, war, and the loss of function and meaning of the structures themselves. Artists from Switzerland and abroad (see attached list) are involved in the project and will develop specific projects. The title UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air plays on the context and symbolic content of the location of the exhibition. The first part of the title directly calls to mind the fact that military structures are being „unloaded“ both in a physical as well as a metaphorical way. On the one hand they are no longer used for military purposes, in particular as firing positions for loaded weapons. On the other hand the fact that they are lying fallow implies that they must be invested with new meaning(s). To „lie fallow“ however, not only suggests the disposal of the old in order to leave space for the new, but in this context, also a period of transition.

We do not wish to claim to have found new ways of utilising the bunker – though me might suggest it. Together with the artists we are more interested in reflecting on the current situation of these places. In this context it is interesting to recall and examine Henry Ford‘s statement that „history is more or less bunk“. He is using the word „bunk“ in the sense of „humbug, nonsense“ (see Oxford English Dictionary), which can be etymologically traced to 1845, a year in which the American congressman Felix Walker made a speech that was to enter history thanks to its tediousness. Our aim here is not so much to revise the words of the American industrialist, rather to point to the possible analogies between what happened to industrial constructions, car factories in particular in Detroit, and what is now happening to the bunker. George Orwell‘s novel „Coming up for air“ which critiques a society ravaged by the experience of war, gives the second part of the title its name. The words “coming up for air” also evoke the sense of relief one might feel when looking onto a mountain landscape after having been in a bunker – a feeling that also points to a tangible tension between Technology (inside the bunker) and Nature (outside).

As we have already mentioned, bunkers and forts are invested with symbolic meaning and this can be a source of inspiration for artists. There are four dimensions to the strategic role they play in Switzerland: neutrality, independence, dissuasion and cohesion. Consequently the transformed bunkers may stimulate a discussion on boundaries and (national) identity in an international context.

Today bunkers can be seen as anachronisms since, despite having been built to last forever, they no longer have any strategic meaning whatsoever. Further, they are military emblems of a desire for peace.

The basic assumption of UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air is that the multiple meanings and contents expressed by the bunkers are an interesting terrain for the development of art projects. The military structures can also become spaces that invite collaboration between national and international artists who might, for example, jointly reshape a bunker. Considering that bunkers have lost their function of „national secrets“ we decided for conceptual reasons to invite both foreign and national artists. Their task was to create „site-specific“ works, of any genre, though installations are preferred. The architectural characteristics of the military structures as well the geographical location and the historical context influenced and inspired the nature of the works that were produced.

The idea for this event has taken shape during the past two years. Our initial project was for the bunkers to house a conventional contemporary art exhibition. This, however, proved unexpectedly difficult to accomplish owing to historical events (i.e. the state of alarm the world found itself in following the 11th September) on the one hand, and the project‘s implicit social critique on the other. We were, therefore, forced to develop a new form of art exhibition. UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air should be seen as an experimental form of art exhibition. It seeks to be a „cultural tool“ for dealing with themes of interest to the broader public, such as the themes of war and the increasing sense of insecurity, or the transformation, and new definition of power structures that shape the landscape and our daily lives. The form of the art performance, thanks to its characteristic flexibility and rapid reaction time, is ideally suited to this purpose.

We believe that our task is to create a forum for discussion for which the art object and the performance may serve as a point of departure. UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air can therefore be seen as a workshop-exhibition, in which, thanks to the use of interdisciplinary panels, the public is encouraged to participate and think. Because of the number of useless bunkers, the choice has not been an easy one. In order to increase the artistic, historic and didactic content of UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air, we tried to find objects that were both interesting from an architectural point of view as well as having been of military and strategic importance in the Second World War, and therefore in the so called „réduit“ of General Guisan. During our researches and viewings we found the perfect location: six bunkers on the „Alvier- Linie“ near Obershan. The latter is part of the „Festung Sargans“ which forms the most important „Réduit“ zone, together with those at the Gotthard and at St. Maurice. The museum of military history at Fort Magletsch, which is located not too far away from the Alvier-Linie, proved to be a stimulating Interlocutor during the initial stages of the project. We advise visitors to visit the museum, as it provides an interesting and instructive counterpoint to UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air. Taken together with the event, it raises questions concerning museum policy and museology in general. Although the concept of the Swiss „réduit“ was an operational tool used during the Second World War, the myth of the „Sonderfall Schweiz“ (i.e. Switzerland as special case) has persisted throughout the post War and Cold War eras. Because of the country‘s exposure during the Cold War, Switzerland supported the idea of a strong, defensive army, in spite of its status as a neutral country. In Europe anxiety for the „red invasion“ and strong (national?) economic integration, stabilised the balance between East and West on the one hand, but consolidated the fear of a potential war on the other. Today we might define this war an „imaginary war“, as it was in a sense fought at a mental level (Mary Kaldor, 1990).

The landscape will play a major role in this project. UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air emphasises that the landscape is a common good, and one of Switzerland’s few natural resources. It also represents the tense relationship between Nature (i.e. the Alpine region) and Technology (i.e. the military structure). In broader terms Unloaded-coming up for air can be seen as a „land art“ project that opens up multiple new ways of reading the territory.

The walk as a “quest” is the traditional way of pilgrimage, but also a popular leisure activity in Switzerland. By being organised as a group walk, UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air aims to become a collective experience. In this way, the contemplation of art becomes a social event. At the same time the group walk also ironically alludes to military comradeship. Thanks to the idea of the walk we aim to reach not only the public of contemporary art exhibitions, but also to appeal to a more heterogeneous audience. UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air combines two typical leisure activities, two forms of relaxation: walking and the cultural visit. We therefore offer the visitor a project that combines Culture and Nature and in which the idea of the pilgrimage plays a pivotal role. We believe that UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air will help redefine the topography of art, which has been changing over the last three decades, and is no longer solely museum-centred. UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air however also shares some commonalities with more traditional museums: both the military bunker and the „white cube“ are hermetically closed spaces.

UNLOADED - Coming Up For Air is going to be a concrete but temporary place of reflection, a place where the old fear of war and new ideas meet, a place where the art of imagination takes the place of war.

Giovanni Carmine & Catherine Hug, Zürich Mai 2002 (Trans. Frances E. Maunder)

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Annelise Coste

No title, 2002
Poster, 1000 ex.

A thick pile of posters lies on the ground. The words “pacifique océan” are written on them in pink and black spray. The play on words (in French the Pacific Ocean is the océan pacifique), characterises the ocean as a peace loving-place. Contrasting this picture, Coste conjures up the memory of the atomic tests on Mururoa, thereby setting war technology against an idyllic landscape.

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Christoph Büchel

Dummy, 2002
Car, wood, stones, gloss paint

On a green expanse between two bunkers and not far from the country road, a green junked car sticks fast. It is surrounded by an embankment made of earth and stones, and an old tree trunk sticks out of its front windscreen. You could associate this collection of material with a tank.
Improvised tanks, such as this one, made of scrap metal, were used for example in the Balkan war as dummies and were in actual fact destroyed by expensive bombs. Büchel uses camouflage, the old military strategy, to comment ironically on this tactic, for seen from close by it is quite clear that these tanks are made out of scrap metal. Provocatively, he juxtaposes the dummy with the bunkers which, seen from a military point of view, are also merely functionless shells in the landscape. Would these expensively built bunkers have served their purpose as efficient dissuasive and protective structures in an emergency?

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Costa Vece

Gli innocenti, 1st exhibited in Porto 2001
Artificial leaves, wire

In a landscape full of pines you discern two bushes. As they do not belong to the alpine ecosystem you can guess that you are being deceived. Sometimes these bushes move and two human legs stick out from under the leaves. The leaves reveal themselves to be a camouflage costume, just like the ones you find in good old-fashioned comics. Next to the massive pine trees they are a delightful joke. You can also laugh at military strategies.

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The Long Voyage Home, 2002
Video installation, DVD, sound, colour, loop

In a low niche a video projection shows a crouching man. Darkness dominates and only a beam of light illuminates this being. The slow motion warps his cries to animal-like sounds.
The title refers to John Ford’s war film “The Long Voyage Home” (1940). Costa Vece asks himself whether the behaviour of a human, who is left behind in a bunker, would not degenerate and become monkey-like. The artist experienced in situ, as an actor, the effects of the architecture on a person.

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Fabrice Gygi

Molaire, 2002
20 mm thick iron plate, gloss paint, chain

Something white floats in a dark room. One identifies the object as a tooth, done in a pictogram-like style. A hole has been drilled into its otherwise glossy surface. Thanks to the hole, a chain suspends the tooth from the ceiling. Gygi works with the collective image of the hollowed out “Réduit”-area in the Alps, likening the caries ridden, germ carrying tooth to the Alps, which have been gouged by invisible military installations. What kind of amalgam must we use today to repair these holes?

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Gander / Nashat

New Blue Heritage, 2002
Amplifier, 400m loudspeaker cable, loudspeaker, rubber mat

The dugout has been slammed shut; only a black amplifier stands next to it. Blinking led lights indicate that it is functioning, but one does not hear anything. Gander and Nashat play with such uncertainties as: where does the energy that makes this electric box work come from? Is the bunker a source of energy, as a black electric cable disappears behind its closed door? Instinctively you follow the white loudspeaker cable that comes out of the construction. It leads on, across the road and up a steep hill. As you climb the latter, breaking out in sweat as the hill is steep, you become aware of the topography of the place.

Finally, you arrive on a flat plain and the cable disappears into knee-high bushes. Out of these come loud noises: the chirping of birds and the sound of a flowing river. Suddenly, the noises stop and the surrounding natural sounds underscore the artificiality of the situation. The artists extend the idea of camouflage into an acoustic dimension.

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Gianni Motti

Beuys Don’t Cry, 2002
Joseph Beuys etching, framed, torches, bunker

Gianni Motti sends the visitor, equipped with a torch, on an exploratory tour in a bunker. On this treasure hunt – the treasure is in this case an artwork – the visitor comes across a framed Joseph Beuys etching, which shows a structural design of a corner. The artist’s characteristic blue hallmark is also recognizable.

The installation questions the viability of using the bunker as an exhibition and storage location for art, highlighting how dark and damp these places are, and that their imposing architecture overshadows the work of art shown therein.

The play on words in the title “Beuys Don’t Cry” reminds us of the song “Boys don’t cry” (1980) by the Cure, or of Kimberly Peirce’s movie of 1999 that goes by the same title. The references, however, are only distant ones. It is also an allusion to the Beuys-artist-myth and to his “militarised” biography.

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Flash, 2002
20 Motorway blink lights

Rhythmically blinking lights lead down a damp ladder into the basement. On the wall a double row of round lamps has been mounted to form an arrow. We know the regularly pulsating lamps from the motorway, where they signal a temporary situation. With this work, the artist couple, Lang and Baumann point to the undefined situation of Swiss military bunkers, whose future is still a matter of debate.

The location of the bunkers was kept secret until a few years ago. Unauthorized people were not allowed to enter them, and large signs forbade the taking of photographs. L/B are doing the opposite by inviting the visitor to follow the lights into the heart of the bunker, thereby making it public.

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Monica Bonvicini

Staub, 2002
Video installation, DVD, sound, colour, 7’37’’, loop. Music: “Forgiven” by Curt Ralske and opera singing by Marion Davies, Monica Bonvicini in collaboration with Jan Ralske

The video was shot in the fortification of Magletsch in Oberschan. Its protagonists are recruits. It covers various aspects of military life. The camera moves along the tunnels of the underground barracks. Some of the sequences are repeated insistently, in order to underscore the monotony and claustrophobia of military architecture. The hapless opera singer Marion Davies’ pitiful singing sounds absurd in comparison with this organised man’s world. The protagonists carry out pointless activities: two of the recruits hide in the tubs that are used to clean weapons in a surreal game of hide and seek; they lie down and sit up again without anything really changing. The movements of the recruits can also be seen as homoerotic. For example, one of them, who is wearing a Venetian mask, ties the other’s tie.

In this video Bonvicini deals as she often does with the theme of masculinity and its construction. The video is projected in the basement, among its authentic furnishings: camp beds, spare light bulbs, and milk mugs with the Swiss cross on them. Thanks to the images of the corridors, the video seems to enlarge the small room and to infuse it with a surreal atmosphere.

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Norma Jeane

Potlatch 8.1/Sustainable Underdevelopment, 2002
Bunker with 8 bunk beds, 5m3 stones, 15m3 excavated soil

During the exhibition, Norma Jeane piled stones onto the visible concrete elements of a bunker and secured them with an iron grid. After that she covered the entire structure with earth by hand. In time, grass will grow on it and the bunker will be forgotten. However, even if you were to cross the bunker out of the inventory of the military department, a gap in the numbered index will point to its existence. Furthermore, the earth and stones with which it was filled and shut have created an unnatural hill which gives the bunker away, and underscores the fact that, as it is of concrete, it is almost indestructible. With this work in progress Norma Jeane wishes to return the bunker to nature, a process which could be seen as reversed archaeology.

In this “Potlatch” the destruction of a public space is combined ironically with the development of its underground space: a lasting solution for the bunker industry is suggested.

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Olivier Mosset

Mennige/minio/minium, 2002
Antirust protection acrylic paint (red-brown)

The bright orange rust-proof priming, called minium, with which the ceiling was primed, has remained untouched under the flaking paint. In his work, Oliver Mosset renewed this painting, using the reddish brown rust protection paint one can buy today. The paint was applied unevenly and rapidly, as its protective function required. The artist’s paintings, on the other hand, are characterized by their two-dimensional structure and the even way in which the paint has been applied.

With his paintings Mosset raises the issue of protection and safety, as minium, the paint that was used for rust protection, is now considered poisonous and is no longer allowed to be sold. What used to mean protection needs no longer to fulfil this function. Yet Mosset renews the colour on these old structures, using the material to preserve our heritage.

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The Book

The book BUNKER : UNLOADED came out a year after the exhibition UNLOADED – Coming up for air, which was held in disused Swiss army bunkers in Oberschan in September 2002. It is not a catalogue, but aims to capture on paper the experience of the exhibition, to convey its atmosphere and to make it known to a wider public. It also constitutes an in-depth analysis of the project.
International artists created new works specifically for UNLOADED. They had to come to terms with difficult sites that have been heavily marked by history, as well as being situated in an imposing landscape. Others have contributed further written or artistic works to the publication.

Contributions by: Christoph Büchel, Monica Bonvicini, Annelise Coste, Fischli/Weiss, Ryan Gander und Shahryar Nashat, Christoph Flury, Norma Jeane, L/B, Gianni Motti, Olivier Mosset und Costa Vece.

Published by: Giovanni Carmine, Catherine Hug, Edizioni Periferia
Design: Stuart Bailey (Amsterdam/Warsaw)

Essays: Giovanni Carmine und Catherine Hug, Alessandra Galasso, Tom Gnägi, Geraldine Ramphal, Peter Stamm, Podiumdiskussion mit / Panel discussion with Daniel Baumann, Regine Helbling Gerster, Thomas Knellwolf, Sabina Lang, Martin Lengwiler und Maurice Lovisa.

Languages: Deutsch, English

1 Vol, Softcover, 136x220 mm, 152 Seiten, 48 Seiten 4-farbig, Auflage 1500
CHF 28.- / € 20.-
ISBN 3-907474-05-8

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Selected websites



AFOM – Artillerie Fort Magletsch (Schweiz): www.fdiv7.ch/festungen/afom
Artilleriewerk Vitznau (erstes Festungshotel der Schweiz): www.festung-vitznau.ch
Association de la ligne fortifiée de la Promenthouse: www.toblerones.ch
Festungsmuseum Heldsberg: www.festung.ch
Festungsmuseum Reuenthal: www.festungsmuseum.ch
Festungswachtkorps: www.vbs.admin.ch/internet/Heer/FWK/d/Index.htm
Fondation du Fort de Vallorbe (Pré-Giroud): www.vallorbe.ch/tourisme/visites/fort.html
Fondation Forteresse Historique de St-Maurice: www.forteresse-st-maurice.ch
Militärhistorische Stiftung Graubünden: www.festung-gr.ch
LONA – Forte Mondascia della linea di difesa: www.fortemondascia.ch
Militärhistorische Stiftung des Kantons Zug: www.mhsz.ch
Nidwaldner Museum, Festung Fürigen: www.nidwaldner-museum.ch
Pro Forteresse, Kanton Wallis: www.profort.ch
Stiftung Schwyzer Festungswerke: www.schwyzer-festungswerke.ch

International links and bibliography (compiled by Martin Egger, Bern):


Depeening and resources

BICC – Bonn International Center for Conversion: www.bicc.de
CDRPC – Centre de documentation et de recherche sur la Paix et les conflits: www.obsarm.org
CIDOB – Centre of International Relations and International Cooperation: www.cidob.org
Critical Art Ensemble: www.critical-art.net
GRIP – Groupe de Recherche et d’Information sur la Paix et la sécurité: www.grip.org
GSOA – Gruppe für eine Schweiz ohne Armee: www.gsoa.ch
Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz: www.hls.ch
PDA – Project on Defense Alternatives: www.comw.org/pda/index.html
Schweiz und der Zweite Weltkrieg (Nationales Forschungsprojekt NFP 42): www.geschichtsbildschweiz.ch
SIPRI – Stockholm International Peace Research Institute: www.sipri.se
UEK – Unabhängige Expertenkommission Schweiz-«Zweiter Weltkrieg»: www.uek.ch
UNIDIR – United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research: www.unidir.org
Virtual Library International Affairs Resources: www.etown.edu/vl
War and Informationtechnology (Watson Institute for International Studies):
War and TV: www.museum.tv/archives/etv/W/htmlW/warontelevi/warontelevi.htm




Edizioni Periferia