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Switzerland

When Contemporary Art Lands In A Highway Rest Stop

In Switzerland, a provocatively mundane location for top avant-garde art. But can you find something more important than a full tank of gas?

Some 30 works of art have been installed inside the rest stop
Some 30 works of art have been installed inside the rest stop
Jill Gasparina

MARTIGNY — There may be no location seemingly less appropriate for an art exhibition than a highway rest stop. Visitors are often in a hurry and far from the state of mind that an encounter with works of art requires. As for the spaces themselves, they're a long way from the large and enclosed white cubes we usually find in museums.

And yet, the decision to organize the fourth edition of the Valais contemporary art exhibition La Triennale at the rest stop Saint-Bernard, is far from absurd. First of all because the gas station has long been an object of interest for artists, since the 1960s. Second, because the American mythology around roads has a particular echo in the Swiss canton of Valais. And finally, because a rest stop is an excellent metaphor for a cultural world that's increasingly in pursuit of events such as biennials, triennials and the like, which wind up visited at the speed of light.

The Triennale commissioners were particularly clever to use the entire site. Some 30 works of art, from Swiss as well as international artists, have been installed inside the rest stop and its immediate surroundings. Well-known among the locals, the site offers an unusual, and curiously photogenic landscape with its two ponds, surrounding mountains, a cable car, power towers, a wind turbine, orchards, an industrial poultry farm, and even a military fort. "You have the whole Valais region inside one square kilometer," says Simon Lamunière, one of the three commissioners.

Spending more than 20 minutes is uncommon

The location brings together so many of the themes of a changing society, and especially that which regards our relationship to entertainment, nature, trade and tourism. What place can art have in these transformations? Should it be more "event-driven"? More commercial? Can it touch everybody?

By way of answer, a series of works offer an ironic vision of the "high-speed tourism" society. On the car park, Laurent Faulon's burnt and glossed Mitsubishi takes center stage amid functioning cars, while a series of tents installed by Jérôme Leuba offer a dystopian fiction.

Inside the station's shop, visitors will find a Jaguar that François Curlet turned into a hearse. It's the same car used in the 1971 movie Harold and Maude, in which a young suicidal man falls in love with an 80-year-old woman.

It's easy to appreciate the sweet paradox of using a space normally devoted to consumption for an exhibition, but we must also admit that the rest stop's daily activity often interferes with the access to the works on exhibit, and which aren't always highlighted, or even visible. The most convincing works are really the ones visitors can find outside.

Organized like a paper chase, the exhibition takes the visitors along the pond, where they can see Lang and Baumann's floating structure, then to the orchard until the natural reserve where the rivers Dranse and Rhône meet. There are also works the evoke the absence of body, like Delphine Reist's empty boots or Fabrice Gygi's Autoportrait, which seems to be resting away from prying eyes.

Spending more than 20 minutes in a rest stop is uncommon. But the experience the site offers is worth it. Even if the background noise from the highway is always present, it somehow also helps to progressively move us away from civilization.

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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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