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1040.8 [m]

Roman Signer

Alles fährt Ski, 2014

Like much of Roman Signer’s work, Alles fährt Ski, is a kinetic sculpture that plays with the potential energy of destruction. Harnessed to gravity, the small wooden chalet descended the hill on skis to find its natural resting place on the flat land below. There it rests as both testament to and record of its momentary action.

Talstation Eggli
7.28073 / 46.46803

Roman Signer; Alles fährt Ski, 2014

Roman Signer; Alles fährt Ski, 2014 © Stefan Altenburger
Roman Signer; Alles fährt Ski, 2014 © Stefan Altenburger

Roman SignerInterview with Ewa Hess, SonntagsZeitung

Roman Signer talks to Ewa Hess about „Alles fährt Ski“ (Everything Skies)
© SonntagsZeitung

Roman Signer, do you like the music of Trio Eugster?

You mean because of the title “Alles fährt Ski”? I didn’t even know it was their song.

Was seventies Schlager music the inspiration for your new work?
(Singing:) “Alles fahrt Schii, alles fahrt Schii, Schii fahrt die ganzi Nation. D Mamme, dr Bappe, dr Sohn. Es git halt nüt Schöners, juhe, juhe, als Sunneschy, Bärge und Schnee ... (laughing). No, the point of departure wasn’t the song, but the idea of a cabin on skis, going down the slope. It wasn’t until later that the song we sang came to mind. We play it on the speakers as the cabin is skiing down the mountain.

How does a cabin even ski?
Just like people; we place it on skis. We’d probably place four pairs underneath it. And the light will be on, as if a family were sitting at the table eating fondue while the cabin is gliding down. “Alles fährt Ski” (Everything Skies) indeed, and now in Gstaad even the chalets do!

But wouldn’t the cabin collapse?
No, we’ll see to it that it doesn’t. It’s also meant to remain next to the slope after it skies down, until March. We will film the whole thing, and then screen the video inside the cabin.

It sounds funny, but letting a cabin ski down a slope is a rather rakish idea.
Yes, it is. We have to take precautions to ensure no one gets hurt.

What for example?
We’ll do test runs. We’d let the cabin glide down a third of the mountain slope first and see how it holds up. Then we’ll pull it back up and try half of the slope. We also need to make sure it doesn’t just go all day way down into the parking lot.

How heavy is it?
It weighs half a ton. It’s a small cabin, three by five meters and three meters high. Just big enough for a family to sit around a table inside. We’ve just visited a Chalet maker in Gstaad, Albert Bach, who’s constructing your cabin as requested. He was astonished about the peaked roof.

Why do you want it to be so steep?
I’m used to roofs with a 43° slant, that’s how they’re built in the east of Switzerland. Here, on the other hand, they make cabins with somewhat less slanted roofs, about 30° only. The chalet maker noticed the disparity, but I’m going to stick to my version. That’s how I like it.

A plucky East Swiss gets his way in the Bernese Oberland?
Sure, why not? We let Simmental cattle pasture in the east, so our pointed gable should be allowed to enjoy some local hospitality, too. And anyway, it’s only temporary, until March.

Aren’t you worried that the steel cable that the cabin is attached to and that you’re supposed to cut will snap back and injure you?
I’m not worried about myself at all, only about the viewers. A certain amount of tension should always be at play; it’s a part of it.

The chalet maker suggested the cabin be glided down a cable, and brakes be built in. but you don’t want that.
No, not like that. I had other ideas. One could attach an anchor to the cabin for example, or a rubber band that would bounce it back uphill (laughs). Or maybe self-demolition activation at the end? This way it doesn’t make it too far down the slope (laughs harder). But that would be too dangerous.

Do such ideas just pour out of you in everyday situations too? Do you see everything in motion or exploding?
No, but you see very interesting things in everyday life. I was in Iceland once, for an exhibition, and as I was looking for the keys to my accommodation, a huge heap of snow slid off the roof and fell right in front of me. Had I been standing one step closer to the door, I would have been buried underneath it. The key saved my life.

Danger is as present in the everyday as it is in your art?
Everyday life is the most dangerous thing there is. Snow or a melting icicle can kill you; you could fall off a ladder. Death is always lurking.

Like what’s happening now with Michael Schumacher.
Exactly! All those races, all the accidents he had survived and suddenly, this stroke of fate.

Do you think about that a lot?
Certainly. There are dark forces at play here.

Your art is often urged by your playing with the fundamental forces of nature. Is this what makes your work so fascinating?
Could be. People live with danger without paying attention to it. In Utrecht, in the Netherlands, I once saw how a huge branch fell from a tree right behind a cyclist. The cyclist just dashed on, didn’t even notice it.

Do you sometimes test your luck with your action performances?
I don’t always do action performances. I will be showing sculptures in an upcoming show at Hauser & Wirth Gallery in Zurich. And in general, I’m doing a lot less action performances than before. They’ve also become less dangerous. The one where I’m walking on thin ice, at the risk that it might crack; I wouldn’t do that today for example.

Too risky?
One shouldn’t challenge fate twice the same way.

Your installation here in Gstaad is shown as part of “Elevation 1049”. Were you immediately in favor of the idea of doing an Alpine Biennale?
What’s happening here is quite crazy! I marvel at the organizational challenge alone. I like Gstaad, I prefer it to St. Moritz. It’s “cozier”.

Gstaad is also very chic, and this glamorous art event will make it even more posh. Doesn’t that bother you?
No, I’m happy if there’s more appreciation for contemporary art in Simmental. Coming from Appenzell, I’m happy that, thanks to the Liner-Museum and the Kunsthalle Ziegelhütte, not only decorative painting is considered art anymore.

Are you currently working on other projects?
I have a show in the St. Gallen Art museum in June – a “home match” so to say. And then there might be a show in China.

Have you ever exhibited in China before?
Yes, I once did something really crazy for the Shanghai Biennale. It was a huge wooden ball, about 1 meter in diameter and filled with blue paint, which was let go from 35-meter height. It was a fantastic fall.

You are a highly esteemed artist in Japan; is the appreciation for you work as big in China too?
I think the Japanese might understand my work better. In Japan, there’s more appreciation for minimalism and reduction. Chinese culture is more “Baroque”.

What is your favorite place to exhibit?
Clearly in Switzerland. But also France, England and Holland.

Published 12.1.2014 / © SonntagsZeitung
Translation by Hili Perlson

Roman Signer: Alles fahrt SchiiVic Eugster & Sepp Trütsch

Roman Signer on Elevation 1049Research

Chalet Illustration

Roman SignerCV

Roman Signer (b. 1938 in Appenzell, Switzerland) is principally a visual artist who works in sculpture, installations photography, and video.

Signer started his career as an artist later in life at the age of 28, after working as an architect’s draughtsman, a radio engineer apprentice, and a short stint in a pressure cooker factory. He holds degrees from arts institutions in Switzerland and Poland. He studied at the Schule für Gestaltung in Zurich and Lucerne between 1966 and 1971. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Poland from 1971-1972.


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