Handout for Somalgors 74 in Tschlin.
Texts by Curdin Tones. Design in collaboration with Matthias Kreutzer and Our Polite Society
Began By Love, Threatened By Love – Through War And Fire A Shelter Abides
Garden, Barn And House – I open my doors to the foreign once more
From A Connectedness With This Place – And This Time
In Silence And Debate – A Space For Words, An Abundance Of Images
LIKE THE SWALLOWS
If you follow the central road into the Engadin valley in southeastern Switzerland, from town to town the mountains appear bigger and the valley narrower, and right before the Swiss border you’ll pass a sign marking the turn-off for Tschlin. After climbing about five hundred meters up steep switchbacks, you’ll arrive in the rather compact village. Following the main road between the tightly packed houses, passing several fountains and another steep incline, you’ll arrive at the old Main Square. Towering over it from the mountain side are two pregnant apartment buildings. Going around these buildings and following a small road up the mountain, you’ll find yourself directly in front of a small house: SOMALGORS 74.
Summum al corso—above the main road—the house has existed for quite some time in this village, which is marked by its traditionally rural past. Over the past centuries the house has been in constant transformation. The building has regularly collapsed and then been rebuilt and expanded, and there’s always been a new set of owners to install themselves in the property. The original tower house was for living as well as for storage. As a farmer’s residence, a barn was added. Even later, the ruins of one of the neighboring houses were removed and replaced by a vegetable garden. Then it served as the poorhouse of the municipality, housed the public freezers and washing machines, and was uninhabited for a while. Finally it was used as dormitories for local shepherds in spring and autumn.
Nowadays, the historical site is rife with cultural activity. For several years now, I have made use of the house with artists and designers I know. During this time, a central question made itself clear: as a space for artistic engagement, how should such activity become visible now and what role could this impermanently occupied building serve in the community of Tschlin?
At first glance, it’s perhaps not evident that the culture of the Engadin has been formed by exchanges with foreign cultures, not in Alpine isolation. Early printing techniques, classical architectural references, musical and culinary influences—all are due to the Engadin’s location among the Alpine passes that connect Latin, Slavic, and Germanic cultures. Moreover, today the barriers between village and city have become more diffuse than ever. Internet, Ikea, and garden centers have been present for some time, and the daily work commute to nearby cities has become a reality for many. The traditionally separated worlds have become, thanks to increased mobility, more porous. Rifts and trenches certainly still exist between city and country, but not the involuntary isolation in the historical sense.
The Engadin has historically had high levels of emigration. Many who left the region retained a sense of connection to their homeland and the members of their family who stayed behind. There have traditionally been large numbers of people who return to their village in the summer. Significantly, these seasonal returners were given the name “randulinas,” or swallows. Today I’m one of these swallows, and I migrate between the Netherlands and southeastern Switzerland, between Amsterdam and Tschlin. I too feel connected to both places and their inhabitants, and that’s why I always return to each place.
The fact that I can only be in Tschlin for about three months per year is determinate for the role I play in the village. Does the name “swallows” also contain a kind of disdain for the unburdened, uncommitted behavior of a temporary visitor? How is village life affected by the fact that we live in times when it’s easier than ever before to live in multiple locations at once? Can one be a cosmopolitan citizen and also have local roots? The heavy travelling that my praxis requires has taught me that the basis of the world is located in a local community, even if economic dependencies usually extend much further. In the long run, every place is sustained by local engagement. Whether or not the community of a small village can survive in the future will be determined by local, everyday engagement. How can someone work to increase the possibilities of a community while staying there only a minority of the time?
What is the significance of making art in these two places, to develop an artistic practice without recourse to traditional value comparisons? It seems to me that it is precisely in this tradition of emigration and seasonal return that we find the key to a contemporary cultural engagement in SOMALGORS 74. As a human swallow I bring foreign influences to Tschlin and then return to Amsterdam with local influences. To consciously develop this kind of artistic position is also to identify myself, in my connections and roots in both places, as a mediator. This would mean that I also have to consider what exactly of Tschlin I can bring to Amsterdam, where there is much experimentation being done around micro-communities and where art projects seem to have the goal of creating opportunities for communal interaction and activity.
At the same time the question arises of how I can serve as cultural mediator in Tschlin without condescending to the local community. While many villages of the Engadin are transforming from Alpine farmer settlements to either uninhabited vacation retreats or small regional towns, Tschlin has kept its community relatively intact and has a comparatively rich social and musical culture. The mixed choir and the musical society practice regularly, and many residents take part in other groups and clubs. The rhythm of the calendar year is set by the traditional seasonal festivals, of which most are still celebrated. It seems to me that, compared to a city, a greater percentage of the village populace take part in such cultural activities. What does it signify to attempt, out of one’s own connection to this place and time, in silence and debate, to organize one’s own space in order to take part in a rich cultural society by way of contemporary art? As an artist, how can one complement this diversity in a sensible way, finding a voice that can get close to what is important?