Coming to the newly opened Brixton House this week, Pro Helvetia will be bringing three of the most exciting and innovative Swiss artists to the London stage. Artist Alan Alpenfelt speaks to us about bringing Binaural Views of Switzerland to life and what he’s most looking forward to about performing in the capital.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I was born in Perth, Scotland, and moved to Switzerland at a tender age, first growing up in the Swiss German part and then moving to Ticino – the Swiss-Italian regione – in my early teens. I became involved in community radio and then discovered the world of live radio dramas, which brought me to experiment with sound and music theatre. I love anything that is related to the listening experience, as for me it is a way to open up imagination and connect to invisible worlds. Today, I work as a performance and installation artist, theatre director and trainer, community & youth radio empowerer and record producer. At times I play records from my small vinyl collection. As of 2021 I coordinate Luminanza – a training programme for Swiss contemporary drama in the Italian language.
Can you tell us a bit about your show?
Binaural Views of Switzerland is an audio-visual exhibition, an observation of the changes caused by human activity in the Swiss Landscape since 1863, when the pioneering British photographer William England made his Grand Tour of Switzerland, deciding to visit the Alps right at the beginning of what would become mass tourism. He created stunning stereoscopic photographs of over 150 locations, bringing them back to London and selling them to the new bourgeoisie. Londoners would gather around the table, sipping cups of tea and delving into three-dimensional photos of Switzerland, which would fire up their imagination and desire to travel and reach the tops of the Alps. It heavily contributed to the beginning of tourism: the way he framed the poses are still recognizable today in modern tourist advertisment, where we are shown pictures of deserted breath taking landscapes which induce a sense of freedom and of the sublime. I decided to go on a two month journey, to re-discovered 30 of these locations, documenting the changes I would find, by taking 3D photographs and recording the binaural (360°) sounds from the exact same spot where William had taken his photographs. Some places hadn’t changed at all, thanks to the Swiss desire to keep things how they were and showing an exemplary image of what Swiss landscape is, other places have completely changed, for example the complete melting of the glaciers or the heavy industrialization and urbanisation of cities and plains. The centre of the exhibition is a Kaiser Panorama, which we constructed anew. It features the stereoscopic photographs of William England linked to headphones through which the visitor can choose between the contrasting binaural soundscapes of the present day or the imagined ones of the past. Awareness of the effects of mass tourism, modern transport, climate change and industrial development are some of the themes which pervade the exhibition. I’m really looking forward to hearing what Londoners will think of it!
What are you most excited about for performing in London?
For me it’s like completing a bridge, between to eras and two artists, between the English photo-explorer William England who left London to photograph Switzerland on foot and contributed to kickstarting mass tourism, and myself also a Brit and also a Swiss, who lives in a world which is suffering the effects of the industrial revolution, in a world coming to a dangerous tipping point related to human induced climate change. Since I opened the exhibition in 2019, I was very eager to show it in Britain, to discuss with the British audience about the themes contained in my work and somehow offer my respect to the marvellous and stunning art work of William England. He has given us the possibility to look directly into the past, into a world which would in a few years change forever.
Binaural Views of Switzerland is free to visit at Brixton House as part of Swiss Selection from 8th – 12th March. Tickets and further info available here.