The Engadin’s Art Talks: Resistance lessons

The opening speaker at this year’s “Engadin Art Talks” was none other than former German Federal President Joachim Gauck. His presentation on Saturday was more about tyranny resistance than it was about art.

Gauck’s own life, whose Christian overtones he made vivid in reflection on his own upbringing, serves as evidence for what he said. However, in the “sure of existence,” from which he deduced a useful conclusion, he used the tone-appropriate “Hope? Hope!” as the rallying cry for the lecture series conducted in the serene town of Zuoz.

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According to “Art Talks” co-organizer Philip Ursprung, a full-time professor of architectural history at the prestigious ETH Zurich, “Hope” is a distinctively Christian issue. Even Friedrich Nietzsche, who spent several summers in nearby Sils, is reluctant to commit to this, as Ursprung has weaved in. Nietzsche had nothing but scorn for hope. is to then clearly stress the link between optimism and creative utopia.

Otherwise, the adage “art is what artists do” also holds true in the Engadin. For instance, 94-year-old American artist Barbara Stauffacher Solomon created a 24-meter-long and four-meter-high lettering with the word “Welcome” for the nearby, larger, and, above all, more affluent St. Moritz. This lettering is now displayed at the train station and welcomes you from a distance across the winter’s frozen lake.

Ai Weiwei, the artist who is now fully at home everywhere in the world, was present in person, but “Bobby” Solomon attended the “Art Talks” via video since she no longer wanted to expose herself to the transatlantic flight. Ai Weiwei did not want to be reduced to the role of a ray of hope during a conversation with the equally ubiquitous curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, who primarily resides in London. Instead, he adopted a very depressing tone when discussing the current state of affairs in China, where he had previously experienced the omnipotence of the regime as a political prisoner.

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The regime’s absolute power

He casually mentioned that he doesn’t think highly of political protests, at least not anymore. The previous evening, in front of a cosmopolitan crowd that was clearly not in the mood for political action, he had presented an exhibition in a St. Moritz gallery with pixels-only renderings of Chinese zodiac signs made from Lego blocks.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, who serves as the Serpentine Gallery’s director in addition to his other responsibilities, is regarded as one of the most important art curators and thinkers. For the Art Talks, he had also invited a number of artists as well as the Mali-born linguist Mohomodou Houssouba, who resides in Basel.

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He is hard at work bringing his native tongue, Songhay, and other languages from his country, some of which are spoken by millions of people, into the Internet era. Bas Smets, a Belgian landscape architect, spoke with him about climate change in the Engadine, and Talks co-organizer Philip Ursprung is already concerned with it as a professor of architecture.

The Art Talks in the Engadin’s titular “hope” operates primarily on a symbolic basis. Following the lectures, the art community dispersed to the Muzeum Susch (with a “z”! ), the Polish collector Grazyna Kulczyk’s exhibition venue housed inside an old monastery in the same-named town. All shades of optimism brilliantly come to life in the Engadin’s sunny and ice-blue winter sky.

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