Research Exhibition SWITZERLAND IS NOT AN ISLAND #2 – Controversy Out Loud

Shedhalle / Exhibitions / SWITZERLAND IS NOT AN ISLAND

Opening 31 May, 7 p.m.

witha lecture performance by Saar Magal (Video design and editing: Benjamin Krieg)

The second part of the SWITZERLAND IS NOT AN ISLAND exhibition and program of events, “#2 Controversy Out Loud” refers to the Richard Wagner Year 2013 and his connection with Swiss politics of memory.

Works by Tal Adler/Karin Schneider; the „The Pressure Group to Transform the Lueger Monument into a Monument against Anti-Semitism and Racism“;  Sasha Huber; Tina Leisch; Saar Magal and the “Café Temelín” reveal strategies for a artistic approach to figures, places, and stories that are “ambivalent” and “problematic”  in terms of the politics of memory.


Over the past several decades, cracks have begun to form in the image of Switzerland as a “neutral country” and humanitarian island. While Switzerland is clearly not a Nazi successor state, it was complexly involved in the national-socialist regime. There was active resistance as well as collaboration, and profiteering in Switzerland. The country’s current financial wealth cannot be viewed as something separate from this.

Anti-Semitic and racist policies in Switzerland have a long history. Between 1933 and 1945 Switzerland was a land of exile, but also a country that closed its borders for those who were on the run “simply for racial reasons,” turning them back and thereby accepting their death. Continuities in these policies are evident even today with regard to Jews, Roma, and refugees, while claims of neutrality and the “special case” of Switzerland remain as a protective shield against the country’s confrontation with its own involvements.

This problematic stance towards its own history becomes apparent in the handling of Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism in the anniversary year 2013. The figure of Wagner offers the opportunity for a confrontation that delves deeper into the artists persona and his work: as a participant in the bourgeois revolution, he fled from Dresden, was granted asylum in Zurich where he composed not only musical works, but also the anti-Semitic essay, “Jewishness (or Judaism) in Music,” which the Nazis would later use as a politico-cultural source of terms.

In a serious approach to Wagner and his works, there is no clean separation of his musical creation from his political attitude and actions, or justification of the musical “genius” while treating his anti-Semitism and Deutschtümelei (Germanomania) as, at best, a disturbing footnote.  Taking a serious approach to Wagner as a political artist means taking a closer look at the logic of his creation – shaping the world by means of art.  And, finally, such a consequential confrontation (in Switzerland) also means confronting historical forms of anti-Semitism and racism and also, speaking out against and fighting their current forms.


The exhibition project  “#2 Controversy Out Loud” proposes a serious consideration of the work, attitude, and reception of figures that appear “fickle” or “ambivalent” when they are considered in their overall contexts. Opposing apologetic and obscure attitudes, the art works shown in the exhibition present strategies of clarification and change.  

The choreographer Saar Magal opens the exhibition with a performance–lecture of her piece “Hacking Wagner” in a version adapted for the Shedhalle. The piece deals with the possibilities of “hacking” the work and reception of Richard Wagner, that is, cracking the appropriate code, redefining it, and newly appropriating it from the position of Holocaust survivors and their descendants. Also questioned is the perform-ability of Richard Wagner in countries where National Socialism and its effects continue to play a role—thus, also in Switzerland.

In two works from the series “Dispersed Fragments” and “Leveled Landscapes,” Tal Adler/Karin Schneider look at sites and forms of memory, forgetting, and concealing in the Austrian “landscape.”

In Tina Leisch’s riefenstahlremix, Anna Blach and Rosa Winter, Sintezza, recall their forced labor in Helene Riefenstahl’s film Tiefland. The Nazi film icon drafted them from a Nazi concentration camp, forcing them to work as extras for the film.

The works shown in the exhibition by Sasha Huber and the two collectives “Café Temelín” and  “The Pressure Group to Transform the Lueger Monument into a Monument against Anti-Semitism and Racism” present forms of artistic intervention that are interested in expanding the scope for action at very concrete sites.

The “The Pressure Group to Transform the Lueger Monument into a Monument against Anti-Semitism and Racism“ invited to an open call in which 225 applications were submitted for the redesigning of the memorial for  an anti-Semitic politician, Karl Lueger (Mayor of Vienna 1897-1910). Shown in the exhibition are a chronology of the project, the winning concept as well as a summary publication.

Sasha Huber documents her re-naming of the Agassizhorn (Berner Alps) as  “Rentyhorn.” Agassizhorn bears the name of a proponent of Swiss scientific racism,  Louis Agassiz, while Renty was the name of the Congolese slave whom Agassiz photographed and used as evidence in his racist argumentation.

“Café Temelín” shows cinematic and photographic excerpts from a tour through Austrian border and mountain regions. Its goal was to disturb the normality of revisionist historiography and the continuity of nationalist and extreme right-wing discourses.  


The research exhibition SWITZERLAND IS NOT AN ISLAND compiles a collection of artistic works on key themes, as well as publications and research material. The exhibition will be expanded over the course of 2013 with additional thematic foci. The collection will be continuously supplemented, and is the base for additional events in the program, such as workshops, discussions, poster campaigns, and actions/interventions, and is available for visitors as reading and research material.