To celebrate the upcoming release of our new book No Storm in Sight, we ask its author Norbert Graf for his five favourite images from the project.
At the very moment I am writing these lines, the access road to the valley in the Valais Alps, where the picture was taken, is closed due to the danger of avalanches. The sports field, located at an altitude of 1,400 meters above sea level, is hidden under one meter of snow. It is one of the rare flat plains in the narrow valley, constructed right next to the river that helped shape the valley. The picture was taken in late autumn, before the big onset of winter. The colours of nature are fading, the larches growing on the mountain slopes have begun to take on a yellow-brown colour. Unaffected by this, the lawn of the sports field continues to glow in the same lush green which it always has. Just as if it could take itself out of the great cycle in nature that surrounds it.
When people in Switzerland leave their stuff in the open for a longer period, they like to cover it with a plastic tarpaulin, quite carefully and neatly wrapped, to protect it from rain, sun and more. A second skin lays on vehicles, piles and other kind of objects. What is hidden under the plastic is not always as clearly recognizable as it is with this object that I encountered in Zürich. Sometimes I had to look properly to know. And sometimes I didn’t do that, consciously, since I wanted to leave the hidden unrevealed. For that these mobile sculptures, created for a period of time, could carry on their potential to leave their dormancy at once (if they ever would wish so) and become something one did not imagine before.
During the warm season, this is one of the places that tourists and native people alike aim to visit, because from up here you have an impressive view over one of the most famous glaciers in the Swiss Alps, the Aletsch. Vastness, mountains, nature – all that this landscape is famous for can be found here. The place may seem pristine, but of course it is not. Places untouched by man no longer exist today, and even if people have left, they remain present.
Around one third of Switzerland is covered by forests. In the area of the midland with its closely spaced cities and villages, the forests are generally small-scale and alternate mosaic-like with settlements, industrial zones and agricultural land areas. Walking through these forests gives you nevertheless the feeling of being out in the green (probably not for long, though, since you won’t manage to avoid seeing a next house shortly). But you may even discover one or the other wild animal crossing your path. Or a machine like the one here, waiting for its next job helping cleaning up the forest.
The sheep belong to my neighbor; they were photographed very close to where I live, a few kilometers outside of Bern. The animals appear in a moment of freezing or shock (even if they seem to be a bit curious at the same time). Their pose reminds me of an idea in art that is 200 years old, known as the “romantic irony”, which actually fits quite well here. In the German Romanticism, a writer like E.T.A. Hoffmann or a musician like Robert Schumann did not understand the world as a clearly perceptible unity. The “irony” describes the moment when someone becomes aware of the splits the world consists of. It is a moment of shock, celebrated by artists who were fascinated by the ambiguous. Its modernity has not gone.