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A summer of sitting around Zurich

The new art benches are a novel and yet practical addition to the streets of Zurich swissinfo.ch

Zurich is inviting the world to a "sit in". It has transformed its streets into works of art by placing more than a thousand "art benches" on its pavements. Local officials hope the benches will be as well received as the first street exhibition three years ago, when life-size plastic cows invaded the city.

This content was published on May 21, 2001 - 13:57

A blue and white tram sets off down Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse. Emblazoned across the side is the slogan "I'm also a boat", advertising the fact that tram tickets can also be used on Lake Zurich's passenger ferries.

The tram rumbles past dozens of benches of all shapes and sizes, including one with the words "I'm also a cow" painted across it.

"We were very successful with the cows," says Robert Ober, president of Zurich's retailers association. "But because it was imitated in other cities of the world, which used cow and other animal themes such as frogs and moose, we decided to do something completely different, and so we came up with the idea for the benches."

64,000 bottoms a day

Based on double occupancy, Ober's association reckons an average length of stay - or sit as the case may be - of 15 minutes per bench. Taking the arithmetic a step further, the more than 1,000 art benches are being asked to accommodate the bottoms of 64,000 people a day or seven million in total by the time the rectangular boxes are removed from the city streets in mid-September.

"Zurich is a business city. And cities of business are usually very serious - no one smiles, so we thought we would try to change that," Ober adds.

At Paradeplatz, under the watchful windows of some of Switzerland's mightiest banks, sits the bench titled "The deal". The bench is bookended by two stainless steel silhouettes of businessmen shaking hands with their arms arched over the seat.

But the game of musical chairs isn't reserved for the city's bankers and brokers.

Chocolate bench

At one end of the square, a giant sperm offers a place of rest in the curl of its tail. Not far off, a child climbs on to the back of a metallic dragon, itself draped over the back of a bench. Across the street, a woman tries to break off a piece of the bench sponsored by the chocolate maker, Sprüngli.

There are thrones, benches disguised as beaches, swimming pools, bathtubs and submarines - perfect for a rainy day stroll in Switzerland's biggest and liveliest city.

There are benches made to look like benches and benches that are so abstract few could even hazard a guess as to where to place their behind. The same has to be said for the bench of nails.

"Zurich has opened up, and I think it's because we have a lot of foreigners living in the city and this has positively influenced the people of Zurich," says Edith Strub, president of Zurich tourism. "Today Zurich is a very cosmopolitan city providing lots of fun."

Sit-seeing tours

Strub's office is offering two-hour "sit-seeing" tours of the city's most interesting sites, viewed of course from the comfort of some of the city's most unusual new benches.

From the seat of "Heaven and Earth", visitors can admire the twin-spired Grossmunster cathedral where Ulrich Zwingli once converted the Zurich masses to the cause of the Reformation.

There's room for a whole busload of tourists to enjoy the view over Lake Zurich from the "mother of all benches". The oversized cow is in honour of the successful promotion that paved the way for Bench Art.

"The art isn't just to admire but is practical. That's what is so exciting about the project," says artist Jürg Bächtold, who was commissioned to create two dozen of the benches. "I have a good feeling about it. But I hope they will be used and respected, and not vandalised."

"There are no rules [about sitting on the benches] but the people have to communicate with each other," adds Ober, who realises that Bench Art could become a victim of its own popularity.

"The only problem is that photographers can't always get the picture they want because there are always people sitting on them, covering the artwork!"

by Dale Bechtel

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