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Swiss artists challenge notion of neutrality

The "Not Neutral" exhibition questions the role of Swiss neutrality (NYU)

An exhibition of contemporary Swiss photography bearing the provocative title, "Not Neutral", has opened in New York.

The show features the work of nine Swiss artists, and curators hope their work will challenge the clichéd image of Switzerland as a land of chocolate and cheese.

Though the artists do not seek to make clear political statements, they do set out to confront the notion of neutrality, according to Urs Stahel, the exhibition's curator.

"Artists are in touch with the world and work with that world, so they always have a position - they're actually never neutral. Therefore, we created the title 'Not Neutral'."

Stahel says Hans Danuser, a photographer based in Chur, is a case in point.

"The work of Hans Danuser is not political in the sense that he tells us what is good or bad in the world.

"But he is somebody who looks very carefully at what happens in the world, what kind of system we develop in producing atomic energy or knowledge about our bodies and micro-organisms.

"And he tries to give us the capability to have an emotional standpoint vis-à-vis these events. And this work is certainly not neutral."

Narrow view

Photographs by the artist, Claudio Moser, focus on obstacles like walls or broken windows, which restrict the view.

Moser, based in Aarau, Switzerland, sees parallels in neutrality, which he describes as "a little bit cheap" because it allows Switzerland to avoid taking a stance on the international stage.

Switzerland first gained the status of neutrality at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Its role at the time within the community of European countries was to provide a balance between the great powers such as Prussia, Russia, Austria and France.

"In this regard, I think that at least for the past 150 years, the idea of Switzerland playing the role of a neutral country was an important role," argues Stahel. "It helped a lot of enemies to talk to each other."

However, he questions whether neutrality would serve Switzerland's interests best in the future.

"The political and economic landscape has changed so dramatically in the last five to ten years with the end of the Cold War and globalisation. I think Switzerland has to redefine its role in this context, to find a new identity."

swissinfo, Carla Drysdale in New York

Key facts

"Not Neutral" at the Grey Art Gallery of New York University features the work of Daniele Buetti, Hans Danuser, Katrin Freisager, Annelies Strba, Ugo Rondinone, Cat Tuong Nguyen, Marco Poloni and Peter Tillessen.
The exhibition, which runs until July 19, is part of the Swisspeaks festival.

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