Branded “City of images”, Vevey lives up to its reputation. “Images” is a free visual arts festival that invades the lakeside city every two years. A myriad of international artists contribute to an ambitious programme that runs indoors and outdoors until September 26, featuring works by cult American film director David Lynch and by French art activist JR, whose monumental frescoes speak louder than words.
When Stefano Stoll, head of the cultural department of Vevey became director in 2008 of Images, an event created in 1995, it was a a biennial attended mainly by photography professionals.
He tells Swisster how he decided to transform it into an open-air festival of the visual arts for the public at large. “I don’t generally like open-air exhibitions,” he admits, “because they are often disconnected from their environment.”
“So we decided to take another approach. In our festival, each image has been carefully chosen in relation to a specific part of the urban and lakeside environment of Vevey,” Stoll says, adding that only then can it resonate with the setting and become meaningful. His hope is that even the artists will look at their works differently.
This year’s edition is spread out amongst 30 different venues, all within a distance of less than a kilometer. Like a treasure hunt for adults and children, startling discoveries are to be made at the different street corners of Vevey.
“To find the right fit between 45 artists and a particular spot in an urban environment is what takes a long time,” Stoll explains.
When a choice is finalized with the artist, a technical team comprising of a full-time photo-lithographer, two graphic designers and eight technicians steps in. It takes several months to deck out the city with a site-specific display that does not shy away from complexity.
During the final stages of mounting, more than 20 people are at work, not to mention the communication and project managers. “I have a dream team this year,” Stoll recognizes.
Monumental pictures larger than Broadway billboards rub elbows with delicate photographic friezes dotted along the streets. Two examples give an idea of the contrasts obtained:
The work of Chinese artist Li Wei from his series “29 levels of freedom” drapes over the entire facade of the BCV on the Grande Place, arresting the busy train passengers pouring out of the station, while a triptych on the theme of “Love at the high place” adorns the empty spaces of the covered market on Place de la Grenette.
Li Wei, whose improbable pictures of flying individuals are real, obtained with pullies and mirrors, not Photoshop, gave a spectacular performance for the opening of “Images” during which he climbed onto the fork sculpture in the lake off Vevey and stood upside down at its summit.
Jean-Christian Bourcart requires a more intimate environment. The pictures he shot at weddings to earn his living before he left France wrap around the lovely Eglise Saint Claire, whereas his series “Camden”, his stark portraiture of violence in the US, where he has been living since 1997, find refuge in Théâtre de Vevey.
Stoll stresses how “Images” is the result of an intense collaboration between local cultural institutions and galleries, with the generous support of the city of Vevey and sponsors, including home-based Nestlé.
It also celebrates the seventh Vevey International Grand prix of photography (that received over 1,000 submissions from five continents this year) and the fifth European Grand prix of first films, both of which have rewarded young talents that have since made a name for themselves.
The ‘Images’ programme this year includes a David Lynch film retrospective, that partners an exhibition organized by the Vevey Jenisch Museum of his equally disturbing art work entitled David Lynch. I hold you tight.
The headquarters of the festival, complete with welcoming centre, boutique and bookshop, are housed in the former EPA department store that was ripped of its fixtures before refurbishment. The place in its present state is magical.
The four floors have become an ephemeral museum with 15 exhibitions, including the world-famous Carola et Günther Ketterer-Ertle video art collection.
An annexe to the festival, but one that stays open all year is Quai No. 1, the gallery located on the first floor of the train station that was inaugurated by Stoll at the beginning of the year.
“I’m especially pleased to be presenting the first photographic work of Belgian artist, Hans Op de Beeck,” Stoll enthuses.
“At his request, we have painted the walls of the gallery the same deep grey as the new carpeting to envelope his black and white pictures. A lone figure lost in thought lounges in a hyper-realistic environment that is in fact computer generated. There is a Hopper-like dreaminess in the pictures,” Stoll points out.
“I’m not aiming for the experts,” the director reveals. “My target is the step-mother, or if you prefer, the person who does not go into a museum.”
“But you cannot show photography in the open air without provoking reactions,” he says. “You can show pictures that have no message, but as soon as you present something that is meaningful it relates one way or another to someone’s life. Intrusion is the theme running throughout the exhibition.”
Stoll mentions the reaction of a Vevey inhabitant who said that it was a scandal to show how beautiful a nuclear bomb can be.
The aptly named American photographer Michael Light retrieved a hundred photographs of nuclear explosions taken between July 1945 and November 1962 (by Hollywood cameramen sworn to secrecy) that were lying dormant in American military archives.
“100 Suns”, the alarmingly aesthetic images of nuclear bombs line Quai Perdonnet against the tranquil beauty of Lake Geneva.
the 27-year-old JR has attained worldwide notoriety with his pictures of imams and rabbis disposed without permission on both sides of the Palestine/Israel divide, or with his portraits of women that serve to protect the favela shacks in Rio from rain.
JR, Lehnert & Landrock, Egypt 1923- 1930, the mosque of Imâm Ash-Shâfi î, Cairo / JR with team at work pasting on the strips © Céline Michel
Amongst the 14 images that he chose in the Elysée archives to plaster on monumental surfaces in Vevey – and that alone would form a festival – is the photograph of an Egyptian mosque.
The minaret towers over Vevey train station, raising more smiles in the country that voted against minarets, than it does scowls.
Around 2,000 visitors attended the inauguration of “Images” this weekend, more than 3,000 visited the shows.