The Global Perspectives Program was an amazing opportunity to learn about the Swiss education system and to gain new perspectives and insights into European education. As a member of the GPP, I spent two and a half weeks touring numerous universities in Switzerland, Italy, and France. Along the way, I couldn’t help but notice the ways in which the arts collided with our group. It seemed that everywhere we went, the arts somehow impacted our journey every step of the way. This blog is dedicated to the arts collisions experienced by myself and by my colleagues over the course of our trip.
Touching down in Zurich, I couldn’t help but notice signs and billboards everywhere announcing the 100th anniversary of Dadaism. Dada was an art movement of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century. The movement originated in Zurich in 1916 at the now famed Cabaret Voltaire which has been converted to a museum, theatre space, and bar. Essentially, Dadaism was a political protest against the bourgeois definition of aesthetics and what was considered “high art.” Dada represented the opposite of everything which high art stood for. Dada ignored traditional aesthetics and was intended to offend the nationalist and colonialist interests of the social elite. Suddenly everything was art, and everyone could an artist.
Visiting the Cabaret Voltaire, I drank a beer while soaking in the environment and the history of artistic revolution. Later in the week I visited the Kunsthaus, Zurich’s art museum, and among Monet and Van Gogh, an entire floor was dedicated to the centennial celebration of Dadaism. Exploring the birthplace of Dadaism and seeing the paintings, publications, and sculptures first hand was a phenomenal experience and one that would help shape my time in Switzerland. As the GPP program began, I couldn’t help but notice the ways in which the arts collided with the group on our trip. In many cases these collisions were very apparent but in other ways, arts collisions were subtle and occurred quietly.
At ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, an art installation took the form of a pop-up restaurant that had been set up in one of the main courtyards of the institution. Dubbed the “Taste Lab,” the restaurant was an interdisciplinary exploration of science and food. The project was developed and implemented by a physicist and an economist, both alumni of ETH. Interestingly enough, the masterminds behind the “Taste Lab” viewed it as a research project. They didn’t realize their pop-up restaurant was in fact an art installation.
At the University of Zurich, preparations were underway for an interdisciplinary arts event presented in partnership with Manifesta, The European Biennial of Contemporary Art. Manifesta 11 will include more than 30 visual and performitive works centered on the theme of Transaction – what people do to make money but also the transaction that occurs between the arts and other disciplines. Works will be created in partnership with Junior Researchers from the University of Zurich and professional artists, actors, musicians, and filmmakers through Manifesta.
Another way the arts collided with the GPP’ers was the graffiti in Zurich, Basel, and Bern. Everywhere we went, we saw graffiti of the highest caliber. The colors were bright and vibrant, the lines were immaculate, and the designs were meticulously detailed and executed flawlessly. The graffiti was truly an artistic expression and created by amazingly talented artists. In the US, a lot of graffiti is tagged overtop of the original work creating layers upon layers. More often than not, this creates a very jumbled mix of artists covering each others work. Interestingly, this wasn’t the case in Basel or Bern. Work was respected and left untouched by other artists.
In Strasburg, I couldn’t help but notice the street musicians playing their accordions and brass instruments. The music floating in the air helped create a picturesque atmosphere of the perfect French afternoon. The sun was shining, a lite breeze in the air, the sounds of busy sidewalk cafes, and the music drifting through the alleyways. The smells, the sights, and the sounds all perfectly accompanied the architecture blending seamlessly into the towering shadow of the Strasburg Cathedral.
The Strasburg Cathedral was another example of arts collision. Entering this holy, sacred space was beyond moving. The Gothic
architecture and the detailed stone masonry gave way to the stained glass windows that reached up forever. The light filtering through them created colors and shapes which danced on the floor of the great sanctuary. Everywhere you looked, there was another layer of detail richer and deeper than the last. Wooden carvings, statues of the Lady Madonna, the ornate detailing on every surface serve as a testament to the artistry of man.
Sculptures were yet another way the arts collided with our group. Everywhere we went, there were busts, statues, and contemporary sculptures. At the universities we visited, sculptures were a way of immortalizing historical figures and important alumni. Sculptures were used on the facades of buildings, in alcoves, corners, and as forms of public art. One of the most memorable sculptures was the oxidized metal door at Politecnico de Milano. The work contained no actual pigment, but through oxidization, the metal reflected a fast array of color and shapes creating a series of pictures all devoted to areas of scientific discovery.
In Riva San Vitale, the arts collided with our group at the Baptistery and the Chiesa della S. Croce, a restored church dating back to the 1500s. The paintings, the stone work, and the mosaics all blended together to create the sense of an old world and a time long since forgotten. The villa where we stayed also featured ornate paintings on the ceilings and walls which matched the color and texture of the aged marble floors and stairs. Everywhere in Riva felt as though it had layers upon layers of history mixed with elements of modern everyday life.
Arts collisions may not always be apparent. Sometimes the arts can impact an experience in quiet, subtle ways. Other times, the arts can be a revolution as was the case of Dada. The arts make meaning and can offer new perspectives on a global stage. The arts collisions we experienced helped to shape the trip and created memories that will last a lifetime.