Classic American fashion is a beautiful medium. And while the original uniform of the teenage rock and roll dirtbag was a fairly austere, masculine style, it was as an export that the look exploded. British and Japanese rockabillies are the most obvious examples, but it’s the Swiss kids of Karlheinz Weinberger’s photography that really blow me away. The photos are from the 50s and early 60s, but I could see sporting the women’s looks today. Classic, surreal, and dangerous.
Fun fact: John Waters gives the forward for Weinberger’s coffee-table book, Rebel Youth—you can totally see some influence in Cry-Baby, no?
More Swiss greasers and rockabillies are the jump…
Mummenschanz are one of those artistic movements that frustrate me with their peerlessness; they’re both difficult to describe and woefully under-appreciated outside of artsy circles and/or their native Switzerland. Founded in 1972, The Mummenschanz Mask Theater was the baby of Bernie Schürch, Andres Bossard, and Italian American Floriana Frassetto. Each member had some of level classical training, and together they possessed a collective resume including writing, acrobatics, dance, acting, and mime. Immediately delving into high-concept performances with ingenious abstract props, the group chose “Mummenschanz,” a German word for pantomime as their moniker.
By 1973, Mummenschanz were touring the USA, Canada, and South America. In 1976, they performed on The Muppet Show (you can see one of their segments above), and from 1977 to 1980, performed a three year run on Broadway that clocked in at 1,326 performances. Though the line-up has changed, (Andres Bossard passed in 1992 due to complications from AIDS, and Bernie Schürch gave his last performance in 2012), Mummenschanz has never stopped performing or writing new material. Now they give workshops, open to amateurs, pros, hobbyists, and even children. Describing these workshops, their website enthusiastically declares, “There is movement, there is dance, there is laughter – loads of. There may sometimes be sounds of crying, but they are tears of joy.”
And that is what’s great about Mummenschanz: there is absolutely no trace of pretension in their work or artistic philosophy. They’re just weird, brilliant people doing strange and wonderful things, and they want everyone to enjoy it with them. Below is a 1974 feature on Swiss TV. The beginning shows some of their more elaborate props, and at the end you can see the same clay mask routine from The Muppet Show, but with an entirely different audience reception and tone; it’s like watching a completely separate performance. I dare you not to be impressed.
Occupy Wall Street catches a lot of criticism for failing to develop a tangible political trajectory in the United States. In fact, despite being the site of the original occupation, other countries appear to have benefited more from the movement. Spain, for example, still has a cohesive anti-austerity movement, and the Quebec student activists won a tuition freeze last May. The core idea though, of claiming a space for the public, seems to be the most resilient concept, and Switzerland’s riot last Friday is the latest installment. Events leading up to the incident are slightly complicated, but here goes…
Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata and Swiss architect Christophe Scheidegger recently collaborated on an installation piece inspired by favelas, the shantytowns of Brazil that nearly 30% of Rio de Janeiro’s population calls home. Favelas aren’t exactly comparable to US ghettos, because though they exist in the midst of urbanity, they tend to lack any real infrastructure like running water or electricity. Kawamata and Scheidegger thought this was a cute concept for a trendy bistro, and so they opened the “Favela Café.” I guess when you don’t have any creative ideas yourself, imitating the resourcefulness of poor people seems like a good substitute—the ultimate bourgeois art, really. Very “Derelicte.”
The installation was actually commissioned by Art Basel, a prestigious and expansive international art show, named for the Swiss town of Basel where it’s held. Earlier this year, protesters from “Basel wird besetzt” (Basel will be occupied) attempted to reclaim an empty building in the town square for a public cultural center, but the cops evicted them after a month.
The occupation of the “Favela Café,” a particularly loaded symbol considering the “ritzy poor” aesthetic of the concept, was their second attempt at reclamation for the commons. It seems they had permission to protest for a period of time, but when they exceeded the limit, the police came down on them in full force. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes of this, along with the “Turkish Spring” protests.
People all over the world are making basic demands (though often with larger political undertones), for space that supposedly already belongs to the public, only to be met met with brutal repression—I suspect we’ll see more occupations of this kind in the near future.
A Swiss actor is carving out a new career as a sinister-looking clown—terrifying children’s birthday parties. Dominic Deville had the brainwave after watching his favourite horror movies and set up his Evil Clown service in Lucerne. And he says his unlikely new venture is going so well that he’s laughing all the way to the bank.
After he is hired to scare a birthday boy or girl, he first contacts his ‘victims’ to tell them they’re being watched. Then he taunts them with texts, phone calls and booby-trapped letters warning them that at sometime in their party he’s going to smash a cake into their face. “It’s all in fun and if at any point the kids get scared or their parents are concerned we stop right there,” he explained. “But most kids absolutely love being scared senseless.”