Neutrality as an Agent – We say we are fine. They say we are not.
Exhibitions: *ALTEFABRIK, Gebert Stiftung für Kultur Rapperswil
ARTIVIST, Pro Helvetia Johannesburg, South Africa
The self-published zine, which won 'Most beautiful Swiss Books 2018' «We say, we are fine. They say, we are not.» (2018) reflects on the relationship between Switzerland and South Africa from the perspective of Swiss resi-ding in South Africa and of protesters in Switzerland, based on two sources from the 1980s.Bertschi’s first source was an informal archive of the almost 100-year-old Swiss & Social Sports Club in Cape Town and the regular newsletters sent to its members. From this collection Bertschi compiled thematic collages that reflect club life: club activities, businessoffers and nostalgic expressions of Swiss folk culture. What this source material does not reveal however, is what was happening beyond the supposedly «idealistic world» of the Swiss Club: South Africa’s prime minister and president, P. W. Botha, was tightening apartheid laws and taking military action against the ANC (African National Congress).
Bertschi juxtaposes these collages with pictures by the socially committed Zurich photographer Gertrud Vogler (1936–2018). Vogler, a chronicler of social resistance in Zurich andelsewhere, also documented the apartheid protests in Switzerland. Many of the images by the photographer, who died at the beginning of this year, have become part of the Swiss collective memory. While starting in 1965, various groups «at home» started campaigning against apartheid, reaching a wider public with their actions by the 1980s, the Swiss who were active in the Swiss Club in Cape Town during this same time seem to have been preoccupied with completely different things.
This contrast, between the political and the supposedly banal, raises the question of how geographical proximity or distance, and participation affect processes of repression and who actually becomes an agent, for what and how. The social reality of the protesting minority in Switzerland was very different from that of the Swiss Club members in Cape Town. It is also striking how the use of certain visual worlds shifts in the political spectrum over time. The images used by the Swiss protest movements at the time would hardly be used by similarly minded groups today, as they tend to confirm racist stereotypes rather than question them. These days, such stereotypes are more likely to be found in the advertising of rightwing populist parties.
Year: 2018, 9 analogue photography with interiors of the Swiss Club in Cape Towns; 50 x 80 cm / 80 x 120 cm; video portrait, single-channel, 30 min