The New York-based Swiss artist Olaf Breuning is presenting new photographic work in Verbier this summer. The Verbier 3-D Foundation invited him to reside in Verbier and develop new material responding to the social and glacial environment. The work, SAVE THE CLIMATE!, creates a platform for visitors to consider the role human migration plays as a contributing factor to climate change…

Text: Anneliek Sijbrandij

Photos: Olaf Breuning

In 2017, many art lovers will embark on ‘the Grand Tour’, a year in which to visit the quinquennial Documenta in Kassel, Germany (and this time also in Athens, Greece), the Venice Biennale, and the decennial Skulptur Projekte Münster, Germany, all in a matter of weeks. A visit to Art Basel can also be squeezed in, and then it’s time to retreat to Verbier for the summer. In Valais, Cezanne will be on view at the Fondation Pierre Gianadda from mid-June, and the Triennale d’art contemporain Valais 2017 will start at the end of August. Even closer to home, you can be inspired by the Verbier 3-D Foundation, that unites artists, locals and scientists to chronicle the impact of the surrounding glacial environment as part of a 4-year initiative that launched in 2016. Here, Olaf Breuning (1970) discusses his Verbier-developed work with Anneliek Sijbrandij, the founder of the Verbier Art Summit.


Anneliek Sijbrandij: First of all, Olaf, you live in New York, do you come back to Switzerland often?

Olaf Breuning: I have lived in Manhattan for eighteen years, and since 2 years I’ve lived in upstate New York, in the green… and it’s nice, I have a little more quiet time. I visit Switzerland around 3 times a year. I love it and it’s beautiful, I grew up there, but I’m not a nostalgic person. My father still lives there, but otherwise I don’t miss it so much.

AS: Your work ranges from photography, to sculpture, installation and performance, films and drawings. How do you decide which medium to use?

OB: I get bored quickly, so when I get bored with things, I’m happy to change… it’s a different approach, I make a lot of drawings, I’m happy to do something in ceramics, happy to do a photograph… when I made a movie, I was so sick of making a movie, I needed a few years to make another movie. I like that about my art, that I have the possibility to change.

AS: ‘Home 3’, a film commissioned by the Dutch art collectors Allard and Natascha Jakobs, who frequently visit Verbier and are Strategic Members of the Verbier Art Summit, addresses contemporary communication culture. It’s a document of early twenty-first-century New York: there is humour, but the work is also deeply melancholic. Are these common denominators in your work?

OB: The idea is I always think about my life and my work and this world I live in and I transfer it into an easy, understandable language. That could be sometimes with a lot of humour, but there is also a more serious side, and sometimes a highly philosophical side. In the Verbier photo I did, you can read “SAVE THE CLIMATE” on their butts, and you see them sticking the ski things up, and they have their pants down, but then you don’t know what it really means. Do they party? Do they protest? And there is, in my language, in general, the moment where it gets interesting, because it’s a simple language, but it oscillates in a meaning where it’s never really clear what it means. I think all my works mostly do that.

AS: The clear language here deals with our contemporary understanding of climate and glacier awareness. What would you like the Verbier visitors to consider when looking at the work?

OB: It reflects more or less a conundrum we are all in. We all want to do something against it, in our hearts, we want to make that planet a good place, but then at the same time we realise in many, many, ways, we don’t – like, I still drive a car and all these things, but it takes time to change, not only in your mind, but in your daily life as well.


SAVE THE CLIMATE! will be on view until 17 June 2018 in the Verbier 3-D

Sculpture Park on the path between La Chaux and Ruinettes, at an altitude of

2300 metres. A making of the work will also be exhibited on the path from

Ruinettes to Croix-de-Coeur documented by Verbier photographer Melody Sky.