Ringier Annual Report 2002, Zurich 2003.
My name is Aleksandra Mir, I am an artist, and I have been asked
to make your annual report this year. Here it is. The artwork on
these pages is based on an ongoing research project of mine
entitled HELLO that I have already produced and exhibited
on seven occasions and in as many cities around the world. In
principle, HELLO is a visual daisy chain, connecting
people throughout the world and the history of photography. Each
person appears twice, in two different photos, with two different
people, so that each added image is an answer to the preceding one,
and poses a question to the next. It is a simple idea, but given
all the variables the project grows immensely complex and easily
becomes a lifetime commitment, theoretically encompassing the whole
photographed population of the earth.
HELLO is always produced with the help of local resources and assistance, the composition of which varies greatly, but which always imprints itself and becomes an inevitable part of the resulting work. During my two-month residency here at the Ringier offices in Zurich, I was offered a chance to explore the structure of the corporation, to meet and interact with the people who work here and to dive into the gold mine of the photographic archives. I also made day trips around Switzerland to investigate further leads on the natural course of people’s lives, or to link with external resources. It has been very interesting.
The in-house photographic archive of some 10 million images (nobody really knows how many there are in the basement) is a strange, beautiful and deeply unpredictable land, in constant negotiation with itself and the external world. On a pragmatic level, it is simply the collection of past news stories, quietly filed away, in most cases never to be discovered again. But when things are pulled from the past to briefly comment on the present, something truly magical occurs. Traces of past technology, such as pre-Photoshop editorial markings in red crayon on b/w photos, meet the glaring color saturation of a fully digitally produced image. Between the two, a baby has grown into an adult woman with a child of her own.
One of the greatest pleasures in the course of creating this work was, for example, to first find a fantastic early ’70s photograph of the pop star Toni Vescoli holding his newborn baby daughter Natalie on his guitar. Then two days later, to be sitting on a train on my way to a small town I had never heard of before, and to be picked up at the station by Natalie herself; to meet her family in turn and to browse through her own, more recent albums at the kitchen table. After a mutual brainstorming session to decide where the lead could go next, a call is placed to her neighbor, writer Nicolas Lindt, connected via their children, who play together, which leads directly to a photo of him with The Edge from U2. This picture was taken during an interview for Schweizer Illustrierte at U2’s world tour concert in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1986. And Gothenburg happens to be the town where I grew up. Later, back in the archive, I found myself in a crowd photo from that very concert. It was crazy.
Another route could be followed by starting off at the local library in St. Moritz, with photos of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks posing together with their local ski instructor. Then, following these celebrities, who visit Switzerland again and again over time, eventually relating them to a news story produced in-house by the Ringier journalist and photographer Joseph Ritler, whom I later connect with on the phone and who sends me more of his personal pictures. With all of this, I have relied heavily on the guidance, translation, anecdotes and personal interest of many of Ringier’s employees, who have considerably shaped the outcome of the work, as have all other public, private and external contributors whom I thank deeply at the back of this publication.
Spending time on location in Switzerland seems to call for the development of a national theme. But if anything, this project proves the impossibility of stating the coherence of any community at all; instead it follows the irregular and sprawling flow of people’s dispersed relations through time and place. Hollywood, of course, will always be a shared nucleus for everyone on this earth. But, perhaps as a joke on the improbability of coherence, a strange local theme has occurred quite spontaneously in the course of making this version of HELLO: winter sports, in fact and fiction, with celebrities and regular people enjoying the best of what Switzerland has to offer. So have I. Thank you.
Aleksandra Mir, Zurich, March 2003