An exhibition in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. Curated by the ETH’s own Paul Tanner, Tracking Suburbia presents the work of five important Swiss artists whose practice has contributed to the tradition in American photography of documenting the life and architecture of suburbia.
In 1967, the American photographer Bill Owens began taking pictures of local people in front of and inside their freshly built suburban houses, as a photographer for the small-town California paper The Livermore Independent. He often photographed his subjects on holidays such as Christmas and the Fourth of July, or at birthday parties. These pictures were published in the 1972 book Suburbia. Owens had managed to elucidate a particular aspect of the American way of life: his pictures have become classic images of the American dream. A number of Swiss artists have also followed the trail of the suburbs, this anonymous zone between city and country.
In the early 1970s, Urs Lüthi (born 1947) combined photographs of houses and apartment buildings with self-portraits, dressed in full drag. To Lüthi, as for Owens, the interactive element, a person’s relationship to his or her own house, was crucial.
Peter Fischli (born 1952) and David Weiss (born 1946) on the other hand, kept the houses and regions they depicted devoid of people. In 1992 they published a series of photos, Seidlungen, Agglomeration, which treated the Swiss suburbs with their signature frankness and stark humor.
The youngest artist in the exhibition, Boris Rebetez (born 1970), lives in Brussels. In 1992, he created a small series of ceramic plates. Instead of depicting well-known subjects one would find on a souvenir, he chose to represent anonymous buildings found in every suburb.
The painter Jean-Frédéric Schnyder (born 1945), famous for his half-naïve, half-conceptual series of images of Swiss freeways, train stations and waiting rooms, turned to photography in 1999-2000. No doubt inspired by Ed Ruscha’s 1966 series, Every Building on Sunset Strip, Schnyder photographed every building on the road between the towns of Zug and Baar, and, with the help of a computer, strung these images together into a seamless nearly 14-meter strip of images.