Céline Eidenbenz, Switzerland

Tell us about your life in a few words, especially the early years and your dreams ‘of who you wanted to be or become’ at that time.

My life has always been quite hectic, between Switzerland and Lesotho (Africa) where I started school for 3 years. I have been through many moves and am from a large family spread over several countries in Switzerland and Europe, with several spoken languages. Very early on, I opened my eyes on the diversity of the world, and to the fact that there was not one centre. But that it was a big kaleidoscope. I was very sensitive and shy, and felt dazzled by all this. As a teenager, I dreamed of creating perfumes. But I was particularly passionate about psychology and the analysis of dreams. What is part of the unconscious still seems to me as crucial today. 

Your biography shows an interest in bringing art to unconventional spaces and to search for new audiences. I feel this is crucial nowadays. Moreover, you manage a museum which is a ‘site’ per se, an experience to visit (also besides the art). Can you expand on this? 

Today, the reference of the “white cube” is often still relevant in museums. I think this is a pity because it is a standardization of the place of art, a kind of globalization. It reminds me of airports that very much look alike everywhere, wherever you are on the globe. The Valais Art Museum, which I manage in Switzerland, is on the contrary a place “off the beaten track”, a kind of labyrinth of old and irregular stones surrounded by battlements and green terraces. In castles of medieval origin, we present modern and contemporary works that dialogue with each other in an astonishing way. Every day, this place reconciles me with the world!

This year the complementary programme of Switzerland at the Venice Art Biennale is curated by you (in collaboration with Victoria Mühlig, who works at the Musée d’art de Pully and architecture historian Anja Radomirovic).The Salon Suisse pays tribute to slowness as a resource to better understand, create and share, and ‘to foster resonance, proximity and conviviality.’Can you tell us how and when did this idea of slowness initiated and what were the elements that helped you shape this programme?

The idea became obvious very quickly after I was invited to be the curator of the Salon Suisse 2019 in Venice. I am surrounded by artists and researchers who are working on the issue of pace and the resources needed for creation. I learned a lot from the French choreographer Catherine Contour. She works with hypnosis as an artistic tool and I have accompanied her for several years in her teaching in art schools and in her creations. Her work has profoundly changed my life and my vision of art, and it has broadened my perspectives. Walking artist Hamish Fulton is also very important to me: with disarming simplicity, the group walks he offers represent a unique experience – as we organized at the Valais Art Museum in 2017 and in Venice in May 2019. 

For the program of the Salon Suisse, simply called “s l o w ” – almost out of laziness (laughs!) – I was keen to address the issue of slowing down without making it an apology. Thus, we start by addressing speed through themes like « speed-gardening », burn-out and insomnia. There is always a dose of humour in this project, a little like the turtle upside down that we printed in the program: we want to give a chance to the slowness, even if we are aware that we do not fully achieve it. Might as well have some self-derision!

For the notion of resonance, I refer to the German sociologist Hartmut Rosa. We hope to achieve a kind of resonance by bringing together personalities from different backgrounds (arts, medicine, music, music, dance, theatre) and creating unexpected encounters – a bit like in a museum with works from different origins. The search of proximity is reflected in working with neighbours, as with the “zero kilometre” principle in slow food. In November, we organize a Closing Party in which we will dance slows: by slowing down and getting closer to others, we are more attentive to sensoriality. Isabel Lewis’ Urban Flourishing performance scheduled for the opening of the Salon Suisse on May 11, 2019 at the Accademia di Belle Arti focused on this idea: the scopic drive – alluding to the tendency to bring everything back to the sense of sight in the world of visual arts – prevents us from being complete by obscuring the other senses: smell, touch, kinesthesia, etc. A more comprehensive approach leads to reduced judgment and more sharing. As for conviviality, it was Ivan Illich’s book that inspired me: for a Salon, it is essential to put aside procedures, complicated protocols and everything that ends up enslaving us. Q

Tell us about a talent you have, and about one you think you are missing?

I believe I have a brain that secretes ideas over and over again: they emerge almost exclusively when I talk to other people, for example artists or art historians. I like to distribute these ideas around me and not have to worry about them anymore!

The quality I lack most is undoubtedly that of letting go: my perfectionism leads me to want to carry out all my projects in the best possible way. Sometimes I should leave more wastelands, where wildflowers will grow.

What do you get from the city you live in and what do you feel you give back?

Currently, my life is divided between three cities, Geneva, Sion and Venice. So I spend a lot of time on the train with my computer… When I can enjoy staying in a place, I like to reach cultural places by bike, in a few pedal strokes: from the cinema to the museum and from the café by the lake. In return, I observe it carefully by admiring its architectural follies during night strolls for example. 

What book do you currently have with you – and what music do you listen to at the moment?

I recently read Marie Darrieussecq’s book Notre vie dans les forêts (2017): a real punch from which I have not yet recovered. It may seem like science fiction, but our lives may one day look like this… For the music, I love listening again to Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata again, a song I have been listening since I was 7 years old. Or Indian rags that are gradually developing….

What is your secret place where you like to slow down in your everyday life?

This place is in the hollow of my diaphragm, where I breathe more consciously. When I realized that I was losing contact with myself (by working excessively, for example), I learned to focus my attention on my breathing. It sounds very simple, but it’s an exercise I do every day, like a beginner!

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

In a city with a bike, surrounded by places of art, books with inspiring and caring people. I have never made any big career plans and always followed my intuition building on the things I love. v

One Response to “Céline Eidenbenz, Switzerland”

  1. Puleng Emenyi

    Hi Céline,
    How are you? It’s been the longest time hey.
    I was at home with my mom for Christmas and she was going through our old photos. And we then saw your photos all those many years ago in Lesotho .
    Just thought I should say “Hello!”
    How is Dr Eidenbenz, your mom, Chorlotte and Lucie?
    Kind Regards,


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