Exhibition: Heidi Bucher. Metamorphoses I | Kunstmuseum Bern
The Kunstmuseum Bern presents the most comprehensive retrospective to date on Heidi Bucher (1926-1993) in Switzerland. The exhibition is dedicated to the diverse complete oeuvre of the groundbreaking Swiss artist and includes works from all creative periods and central groups of work.
The Swiss artist Heidi Bucher (1926-1993) celebrated in her work the metamorphoses of life, the detachment from the old and the resurrection in a new skin. The most comprehensive retrospective to date, which will be presented at the Kunstmuseum Bern from 8 April to 7 August 2022 is dedicated to Bucher's diverse complete oeuvre and includes works from all of her creative periods. Among them early and largely unknown design studies from her time as a student, the 'genderless body sculptures' called Bodyshells from her experimental period in New York and Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the architectural and human latex 'skinnings' forwhich she is best known.
The exhibition is divided into ten rooms devoted to different groups of works. Some 100 works illustrate Heidi Bucher's artistic development and her recurring themes and motifs. Furthermore, the film Raume sindMullen, sindHaute (Rooms are Surroundings, are Skins) (1981) screened in the exhibition, which shows Heidi Bucher skinning the ancestral home of her grandparents, reveals the process-based nature of Bucher's work and provides a unigue glimpse into the artist's reflections.
Beginnings in textile design
Like many female artists of her time, at the start of her career Heidi Bucher turned not to the fine arts but to the applied arts. She studied fashion and textile design with Johannes Itten, Max Bill and Elsi Giaugue in Zurich, where she made works on paper and experimented with silk and tulle. Bucher's sketchbooks and exercise books from the 1940s preserve both fashion sketches, fabric swatches and colour exercises in the Itten style. What is striking in many of the examples is the careful treatment of fabric folds, wrinkies and plisses. It is almost as if, in the stitches, pressings and ruffles of her clothes designs, we might already discern the artist's later interest in architectural details such as parquet patterns, panels or portals. Her later turn to sculpture is already set out in these creations.
The body as a place of art
In the early 1970s Heidi Bucher moved with her husband Carl Bucher and their two sons Indigo and Mayo first to Toronto and then to California, where she came into contact with American-style feminist art. Among other things she visited the group exhibition Womanhouse in Hollywood, organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, which dealt for the first time with themes that were taboo at the time, such as motherhood, menstruation, female sexuality and domestic abuse, and took part in events by the Feminist Art Program (FAP) at California Institute of the Arts. She produced the genderless wearable Bodyshells, with which Bucher developed a concept of sculpture between body, object, space and performativity. With the predecessors of the Bodyshells, the Landings to Wear, which she formed in collaboration with Carl Bucher, Heidi Bucher even made it onto the cover of the first German- language edition of Harper's Bazaar, thus effortlessly leaping the gap between art, fashion and pop culture.
Emancipation and liberation: the latex ‘skinnings’
After her return from the USA and the separation from Carl Bucher, from 1973 onwards Heidi Bucher began 'skinning' objects and rooms using latex on cotton strips, which marked the beginning of her main work. Her leitmotif became the appropriation and transformation of spaces and bodies. In 1978 she performed the first big spatial skinning with the cast of her studio 'Borg' (from the German Ge-borg-enheit, or security), located in the cold room of a former burcher's shop. She pasted gauze to the walls, covered it with liquid latex and then removed the dried layers, a process that involved a great deal of physical exertion.
The scenes that Heidi Bucher chose for her subsequent skinnings held many different kinds of both private and public significance. For example, in her parents' house she skinned the Herrenzimmer (Gentlemen's study), which had in previous days been generally reserved for male family members, thus symbolically dissolving the patriarchal family structure. For Der Schlupfakt der Parkettliebelle (The Hatching of the Parquet Dragonfly], within the context of the first and only Triennial La femme et l'art\v\ Le Landeron, she skinned five female performers, who had previously worked with her on a room skinning in the former castle dungeon. In the island of Lanzarote, where she had long and repeated stays from the 1980s, Bucher undertook numerous room skinnings. She saw the house in analogy with the human body: the architecture is the shell that surrounds and protects it like a skin. In an extension of this analogy the windows are the eyes that allow a view of the world and the door is the mouth that completes the face of the house.
A visionary ahead of her time
With her works Bucher drew attention to the body in space, elucidated constraints and liberation processes and addressed painful memories and problematic spaces from a socially critical perspective. With her skinnings she unmasked private power structures and opened up the space in a next step towards change. In her work she engaged with themes that have a universal validity: the power gap between the genders, the liberation from social constraints and the attempt to shake off one's own past and reinvent oneself into old age. In the sense of her totemic animal, the dragonfly, transformability thus becomes self-empowerment that testifies to faith in oneself - a topical view of the world that deserves its late appreciation all the more.
The opening of the exhibition will take place on Thursday, 7 April 2022 at
18.30 pm. Admission to the exhibition is free on this evening.
An exhibition of the Haus der Kunst, Munich, in cooperation with the Kunst-
museum Bern and the Muzeum Susch.