Heidi Bucher. Metamorphoses II at Muzeum Susch | Kunstmuseum Bern
This Saturday, 16 July 2022, the exhibition Heidi Bucher. Metamorphoses II opens at Muzeum Susch. Complementing the exhibition Heidi Bucher. Metamorphoses I at the Kunstmuseum Bern, the exhibition in Susch shows around 70 further key works by the artist from all of her creative phases - including newly rediscovered and restored film material, sculptural installations and works on paper. It focuses on Bucher's pioneering practice of interweaving different media.
Until Sunday, 7 August 2022, the exhibitions at the Kunstmuseum Bern and the Muzeum Susch will run in parallel, allowing visitors to discover the Swiss artist's work in unique width.
Heidi Bucher. Metamorphoses I
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 in-cludes works from all creative periods and central groups of work.
The Swiss artist Heidi Bucher (1926–1993) celebrated in her work the meta-morphoses 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’ for which 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 recur-ring themes and motifs. Furthermore, the film Räume sind Hüllen, sind Häute (Rooms are Surroundings, are Skins) (1981) screened in the exhibition, which shows Heidi Bucher skinning the ancestral home of her grandparents, re-veals the process-based nature of Bucher’s work and provides a unique 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 tex-tile design with Johannes Itten, Max Bill and Elsi Giauque 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, wrinkles and plissés. 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 archi-tectural 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 be-tween 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 Schlüpfakt der Parkettliebelle’ (The Hatching of the Parquet Dragonfly), within the con-text of the first and only Triennial La femme et l'art in 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 numer-ous 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 ex-tension 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 con-straints and liberation processes and addressed painful memories and prob-lematic 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 con-straints 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.
Heidi Bucher. Metamorphoses II
“You have to remember that this room must fly. It must get away, far away from reality.”
Heidi Bucher, Interview with Indigo Bucher, 1978
Muzeum Susch is delighted to present an exhibition by international Swiss artist Heidi Bucher. With her sculptural and performative material transformations Bucher ex-plored the dynamic relationship between bodies and space in works that chal-lenged artistic categories. She experimented with the potential of latex to create life-size architectural ‘skinnings’, which culminate in a play with the presence and absence of the body, between place and movement. Both or-ganic and structured, these symbolically charged membranes entertain a close relationship with the human body, especially with the skin. Emphasizing Bucher’s pioneering use of interweaving media, this major ret-rospective will feature more than seventy key works brought together at Muzeum Susch, including newly rediscovered and restored film material, sculptural installations and works on paper. Set in dialogue with the unique architecture of Muzeum Susch, the artworks reflect Bucher’s ongoing explo-ration of the interaction between psychology and space, specifically focused on the gender, social, and political norms historically associated with it. In-spired by the artist’s manifesto Parquet Dragonfly, the title and premise of the show focuses on Bucher’s artistic approach as a ‘process of metamor-phoses.’
Seeking to shed light on Bucher’s unique and previously unknown interdisci-plinary practice that aims to present alternative perceptions of society through displacement and softening of objects, the exhibition will include works spanning the artist’s entire career. Starting with her early work, the Bodyshells (1972), created in California, the show will incorporate Bucher’s primary body of work from the 1970s, where in an effort to come to terms with female oppression, the artist created a world of images in the form of embalmed and soft objects. This can be seen in the major works on view, Bed (1975) and Anna with Herself (1978). Both made of found objects from female family members, in which latex and mother-of-pearl pigments have been ap-plied, these works reference the culture of domesticity while offering a way to subvert repression. Always balancing an ephemeral object-oriented approach with metaphorical underpinnings, this emancipatory perspective culminates in Bucher’s seminal work Dragonfly (Costume) from 1976, made of what she called ‘skinnings’ rubbed with mother-of-pearl pigments and arranged in the shape of a dragonfly.
As she increasingly turned her attention to social institutions in the 1980s, the conflict between the private and the public became even more a guiding theme. The exhibition will bring together a selection of landmark works from this period made at the famous psychiatric clinic Bellevue on Lake Constance before it was torn down as well as a selection of films and objects from her intervention at a penitentiary in Le Landeron, a small town near Neuchâtel.
During the last decade of her career, the island of Lanzarote became an in-spiring retreat for Heidi Bucher. There, she focused on nature and ecological aspects. The element of water, considered both the end and the beginning of a new life, became central to her work, eventually becoming a metaphor for her own untimely death.
Jana Baumann, Senior Curator, Haus der Kunst, Munich
Adelheid Hildegard Müller was born into a family of engineers on February 23, 1926 in Winterthur, Switzerland.
Trained as a women’s tailor under Marguerite Strössler in Winterthur.
Studied fashion and textiles under Johannes Itten at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) in Zürich, where she attended courses by Max Bill and Elsi Giauque. Produced fashion textile and colour studies.
Extended stays abroad in Paris, Hamburg, and the South of France, as well as working as an au-pair in London. Created fabric and silk collages, some of which included her first ornamental use of mother-of-pearl.
Extended stay in New York. Worked for and exhibited her silk collages at World House Galleries (987 Madison Avenue), where works by artists like Jean Dubuffet and Paul Klee, whom Bucher appreciated very much, were also exhibited. She became friends with other artists, among them the photogra-pher Hans Namuth and Karel Appel.
Began living in Zürich and married Carl Bucher (1935–2015). Their sons Indi-go (*1961) and Mayo (*1963) were born. The Buchers frequented the circles around Max Bill, Willy Rotzler, Bruno Bischofberger or Fritz and Erika Billeter.
With a grant from Conseil des arts du Canada the family resettled in Montréal and Toronto. In 1971 an exhibition by Carl and Heidi Bucher at Musée d’Art Contemporain, Montréal. The family moved in the same year to the USA, ini-tially staying in New York. In an artistic collaboration she transformed Carl Bucher’s futuristic sculptural designs into wearable body costumes, the Landings to Wear.
Moved to California, initially living in Los Angeles, then Santa Barbara. Bucher became close friends with Ed and Nancy Kienholz. Produced the groups of work Bodywrappings and Bodyshells, wearable foam body sculptures with a mother-of-pearl PVC finish, which she and her family activated in perfor-mances on Venice Beach. A solo exhibition Body Shells and Shadows at LAC-MA followed.
Returned to Switzerland and divorced Carl Bucher. Moved into her own studio in Zürich. Embarked on her major work with the embalmings and soft objects, employing found fabrics that had belonged to her family.
This is followed by skinnings in her parents’ house in Winterthur-Wülflingen, including the Gentlemen’s Study. In 1980 began a two-year process of skin-nings in Obermühle, her ancestral home, where her grandparents had lived together with family members from several generations.
For the first triennale in Le Landeron, La femme et l’art, she produced Der Schlüpfakt der Parkettlibelle (The Hatching of the Parquet Dragonfly) in Le Landeron’s former prison with the assistance of five other women.
Heidi Bucher lived and worked in Winterthur and increasingly in Teguise, Lanzarote. She produced architectonic latex works and soft objects (windows and doors) that made reference to the local architecture on Lanzarote.
Heidi Bucher chooses the ruinous Grand Hôtel Brissago on Lake Maggiore as the site of another skinning action: Grande Albergo Brissago (Entrance Por-tal). The hotel had become a refuge for European intellectuals during the Second World War and served as a place of internment for Jewish women and children after the Nazis seized power.
Several skinnings in the abandoned private clinic Sanatorium Bellevue in Kreuzlingen, Thurgau in Switzerland, belonging to the Binswanger family.
Heidi Bucher died on December 11 as a result of cancer in Brunnen, Switzer-land, at the age of 67. In the year of her death, she was still planning a meet-ing place, a spiritual and cultural center in Teguise.
Posthumously awarded the City of Winterthur’s prize for culture.
First survey exhibition, Heidi Bucher. Mother of Pearl, at Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zürich.
Solo exhibition at Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris.
Solo exhibition at Swiss Institute, New York.
Hommage à Heidi Bucher und Carl Bucher at the Kulturort Galerie Weiertal, Winterthur.
Works by Heidi Bucher were exhibited at the 57th Venice Biennale.
Solo exhibition at Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, London.
Heidi Bucher. Metamorphoses, retrospective at the Haus der Kunst, Munich.