In Switzerland, if you order a coffee in a restaurant or bar, it invariably comes with a portion of cream served in a small, brown plastic pot sealed with a thin peel-off foil lid. Since 1968, these lids have always featured a picture. Over the years, a never-ending array of thousands of series of small images have circulated throughout the country. These collections represent all genres of photography, from fashion to landscape, portrait, architecture, still life, nude, and documentary. Despite the small size of this medium, and its banality, it has probably been the most far-reaching and popular means of distributing photographs throughout Switzerland for over half a century. There is no doubt that these images have formed an important part of the visual memory and subconscious knowledge of the Swiss people.
Escapism is defined as a means of evading reality, an “attitude that entails withdrawing from the world and from public life through flight or disillusionment.” This term is at the heart of Roger Eberhard’s project. With Escapism, the Swiss photographer focused on a typically Swiss tradition: collecting coffee creamer lids and contemplating the images printed on them. Like stamp collecting, these lids became something of an obsession and were frenetically traded at gatherings and fairs for decades . Of course, the rarest sets sold for high prices among collectors. Annual issues of professional directories meticulously recorded the latest estimated value of each series. Then, suddenly, in the early noughties, this market crashed, just like any unstable market or, to use a more recent analogy, like a highly speculative NFT bubble.
Of the countless possible photographic genres printed on these lids, Roger Eberhard focused on specific types of landforms threatened by global warming. He appropriated pictures using a high-resolution camera to create extreme close-ups of idyllic beaches, erupting volcanoes, nebulous deserts, glaciers, shorelines, canyons, and iconic mountains. Each shot was taken in the studio, and then carefully digitally enhanced to remove any imperfections. The final print is an enlarged reinterpretation of the original photograph, whose author generally remains unknown. The CMYK colour separation process is suddenly revealed, as colourful, fluid and imperfect, reminiscent both of pop art paintings and impressionism.
With Escapism, specifically produced for the Images Vevey 2022 Biennial, Roger Eberhard deviated from making work which required frequent trips abroad. Confined within the borders of his homeland during the coronavirus pandemic, he plunged into the heart of a Swiss tradition: printing pictures on coffee creamer lids. By carefully perfecting the process of appropriation and enlargement, he highlights a poetic opportunity for the mind to escape from everyday life through imagination, to get away for a few moments, and daydream into the exotic scenery replicated on these lids. Simultaneously, Roger Eberhard subtly draws attention to the transformation and potential disappearance of these landscapes as a result of ongoing climate change and human activity.
When standing in front of the prints, the viewer is torn between the intense aesthetics of these archetypical images and their iconic status which recalls the Great Wave off Kanagawa, and billboards for the film Apocalypse Now and for Marlboro cigarettes. Besides the vernacular character of this material, the predominance of the extremely enlarged colour separation characterises the entire series. These patterns reveal the ink that constitutes the reproduction dot by dot, and indicate the industrial nature of these images, as theorised by Walter Benjamin and celebrated in the works of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. This grid of colourful dots appears and disappears according to the viewers’ position, forcing them to adapt their gaze and vary their posture before the work. As with a multitude of brushstrokes, this pattern evokes the transparency and subtlety of watercolour, blurring more than ever the boundary between painting and photography, digital and analog, past and future, beauty and imminence, and, most of all, between reality and escapism.
Book Launch & Exhibition: Wednesday, October 25, 2023, 6 PM
Exhibition Duration: October 23 - 28, 2023
Opening Hours: Tue-Fri 11am to 6:30pm, Sat 11am to 5pm