What forged our first imaginary world? What impact do postcard landscapes have on our subconscious? Just as some people collect stamps for their unique ability to take us on a journey to another world, Swiss children used to collect the lids of the little pots of cream that have been systematically served with coffee in Switzerland since the late 1960s.
With ‘Escapism’, Roger Eberhard explores the place of these miniature, innocuous photographs on this society. A conversation.
NB : Before turning to these images presented at Galerie Robert Morat, can you tell me about your ‘Das KRD Archiv’ series presented alongside ‘Escapism’ at Grzegorzki Shows, here in Berlin?
RE : The source material for my ‘Escapism’ series are the lids of a small cup of cream for coffee that one receives when ordering a coffee in Switzerland. For several decades these illustrated coffee creamer lids were heavily collected in Switzerland, with people buying them at flea markets, in stores and at dedicated fairs for up to thousands of francs. Annual issues of professional directories revealed the latest estimated value of each lid. Then suddenly around the late 2000s, the lid marked crashed. Lids that once cost a few hundred dollars became worthless. While working on ‘Escapism’ I acquired a few massive collections and merged them into one, a complete collection of all official lids ever produced between 1968 and 2008. 2008 sort of marks the end of the collectors frenzy. By showing the KRD (German abbreviation for coffee creamer lid) collection I pay homage to this particularity of Swiss history and show the source material for my project. At the same time, it will also be super cool for people unfamiliar with this to browse the tens of thousands of lids in the collection.
What place do these little pots of cream have in your 90s childhood?
I only have vague memories of collecting them for my aunt who had a friend who was collecting them a little bit. I always found it a little gross to clean the milk off the lids. If they weren’t cleaned well enough the lids became very sticky and started to smell quite quickly. At that time I had no idea that some people paid a lot of money for them. It was always fascinating to see the different subject matters. Even today when I order a coffee I quickly pay attention to what image I get. The Swiss people have been surrounded by thousands of images from all over the world, they must have entered our minds somehow and influenced our vision of the world. Similar to the flood of images we consume nowadays on social media.
For ‘Escapism’ you focused on the image itself. What do you think is the power of these photographs, especially those featuring idyllic but very real landscapes?
I am drawn to the simplicity of those images. They are uncomplicated photographs. We can decipher them very quickly. It is probably in the nature of the source material, in order to look good on a surface of roughly 3 cm diameter, the photographs could not have been complex. The viewer had to immediately get what was going on. The images that I chose are archetypical photographs, stereotypes if you want: the dream beach with the palm tree leaning into the frame from one corner, a pointy sand dune under a blue sky or a perfect wave breaking at just the right moment. These are the images we imagine when we speak of something without being there, they are ingrained in our collective memory.
What’s special about this work is the enlargement you’ve made of these images and their decomposition in CMYK, can you tell me more about this artistic and technical choice?
I did not add anything. The printing pattern, the CMYK color separation, suddenly becomes visible after enlarging the source material (coffee lids) 100 times. I like that it allows the viewers to realize that they are looking at something that has been reproduced, that they are standing in front of a photograph of some printed matter, a work of appropriation. This grid of colorful dots appears and disappears according to the viewers’ position. The more the dots disappear the more visible and readable the photographs become and vice versa. I like how the appearance of the CMYK pattern disrupts the beauty of the scenes depicted in the photographs and invites you to reflect on the pictures’ suggestiveness.
What links this artistic series to your previous work?
My previous two projects were quite travel intensive. For ‘Standard’ I visited 32 countries and for ‘Human Territoriality’ it wasn’t much less. This time around I did all the work from my studio at home, but at the same time visited the most beautiful, remote places on earth. It was also an escape for me from the confinement of my home during Covid. ‘Escapism’, even more than the last two projects, marks again a trip around the globe. Only this time I even made it into outer space.
Escapism by Roger Eberhard at Galerie Robert Morat until October 21.
Galerie Robert Morat