Saturday, July 26, 2008

Autoland: Pictures from Switzerland by Nicholas Faure

As a child of the suburbs, memories of my life seem to be split 50/50 with time spent looking out a car's window at the landscape sliding by. Car culture throughout the world has changed the way we see our surroundings and as a child my observations of highway overpasses, tunnels, drainage ditches and signage as landmarks were imprinted into my consciousness in strong fashion. That imprinting quadrupled when I became a skateboarder and I would spend a few fleeting moments studying the roadside ditches for potential as terrain to skate while flying by at 60 mph in whatever car I happened to be in. Much of the best terrain for my first passion of skating was found in Arizona within what could be considered "autoland" territory - places where the landscape and architecture is entirely designed solely for car travel. Highway planners had no idea that they were paving a playground that would spark endless amounts of creativity from teenagers and twenty-somethings. They are places that seem un-natural and dangerous for a human to occupy outside of an automobile. These are places where the only cars that are parked, are cars that have quit running. Although it may seem very odd to admit to such a thing - I have very fond memories of time spent in this landscape which is probably partly why I like Nicholas Faure's Autoland that was published by SCALO and the Museum fur Gestaltung in 1999.

Faure's auto landscape is Switzerland and that country's highway planning and construction projects that now attempt to provide safe environs for some 3.3 million automobiles. Highway projects in Europe can have a slightly sinister tenor as one of the noted achievements of National Socialism and Fascism was the creation of picture perfect roadways and, in turn, Faure's extensive project can also be seen as Switzerland 's reinvention of itself through public highway systems.

These roadways cut huge swaths through the land whose benefit is connection of place and where excessive land appropriation is a consequence. This "good with the bad" was echoed in the statements of a Swiss government minister who remarked, "[These projects] will form great furrows in the countenance of our native soil and profoundly modify vast areas of it." This new order is pictured through Faure's vision through landscape photographs of the surroundings adapting to the often violent change that is called upon out of "need."

Using a large format camera and color film Faure fills Autoland with 211 photographs and I see the extreme amount of work presented in proportion to the frequency at which we all experience these landscapes. Excessive as it may be I don't find Autoland many images that do not seem worthy of being present.

The other reasons I recommend this book are because unlike many of SCALO's other offerings, Autoland is superb in its design and the type of materials used. The paper is a thin stock with a slight texture that adds to the softness of Faure's color palette. The coverboards are debossed with line drawings from two of Faure's photos and if you are lucky, your copy will come with the belly-band that covers the bottom half of the cover. Martin Heller contributes a fine essay that appears at the end of the book.

The American highway used to conjure romanticized dreams of "going west" and now nausea as the landscape has turned into endless strip malls and big box stores - landscapes that do not attract your want to look but seem to repel. Europe seems a touch more enlightened with form over function designs of the immediate surroundings of the roadbed that bring to mind a national pride in craftsmanship and design. Either way it is a landscape not meant to be seen static but in passing. What Faure has achieved, is stilling these areas for our scrutiny. Some immediately offend - some slip by with hardly our notice - all have become a part of our daily flow of perception as we motor from point A to B.