Making ‘I wish I was there’ in Tenna
‘I wish I was there’ is an artwork I made during the first Alps Art Academy in Tenna, Switzerland. It was made possible thanks to the community in Tenna who were extremely helpful with all aspects of my project, especially Cathrin, Yolanda and the Mayor of Safiental, Thomas Buchli, who fielded my questions and requests with interest and support, and understood the essence of the project.
Tenna is a beautiful mountain village high in the Swiss alps. As part of the Alps Art Academy I planned to make a wishing place. Using a piece of local wood I crafted a 3 metre high wishing pole and painted it in neon road-worker pink. I selected the shape of a divining rod for the work as a metaphor for hope and expectation.
I wanted to install the work close to the Tenna township where people can see it but far enough away that visitors to the sculpture need to take a short walk to get to it. Mayor Buchli put me in contact with the farmer Hitsch who owned the land where I hoped to place my work. Hitsch, Cathrin and I drove up the hill together to look at the site. Hitsch said I could install ‘I wish I was there’ on his land but since the hill was shared with another farmer I had to be careful to place it on his side. As we drove down the hill together we met the other farmer hauling a load of slops on his tractor. He also agreed to let me put the work on the hill.
My work is made up of a solid piece of wood in the form of a divining rod (Wunschlerute) found in the Rheinschlucht on the Rhine River near Versam-Safien. It took a day of searching by the river to find the perfect piece. I had help from the artists Erin Gleason and Jaxton Su Jingxiang who were keeping their eyes peeled for good logs for me while they searched for materials for their own projects. Together the three of us carried the selected wood out of the forest. But it was too big for my car so I needed help from a bigger car or truck to bring it up the mountain.
Cathrin put me in contact with Claudia Buchli who had a pickup truck. Luckily she had time to help me. I met her and her dog Laika early on Wednesday morning in Versam. We loaded the log onto her truck and fastened it for the trip up the valley. The piece of wood made the journey safely from the river’s edge to Tenna.
I found a quite working spot in the garage of the Pension Alpenblick where the artists were all based. The wood was prepared using mostly manual tools – filing, sanding, painting. After two days and 3 coats of paint the sculpture was ready to install on the hill. The whole time I was working against the weather forecast – rain and storms were due.
Rain and thunder was expected for Thursday afternoon at 4 pm. With this in mind I wanted to get my work installed before the storms. After four days of constant activity in and around the Pension Alpenblick in Tenna the town was empty of artists who could help me get the work up the hill. Artists were trying to finish their projects all over the valley and farmers were madly cutting grass and clearing paddocks. Meanhwile I resolved to begin digging the hole while waiting for the other artists to come back.
After about two hours of digging and sorting rocks I successfully had a 60 cm deep hole to place the three metre long sculpture. To check it was deep enough I stood in the hole. It came up to my knees. The clouds were rapidly forming overhead but there were still no other artists around. I decided to go and speak with the Mayor Thomas Buchli to see if he had any ideas.
With the sculpture weighing about 50 kilos or more it was definitely a two person job to move it up the hill. I definitely needed help with some sort of transport. Just as I was talking to the Mayor his father came trundling around the corner on his perfectly sized mini tractor and agreed to help me transport my work.
He put the work on the back of his trailer and carefully tied it on so the paint didn’t get scratched during the journey. I sat on the trailer and was transported up the hill with the work.
When we got to the spot Mr Buchli jumped from his vehicle and quickly untied the work. Picking it up and slinging it onto one shoulder he wallked the sculpture across the field. He dropped ‘I wish I was there’ in the hole and secured it tentatively with a few rocks.
Then he left me to finish filling up the ditch. As he paced back to his tractor I heard him say ‘ Make sure you stamp it down well’.
Using big stones and dirt I stamped and stamped until I secured the sculpture in place (hopefully it is secure enough for the cows) and then replaced the grasses at its base. I had time to take a few photos before the rain came.
As a result of all the help I got from Tenna locals, ‘I wish I was there/Ich wünschte ich wäre Dort’ sculpture was successfully installed before the rains came. Thanks Tenna.