CHECKING IN WITH JOHN CHIARA

ART IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
April 29, 2020

Tell us where you are right now and what this residency is about.
I came here to the Engadin Valley in the southeast corner of Switzerland near the town of Scuol to participate in Fundaziun Nairs Artist Residency Program. The residency program is focused on artists who are interested in making work in the Engadin in reaction to the natural landscape and beauty in this valley of the Alps. It has been a dream of mine to come here for a very long time.

 

Photograph by John Chiara

Photograph by John Chiara

 

I have been saving my one roll of 50" Ilfochrome Translucent film to photograph here. My plan was to work in Black and White and build a darkroom to develop the work for the first several months and then switch to color in May when I became fully versed and traveled in the landscape here. There is a very special Engardin blue that happens on very crisp, bright days when the sun is reflecting off the peaks, among other magical qualities I have seen in photographs of the Alps. I arrived on March 2nd right when the pandemic struck Switzerland, but before it was known to what extent.

 

Photographs by John Chiara

Photographs by John Chiara

 

 

Are you anywhere near a town or in a remote spot?
Nairs is located in the gulch of the valley about a 45 minute walk from the village of Scuol down the INN river to Nairs. It is located near several source springs where the mineral water comes out into the INN river from deep under the mountains of the Alps.
Down in the valley gulch where Nairs is each Spring has a drinking hall and are claimed to carry health benefits due to their mineral contents. Nairs itself is part of what was a very early health Complex based on the health affects of the water here.
The building adjacent was grand hotel where the foundazun Nairs was the bathing and therapeutic part of the facility. Once acclaimed for treating syphilis through homeopathic means. By drinking the source water of the alps, breathing in the clean air, spa/bath treatment and rest patients early on found some relief from what plagued them. 

 

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This photograph of a bathing patient was taken  in the same room that John now uses for his darkroom.

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What does a day at the residency look like ?
Well the residency and the foundation are now closed to the public. Almost all the artists have left except for 4 of us. An Italian Painter, 2 Swiss artists and myself. Because we are completely separated from the town and in seclusion we are all trying to concentrate on projects and to keep each other from falling down during this difficult time. We have also intuitively created projects that have a life to them and an interaction component with the village through social media. Such as EGG — CITING: WELCOME TO THE CHICKLET UNIVERSE headed by Rahel Zaugg.

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A Survival themed group project where we hatched chicks for the town to watch grow. As the mission statement stresses “Above all, growing up becomes an act of stressing life: protecting what is worth protecting.”

The Foundaziun is also struggling during this time and has to temporarily close down on May 1st until they get more government guidance. So we are all looking for places to stay where we can continue working on these projects.

 

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Are you pleased with the work you are making?
Yes, I was interested in the early modern industrial architecture of Nairs and have been fascinated with the landscape in this part of the world for a long time now. But since we have been ordered to shelter in place I have focused my attention on photographing what is directly around me. This is how I usually start taking pictures in a new environment so these constraints actually suit me. But now I have moved into town with another photographer friend, Beny Steiner. She recently directed me deep in the into the mountains far past permits where the Alps shed concrete tears.

 

How are you spending your time when you're not making work?
I have been working almost every day and now I have a 45 minute walk down to Nairs and the hike back each day. So by the time I get back it is 8:30. Beny and I have dinner and then I am exhausted and go to bed. 

 

What do you miss most about home?
My family and friends who I have been talking to almost every day. 

 

How are you getting around with the camera?
I rented a pickup truck in Hungary to bring all of my equipment to Switzerland, which I have no way of returning as of now. 

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Obviously, you are as concerned as all of us about covid-19. what is your over-all concern?
I am really concerned about getting it. I have been doing everything recommended and that I can think of to lessen my chances of getting sick. I am lucky in a way to be here in all this space with clean air and water. I have been avoiding any close interactions. It has been a bit scary at times when thinking about it too much because I am here all by myself. I have to say the Residency program really has been amazing in that they kept us here And safe during the worst part of the outbreak here in Switzerland and sheltered us through the worst part of the storm. Even at a great cost to them.

Are you able to socialize with your fellow artists or are you in seclusion when at the residency?
I am mostly in self imposed seclusion. I really enjoy the other artists here, but I have been really been keeping to myself.

 

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You mentioned the 'eagle's nest' in one of your emails and sent a photo of it. it must be quite eerie to see it when you pass by.
It was incredibly eerie and foreboding to see the fortress way up on the peak of the mountain. There was no clear path to get way up there. It was dark that day and seemed like only a home to vultures.

 


 
Portrait of John Chiara by Beny Steiner, Scuol Switzerland

Portrait of John Chiara by Beny Steiner, Scuol Switzerland

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Sophi Winnikoff

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