First days at the Birli. May 2013.
First visit to the Ledi - The Traveling Stage, in Herisau.
Building up the pig sty for Paul Steenberghe's project 2Schweine.
Preparing the Birli-garden (project Aurelio Kopainig).
Vleckie and Speckie.
The bookshop in Appenzell.
Preparing at the Ledi in Appenzell for the first womens meeting of Julia Mensch's project (Auf der Suche nach dem weiblichen Landsgemeinde-Degen).
Preparations for the Pig Lottery (Paul Steenberghe).
Visiting Manuela Silvestro in Gossau with Nicolas Novali (investigating about the Appenzeller Spitzhauben chicken)
Nicolas Novali working at the Birli.
Mako Ishizuka investigating.
Julia Mensch learning hand embroidery from Frau Locher in Oberegg.
Appenzeller Volkskunde-Museum, Stein.
Making Dulce de Leche.
Different kinds of bread.
Open house at the Birli.
At the Birli.
First of August at Hohe Buche.
Walks in the neighbourhood.
In Wald and at the Schäfli.
Work in process of Betty Ras.
Work in process of Nicolas Novali.
Coffee & cake for women at the Birli (Julia Mensch, Auf der Suche nach dem weiblichen Landsgemeinde-Degen).
Feed for Vleckie and Speckie.
'Open house' at the Birli.
Group photo (Cat Tuong Nguyen).
Preparations for the Schopf-exhibition.
Film prop for the work of Musquiqui Chihying.
Shooting The Alp (Musquiqui Chihying).
The invitations arrived.
At work at the Birli.
Building up the exhibition in Oberegg.
At the opening of the Palatti-Schopf.
Viehschau, our neighbors at the Birli (Family Heeb).
Visiting Herbert Kopainig and the Panoptikum in Diessenhofen.
Mushroom picking walk and hotpot!
Last days at Birli. October 2013.
Text by Julia Mensch:
I had been in Appenzell before, and I had even gone to the Trogen Library on several occasions to do work there some years back. As a result, doing a project in Appenzell was not something entirely new; I had seen the landscape and would even go so far as to say that it seemed familiar to me. This time, after taking the train in St. Gallen as I had done on previous trips, my route did not conclude in Trogen. Instead, the train leg was followed by a bus trip that took us fifteen minutes further on. From the bus stop we continued on foot carrying suitcases, easily at times and with more difficulty at others. The road leading to our new home in Birli had as many ups and downs as a roller coaster. Once there, the place was truly enchanting; we were to live in a house that was straight out of a postcard, like so many that I had seen from the window of the train, reminding me of Heidi (my only source of information or contact with Switzerland before having met Aurelio).
The fairy tale peasant house quickly filled with the artists and friends we would work with all summer. The project of one of the artists was to raise two pigs alongside the house. When I found out about this interesting proposal several months beforehand, I was hardly enthused, to tell the truth. I imagined pungent odors throughout the house, animals grunting and the like. True to my nature as a good, self-respecting port city native—I’ve never lived in the countryside and had only seen pigs occasionally on some farm, on television, in the occasional book, the butcher’s shop or during one of Uncle Carlos’ asados (barbeques) when the entire animal is roasted over an open flame (I should clarify that those occasions did not tempt me to taste it)—the idea of a pig living next door was completely foreign to me and not attractive in the least.
Before the other artists arrived at the house, Paul and Aurelio built a wood hutch for the pigs with a fence all around. Some time later, Vlecki and Specki arrived. I must admit that at first they didn’t seem attractive to me, and I felt nothing toward them. My only contact with them was to set aside the leftovers that they could eat in a separate bin, one of the group’s collective chores. At the outset Paul, Betty and Aurelio would feed them, but after one month Paul and Betty went back to Amsterdam for a while. For four weeks there were only four artists in the house, and aside from work schedules, a social outing now and then and eventually buying food, the ones who really wound up structuring our time were Vlecki and Specki. They ate twice a day and it was important (as Paul had been informed and as he had passed along to us) that their regular eating schedule be respected. They ate at 8 in the morning and at 7 in the evening. That way, any group walk had to end before then or someone had to stay at the house. While Paul was temporarily away, Nico took his place to help out Aurelio at first and then Chih also lent a hand. Weeks went by, and after having sworn that I would never feed them, I wound up doing just that and I cannot deny that as the days went by they eventually began to grow on me and I began to call them “the girls”. Soon I was watching them through the window while I brushed my teeth every morning, or from the kitchen while I cooked or while I sipped mate. With time I began to talk to them as if they understood me, and though it surely wasn’t the case, their comprehension appeared to be complete (as did their ability to ignore me whenever they felt like doing so). The girls grew more and more as the months passed and the project progressed and came to an end. The group of winners decided to sacrifice them. At first I didn’t like the idea at all, but once I found out how they would be living had the decision been otherwise it seemed to be for the best. After the show, the artists gradually left one after the other until we wound up as we had begun: Paul, Aurelio and I. One day before the butcher was set to come and get them, it began to snow, which is quite rare for September. I felt so bad for them left outside that I wanted to bring them into the house, but the idea didn’t go over well. The butcher, who Paul had met and contracted, came the following night in his truck to take them away. The girls were very smart, and escaped the seasoned butcher time and again; even with help from Aurelio and Paul he couldn’t manage to get them into the truck. Meanwhile, I was preparing my suitcase to leave the next morning for Berlin and from the same window where I had watched them for months, I now looked at them with tears in my eyes. Vlecki and Specki’s resistance finally won out and they stayed to spend the night at home, in their own hutch. The butcher would come back in the morning to sacrifice them right there. Aurelio and I left before it happened, while several of those who had won the girls came to be present along with Paul. I don’t really know how it went, but I do know that it was difficult. The trip back was sad, full of images like the bin full of food scraps set aside for them, seeing them sleep cuddled together or fighting amongst themselves—already as adolescents—over food.
I stopped eating meat, especially bacon. To top it all off, at the market that I usually go to in Berlin they have photos of the pigs from the farm everything comes from right along side where they hang the salami, so I wound up giving up salami, too. The butcher transformed the girls into “delicatessen” goods that were given to the winners and to Paul.
I returned to Appenzell months later, to work on the publication. One night Paul, Aurelio and I went to Ursula’s again to have dinner, and she received us with an appetizer beforehand. Among the deli products there was salami that came from the girls (Ursula was one of the winners). I thought that I’d never be able to eat them and after months of not eating meat I tried the salami and much to my surprise, I could indeed eat it and think of them at the same time. It wasn’t like a hunter who consumes his prey, but as someone who is aware of what they are eating, knowing where the meat comes from, knowing, furthermore, that “the girls” had been happy and that a small part of that may have had something to do with me, too, or at least with all of us as a group. I guess Paul’s project had seemed to be more of an experience than an art project for me, and I also suppose that in my particular case, it had been completely effective. Thanks to his project, my contact with meat went from being restricted to the styrofoam package at the supermarket and trying not to think about what it was I was eating to what it is today, where buying and eating meat is an important decision, always made in full awareness of where it comes from. Though it has been over a year ago now, my experience with the girls made me into an Argentinean who still seldom eats meat, quite a rarity indeed.
Julia Mensch, Berlin, October 2014.