September 2: Makeshift

Date #2September 2: ‘Makeshift’ is a loaded adjective signifying the temporary, provisional, improvised, ad hoc, impromptu, and the cobbled together. The word hides in itself conjoined transitive verbs ‘make’ and ‘shift’; signifying some sort of production that will effect a shift. Might it make magic, change minds?

Augustin Rebetez, born in Delemont, Switzerland, in 1986, is currently exhibiting atelier from 31 August – 20 October 2018, Galerie Nicola von Senger AG,
Limmatstrasse 275, Zürich, Switzerland.

He would not be fazed to be regarded as producing work that deserves the deprecatory adjective…it is without doubt thrown together, but it is not perfunctory. Instead, an apparently dilettante dipping-into of a number of media—photography, painting, video, installation—soon proves to be driven by a dynamic creative intellect that powers a search for whatever means will give it flesh.


These are vivid imaginings represented in an urgent shorthand. When I write that—’shorthand’—as when I first attempted to describe Rebetez’ work with the term ‘makeshift’, I am pulled up, after spending some time with his imagery, to rethink such terms, to see the words for what they actually are.


That is what I sense. Once past the impression of it being ‘goth’ imagery, the recurring symbolism, or what is more truly a set of pictograms, like the ‘short hands’ above, becomes accessible easy-to-read references to familiar, but sometimes distressing, sometimes hysterical, emotional states; the three-in-the-morning imaginings, the sudden snag in one’s vision as it settles on the activity of an ants-nest or a bird on the wing. What brings insight shifts alien to familiar, or vice-versa.


To see where this happens may explain better. Here is Rebetez in his attic studio, one quite unlike one we would associate with a photographer; canvases, easels, pots of paint and glue crowd the space, with only the presence of a lens balanced on its back-cap indicating any use for photography. Its use in fact is highly contingent, fortuitous, or more true to say expedient.  That is not to say that there is no craft in its use. Like the other media it is there to do as he thinks, ‘arrière-tête’ or ‘from the back of his head’ as was the title he gave one of his shows; one at Images festival in Vevey, Switzerland in 2014. An example is this apparently artless use of on-camera flash here…


…which exactly suits his purpose in constructing, from thick black paint on a cardboard box this pair of rampaging demons and equipping them with these very healthy sets of teeth, pulled to the pictographic surface by  the flattening effect of the harsh light, which at the same time models the paint with sufficient reflection to integrate it with the three-dimensional elements.


Photography thus becomes a collaborator rather than being the end product of his work, which treats paint and video sequences in the same way, with the consequence that the resulting image may look like a drawing more than a scene through a lens.


It records the results of a process and performance, but is a part of it, lending its characteristics to Rebetez’ stylistic whole, despite the wide variety of experiments he undertakes. In documenting his installations, the photograph flat-packs them so that in our minds their pop-up hinging may be unfolded.


Rebetez’ imagery is apposite to the hallucinatory, accelerated times in which we find ourselves. It taps the qualities of street art and graffiti, the computer icon, the flickering poses of the dance club, the placards at a political demo and the flash mob teleported into Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari.

If he is to be compared to anyone it might be Keith Haring whose iconographics he shares or Roger Ballen’s performance, fantasy and blending of 2D and 3D, though he is more diverse in practice than the former, and lacks the cruelty of the latter.


Through Rebetez’ multiple metamorphoses the viewer becomes implicated in a tragicomic crisis of identity, a cross-species transplantation of our normal perspective, as if we had become Gregor Samsa’s family.

photography_2_017A visit to Rebetez website will reward you with more of his insights in various formats and media. He has exhibited since 2009 in Europe, North America, South Korea, Nigeria, Mexico and Lebanon, and each culture has been grafted onto or injected into his imagery. In addition to his artworks he has produced books, some poetry and a number of portfolios, all editioned and for sale.photography_1_028

Rebetez has been the recipient of several awards, at the Rencontres d’Arles in France (2010), The Swiss Photo Award (2012), the Kiefer Hablitzel Prize (2012) and the Vevey International Photo Award (2013-2014). He has created work for the stage at the Théâtre de Vidy in Lausanne in 2015. Since 2011, he is represented by Nicola Von Senger in Zürich, Feldbuschwiesner in Berlin and Stieglitz19 in Antwerp.


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