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Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Before I reveal that, I hope you enjoyed reading Witches in Exile. I had a lot of fun working on the article with Photographer Ann-Christine Woehrl. If you haven’t yet managed to read it please do check it out and don’t forget to visit the live exhibition at the Praxis, Gallery (Bäumleingasse 9, Basel).

So, squats and Swiss Art, what do they have in common? Yes, you've got it, Pe Lang. Well it would be remiss of me not to give you a glimpse into my exclusive conversation with this adept contemporary artist and main prize winner of PAX Swiss Art Awards 2022.

Our conversation took place amidst the high jinks of the awards ceremony staged in collaboration with HEK. From Lucern, self-taught Lang has been honing his craft consistently for over three decades. His distinctive work is characterised by clear and open compositions with later oeuvres, being surprisingly mechanical in nature for a media art winner. Our brief chat reveals why.

He tells me about his life during his twenties, living in squats ‘outside of societal structures’. ‘People would come to our home to spend their holidays and we could also travel to other houses. The squats were all connected. It was a big community. At that time I was doing a lot of experimental, noise music, giving performances and earning money as I went from house to house.’

After a couple of years of this bohemian lifestyle, he tells me he became more serious about installations including sound artworks. ‘A lot of my work was programmed with a computer so I did do media art,' he admits with a wry smile.

‘Now, I mainly use motors, that’s the most technology that you can find in my pieces. I don’t use electronics anymore apart from maybe a battery and I’m thinking of skipping the battery and electricity for future works. So my transition was from a hard core noise musician stroke programmer stroke media guy to more and more going into crafting precision mechanics. In fact, my studio is like a watchmakers studio!’

I’m intrigued to understand what 'motored' this transition (excuse the pun).

'The reason was because I enjoyed it more, he said . Screen based work is trendy, but working eight to ten hours a day at a screen is not fun. When you have done all the tech stuff, you just get tired of it.’

Describing his work as 'post digital' he expands further, 'Working with physical objects at different scales from the very large to the very small gives you many physical sensations relating to smell, colour and heat. It’s very beautiful,’

'We are all physical beings. We need physicality and we are always heading back to the promise of love’,

'Some of the works I am doing now, he continues, ‘resemble early works where I only used the typical computer process, screen based stuff. The end result is more or less the same but I now use physical materials.’

We are all physical beings.’ We need physicality and we are always heading back to the promise of love’, he insists.

In addition to the main prize awarded to a senior artist, awards are also given to two younger artists. This year it was Johanna Bruckner and Jennifer Merlyn Scherler. ‘As the senior artist, says Lang, 'PAX looked at my work from the past 25-30 years. This is a nice compromise. I think most artists go through a sort of metamorphosis where you work on some things then grow and develop them. Then you continue working until your output becomes more and more refined. You peel off stuff and say I did that! That’s great but now I’m done with it. And then you gradually find that thing that suits you best. And maybe you can find this right at the beginning. In this way, artists that are in their exploration phase are supported, as well as those who may have gone through it over a number of decades.’

‘But the funny thing is, he continues, ‘it doesn’t get easier. In fact, it gets harder. And it can suck because who likes to struggle? But without that one can doubt oneself and ideas can feel shaky. And then there is a moment when everything makes sense. Nietzche was one of the first people who said without struggle there is no greatness. The moment of struggle is not really nice. But you get used to it,‘ he concludes.

The struggle may be there but the artworks do not ‘kiss ‘n tell’. I find his pieces, (the ones that I have seen) serene and delicately mechanical. There's an elegant fusion of motion, sound and colour with an irresistible and tactile allure that draws you in.

…. A worthy winner absolutely. I want to see more!

Heart or comment (or both) if you enjoyed the read.

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