Images Vevey returns: “We dream big – the sky’s the limit”

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Mountain, Anaheim 2013 will be displayed on the facade of the oldest five star hotel in Switzerland. © Thomas Struth.

The biennale’s 50 site-specific installations will light up the Swiss town for three weeks. Here, we speak to the festival’s director Stefano Stoll about its bold, playful, and unpretentious approach

Every other summer, the Swiss town of Vevey transforms into an oasis of images. Known for its stunning mountain views, rich culinary history, and as the adopted home of Charlie Chaplin, the peaceful town sits on the shore of Lake Geneva. Opening this Saturday, Images Vevey will enliven its streets, public spaces and historical buildings for three weeks, presenting  50 site specific installations open to the public for free.

Founded 12 years ago, the biennale has become known for its dynamic, bold, and playful approach. Funded by a combination of public grants, sponsorships and its own profits, the festival exhibits well-known bodies of work in unexpected places, experimenting with scale to deliver awe-inspiring installations. As the festival director Stefano Stoll says: “What you see in Vevey, you can only see in Vevey.” Its core team of eight employees – which grows to 180 during the festival – start planning 15 months in advance, working with artists and venues to conceptualise unique shows. “The limits come from technical, financial and logistical issues later. When we start to design the shows, we dream big – the sky’s the limit,” says Stoll.

In her Breakfasts project, Anastasia Samoylova concocts visual conversations with photographers such as Claude Cahun, Stephen Shore, Cindy Sherman and Dora Maar. © Anastasia Samoylova.

Among this year’s program is four giant murals by Thomas Struth. Exploring architectural and technological environments, the images are mounted onto the facades of historical buildings around the town, like a trompe-l’œill. Elsewhere, Anastasia Samoylova’s Breakfasts project is exhibited in the gardens of the town’s culinary museum. And in a much-anticipated installation, Daniel Mayrit transforms a building into a makeshift campaign office, presenting his One of Us project – a parody of populist politics.

“We look for scenographies that enhance the message and understanding of the artist’s work,” explains Stoll. Vevey attracts visitors for many reasons – the landscape, and its nearby UNESCO-heritage-status vineyards, for example – but many will happen on the festival by chance.

“Having a playfulness in our installations de-dramatises our relationship to art. Art can become something that is joyful and funny”

Stefano Stoll

For this reason, Stoll is committed to engaging all audiences, specifically those who are not arts-educated. From conceptualising installations, to writing project descriptions, the festival makes an active effort to make their exhibitions accessible. “Having a playfulness in our installations de-dramatises our relationship to art,” he says. “Art can become something that is joyful and funny.” 

This approach also applies to the festival’s theme: ‘Together’. “I hate themes that are pretentious, that you know nobody understands,” says Stoll, expressing a frustration with the unnecessary use of academic language in the art world. “It’s easier to write sentences that actually have no meaning… Writing complex ideas in a way that everybody can understand – that’s really the challenge,” he says. 

© Martin Parr (Magnum Photos)

In a world of increasingly divisive political rhetoric, and following two years of a global pandemic, Stoll wanted to highlight themes that connect us. “Togetherness for me goes from life to death, to love, family, war, leisure – even football and politics. Money, religion, artificial intelligence, urbanism. All of these things influence the way we interact with each other,” he says. The program explores these themes through the work of 45 artists from 20 different countries. The manifold dynamics of family are represented in the work of Siân Davey, Diana Markosian, Alba Zari and Alec Soth. Elsewhere, Mimi Mollica’s East London Up Close speaks to themes of community and belonging, and a collaboration between Martin Parr and The Anonymous Project playfully explores notions of collective history and memory. 

The program expands beyond photography too. Experimental electronic composer Ryoji Ikeda presents his lauded installation test pattern [n°14], for example, and Marina Abramović & Ulay will screen a poignant performance piece that meditates on the uncertainty of romantic relationships. “It’s not a photo festival. It’s a visual arts festival based on photography,” Stoll clarifies. “The boundaries are so blurred now… I’m looking for work that connects to the broad idea of photography – what is photography today, and what is photography tomorrow?”

This is all part of the festival’s forward-thinking approach. And this manifests in all elements of its output, including its visual identity. Images Vevey commissions a fresh identity for each edition of the biennale. “I want to find this balance behind edgy design – the typography and everything must be perfect – but also a design that doesn’t close off from culture. I want every kid passing by on their bike to enjoy it,” sats Stoll. 

This year’s visual identity [above] was designed by Nicolas Polli. It features a playful graphic typeface resembling two sets of eyes. “That’s the whole idea of our festival, to teach people, to inspire people to open their eyes and to look at the world differently.”

Images Vevey takes place in Vevey, Switzerland from 03 to 25 September 2022. 

Marigold Warner

Online Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.