Alpine legacy

Dramatic mountains, bouncing orphan Heidi, healthy cows and holey cheese are all powerful emblems of Switzerland. But why are these images as popular now as they were 100 years ago? That’s the question curator Cynthia Gavranic asks in the exhibition Paradies Schweiz (Paradise Switzerland), which opens at the Museum of Design in Zürich later this month.

’These images are not up to date at all, so why are they used throughout the whole spectrum of advertising – not only in tourism, but in banks and even politics?,’ says Gavranic.

The iconic images create an identity – and a strong identity is more important than ever in the current global economic climate – but the exhibition also points to subtle subversions within those icons. Different political parties try to appropriate the Swiss flag’s cross to fit in with their ideologies, for example.

Time has also lent secondary meanings to the original messages. An ad campaign for banking company UBS that showed two traditional wrestlers in 2007 conceived to represent strength can only be viewed with a certain irony today. Others use the iconography in intentionally humorous ways, such as bouncing a cow off a trampoline to promote milk as ’nature’s tonic’.

A Who’s Who of Swiss poster design, the exhibition shows graphics through the ages, from Emile Cardinaux’s Zermatt lithography from 1908 to Otto Baumberger’s Vierwaldstättersee and Donald Brun’s Swissair design. ’This image world is stronger than anything else, and it persists,’ says Gavranic. ’It’s so linked to our collective memory and understanding of our identity.’

Paradies Schweiz opens at the Museum of Design in Zürich, Ausstellungsstrasse 60, Zürich on 17 March and runs until 25 July. It is accompanied by a book from Lars Müller Publishers, priced £23

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