I Was Taking a Walk on the Back of a Resting Creature

On the morning of 23 August 2017, four million cubic metres (140 million cubic feet) of rock came crashing down Piz Cengalo, causing huge mudflows that partly buried Bondo, a small village in the Bregaglia Valley in southeastern Switzerland. Eight people died. The formerly paradisiacal scenery was left covered in masses of grey debris.

Shortly after the dramatic events, photographer Ruben Wyttenbach received permission to enter the abandoned village. “I simply felt that I had to go there… it was kind of a magical attraction.” In the following months, Wyttenbach visited the area several times, during which he wandered through the strangely transformed ghostly landscape for days. “It was like a stage set… somehow not real. But at the same time it felt more real than idyllic normality.” 

The rockslide marked a sudden and almost unprecedented irruption into the order we call “reality.” Wyttenbach’s photographs approachan uncanny experience, that of a seismic destabilization of the familiar. All certainties are limited, just as our secure little world can be devoured by a mountain from one moment to the next.

Wyttenbach’s photographs seek neither the dramatic nor the spectacular. A water pipeline crossing the forest. A children’s swing next to a wrecked building. Overripe red apples lying unharvested on a grey mass. The media sought to grasp the monstrosity of this mass by comparing it with “the volume of 3,500 detached houses.” We have learned to name and quantify what scares us. Wyttenbach, however, avoids simplistic documentation and enters into an intimate dialogue of sorts with tremendousness. “I was taking a walk on the back of a resting creature.” Nobody knows for sure how long this creature will behave in a good-natured way. The mountain remains unstable. 

By Tanja Schwarz, based on a conversation with Ruben Wyttenbach.