John M Armleder’s work is to be found in the passageway underneath the railway tracks in Montbrillant, at Cornavin station. It is a very dense location, being an interchange between the local, national and international public-transport networks.
For numerous visitors, this passageway constitutes the first impression of Geneva, whether they arrive by train from Switzerland or via Cointrin airport coming from abroad. Whereas the strategic importance of the place is obvious, its configuration is of such a complexity that only an experienced artist could be called on to put forward ideas for an artistic intervention. This space, which lurks in permanent semi-darkness, is actually the outcome of successive highly functional rearrangements, each one following its own agenda.
The artistic committee set out with two working premises, but the personality of John M Armleder, a central figure in contemporary art in Geneva, soon imposed itself.
Accepting the constraints of the side walls (showcases on the station side and advertising hoardings on the other), the only surfaces available for possible interventions were the ceiling, the columns and the floor.
John M Armleder’s project uses light and the sparkles from it to make this functional space more welcoming. In his own words, the artist explains that “the situation of a passageway under railway track, a kind of ‘open’ tunnel, imposes a setting in semi-darkness. That is one of the reasons why my proposals tend rather to invoke luminous elements. Moreover, these are resources that have a very strong presence in my work”.
John M Armleder arranges for the passageway under the tracks to stop being exclusively a place of transit but one that also participates in Geneva’s identity. Considering the complexity of the different architectural structures, his proposal fits in perfectly with the elements already in place and aims to make the space more uniform and reassuring.
He put forward a proposal for a three-part installation. The first of these, at the rue du Mont-Blanc end, offers a luminous front wall integrated in the bridge arch and made up of neon rings in two different shades of white. Symbolically, this front wall indicates where the entrance is, placing a distinctive mark on it. The second part comes into play at ceiling height with neon rings, again in two different whites, providing illumination for the passageway, where very little is seen of natural daylight, so that the arch of the bridge gives way to an abstract, luminous sky.
The third part, finally, consists in packaging the columns in mosaics including mirror elements reflecting the light from the ceiling, enhancing the luminosity of the passageway.
It is a proposal that acts with subtlety to offer a more amenable space, including elements that are not strictly functional. The interventions are made in high-grade materials (mosaic) combined with utilitarian ones, all fitting in flexibly with the existing arrangement and made so that it will be possible to adapt them to future layouts.