Close to Basel, the so-called Rehberger Way connects the Beyeler Foundation in the Swiss village Riehen to the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein in Germany. This is a walk that links two countries and offers a unique experience surrounded by nature and art, with 24 objects - 24 stops – along the way created by the German artist Tobias Rehberger.
Anything designed in the outdoor environment is by its very nature both public and private. In catering to the demands of a community it considers the needs of the individual, which might for example be a park bench. And to serve the individual it places itself in a wider context, even if that involves something as simple as a terrace. It also has to be made of heavy-duty, weather-proof materials and comply with strict safety standards, as well as having appeal, so that people actually want to use it. These are the factors a designer must take into account particularly when called upon to design something as clearly defined as stopping points on an out-of-town itinerary.
History is full of examples of this kind of space, from the waystages on medieval pilgrim trails to modern motorway service stations, filling stations and the more recent cases of Alessandro Mendini’s tram stops in Hannover, David Chipperfield’s work for the public transport system in Milan and Jasper Morrison's bus stop in Weil am Rhein on the 55 bus line to Basel.
The Fondation Beyeler, the municipalities of Riehen and Weil am Rhein and Vitra have now focused on this area in a joint project, and have decided to involve an artist with plenty of experience creating objects in a spatial context. Tobias Rehberger was commissioned to design 24 waymarkers along a footpath connecting the Beyeler Foundation with the Vitra Campus. The walk, which has been named the Rehberger-Weg, connects two municipalities, crosses a national border and winds its way through the countryside between two towns. It starts from the area in front of the Swiss museum Fondation Beyeler, designed by Renzo Piano, crosses a river, immerses walkers in countryside filled with orchards and eventually arrives at the industrial campus where the last stop, at Frank Gehry’s Vitra Design Museum is a fluorescent bell.
"Abitare" met the German artist in his Frankfurt studio, a space on two levels with a workshop and warehouse on the banks of the river Main. "My idea," he explains, "was to turn simple elements showing the way into a system that would give a whole new meaning to the space and give extra value to the walking experience. For this reason I didn’t make use of typography, I wasn’t trying to express any kind of message – I just wanted to create something that would inspire visitors to go on a walking tour. The markers along the way are designed to attract people’s attention," Rehberger goes on, "with colour and form used to give them a magnetic, alien quality in the landscape: unnatural geometric presences. Although some of the markers do draw on certain typologies, I wanted each of them to perform a function of abstraction, to be a personal interpretation of the existing context, marking the transition from hidden to explicit."
The focus on the process of perception – a recurrent theme in the work of the German artist – takes place in this specific case through the metaphor of the marker pointing the way to walkers. Whether it is a sculpture, an artwork on a wall or on the ground, an aerial installation or any other kind of object, each stopping place is the outcome of interaction between the typical demands made of public art when it becomes urban furnishing and the artist’s own poetics. “I worked around the themes of borders, of the cognitive and perceptive efforts involved in art and design, of function and autonomy, and of Swiss and German identity."
"I was interested in the ambiguity of the two centres, in the generation of contradictions and in the different levels of interpretation," Rehberger says. "I have always been suspicious of my ways of seeing things," he concludes, with a smile. "The aim of this project was to work on the fears people have about art, establishing a relationship with those who have not been taught to appreciate contemporary creativity and turning my attention to non-specialists."
The project "24 Stops" was commissioned by the cultural institutions at its two extremities and the municipalities of Weil am Rhein in Germany and Riehen in Switzerland, and realized with the Swiss watch manufacturer Swatch. The walk can be done independently or as a guided tour. To get to stop number ten – Artwork on the Ground – walkers need to produce identity documents to be allowed to cross into the other country. The project is linked to the IBA Basel 2020 international initiative, whose aim is to set up cooperation schemes in this particular part of Europe where France, Switzerland and Germany meet. The open-air Rehberger-Weg initiative has a website with a map that can be downloaded, a smartphone app and an instagram account.