In the autumn of 2001, two good friends drank a good bottle of wine together and talked about their dreams. Then they drank another bottle. That night, they decided to found a gastronomical society where men would spend one Saturday per month cooking feasts to which their wives and girlfriends would be invited as honoured guests. They borrowed, for the name of their society, from a late nineteenth century liquor and absinthe salesman in the Neuchâtel canton, and La Société Auguste Fivaz was born.
Two years later, not a single potato has been peeled, not one carrot grated, not a single lobster has been boiled. But there are a lot of empty wine bottles in the Atelier Fivaz and a lot of happy memories in the hearts of those two friends and the many others they met along their way.
In late December 2001, too late to install the crèche they had planned, La Société rented a commercial display window outside the main post office in Neuchâtel. Beginning with an installation of absinthe accessories wholly appropriate for Auguste, the absinthe salesman, they forged on with a child’s doll – Betty – on a beach of pale sand framed a panorama of multiple Mount Fuji, a simple display followed, ‘BVM+bvmx102’ – 100 glowing statuettes of the Virgin Mary; then ‘Expo02_Fin’ – a satirical look on the Swiss National Exhibition in which Lilly and the other mascots were killed, impaled on pins and suffocated in ether like so many butterflies. In December 2002, La Société realised that crèche in the form of a collage of 500 religious images, and – as the war in Iraq began – an imitation television where the controls allowed you, amongst other things, to "Rule the World" and content drawn from diverse sources in five languages encouraged the "viewer" to look further for information on what was really happening in their world; further – at least – than their favourite television channel or daily newspaper.
Meanwhile, outside the context of their display window, La Société was busy in the streets of Neuchâtel… In May, 2002, they engaged two talented local artists to paint a trompe l’oeil on a local public fountain which had fallen into a sorry state of disrepair. During the work, and at the aperitif they threw for the neighbourhood afterwards, the two founders met many good local people and made many friends, not least the two artists who were to become members of La Société.
In October 2002, La Société rented a workshop to ease the preparation of their larger projects such as September’s Jardin de Fivaz - the illumination of Neuchatel’s Jardin Anglais with 600 lanterns and almost 100 ‘art bags’; paper bags painted by local artists and residents. In May, they installed a pair of motorized legs inside a structure in La Rue Coq d’Inde, with a nonsense soundtrack of a woman talking blithely to herself. The absurd concept amused dozens of local children and as many adults… those – at least – with the necessary lightness of spirit. And, tonight, they illuminate Lake Neuchâtel itself, transforming it temporarily, ephemerally, into the Lac de Fivaz.
So why did they do it? Was there some message they were trying to communicate? No. They did it for themselves. They did it because these installations were beautiful or because they made them laugh. The fact that other people liked them too was just a bonus. The only message La Société Auguste Fivaz tried to communicate was that "we can do this". We can all do this. Public space belongs to us all, collectively. And rather than waiting to be entertained, anyone can get up, get together with a few friends and – for little money – can meet some wonderful people and create much laughter and many happy memories.
In fact, perhaps – as citizens – it is our duty to do this, because volunteers can often do it more cheaply than big organizations. As Philip Starck put it: "Civil duty is avant garde".
And tonight, with the extinguishing of the final candle on the Lac de Fivaz, Auguste Fivaz and his absinthe are leaving us. Why? Disagreements? Arguments? Lanterns and glowing statuettes of the Virgin thrown at each other across the workshop in fits of temper? No. Simply, everything has a natural life and La Société Auguste Fivaz has reached its natural end.
We will miss Auguste Fivaz. We have heard rumours that he has retreated to a monastery hidden somewhere in the Swiss Alps where he is recuperating; recharging his batteries. Too much absinthe, perhaps.
Who knows, but one day – like Sherlock Holmes – he will return. But, until that day, Auguste leaves behind him his family who will continue to try to build beautiful things to surprise, enchant or amuse. And, if an evening in front of your television screen does not appeal to you, and you would prefer to build lanterns, make collages or organize a troupe of Santas… waterskiing on the lake, towed behind a fleet of pedalos… then the children of Auguste Fivaz would love to hear from you.
With our best wishes – La Société Auguste Fivaz.
La Société would like to thank the following, without who these last two years would have been possible, but would have been a lot less fun:
Alan Watson ; Anne-Laure & Jèrôme Jaquet ; Athena Sargent; Conchetta; Edwina Little; Elena Arrelano; Erwin Maurer; Fred & Kathy Berezin; Helen McCarthy; Isabelle; Maria Economidis; Mary Carver; Mme. Laura Loersch; Pedro Santos; Phyllis & David Sharp; Pier Schwab & god-daughter Little Schwab; Roger Little; Susanne Daendliker; Teresa O'Toole; The Wolf Family.
For the Lac de Fivaz in particular, La Société would like to thanks the following for their donations in time, money and enthusiasm:
Alan Watson; Alexandre Caldara; Amelyse; Athena Sargent; Carole; Catherine Montalto; Catherine Robert; Chez Auby; Christianne Jeanmonod; Club de Plongée – 200 Bars, Hauterive; Conchetta; Doris Riss; Elie & Abel Reichland; Elise Youmans; M. Gasser; Francesco Giaccari; Hobby Mathlouthi; Ilire; Jacqueline la traductrice; Joaquim; Laurence; Laurent; Lori Kohler; Lucia; Madame Laura Loersch; Marc Jeanmonod; Margrite Guyomarch; Maria Economidis; Michelle of 'Cinemas Neuchatelois'; Nicole; Noel TV; Pascale; Pascale's sister; Pattus Tabac; Peter Danielson; Petra Kiefer; Pier Schwaab; Pietro; Raymond Pizzera; Major Spitznabel and ‘les pompiers Neuchâtelois; Stanislas Joli; SD Bijoux; Stella & Stephane; Le Turquoise; Vin Libre; Vivre En Fleur; Wanda Hänggi.
La Société Auguste Fivazwere:
Dave Brooks & John Sergneri; Marco Salomoni; Ger Banaghan; François Righi; Anne Monnier; Karin Maurer.
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