Catching up with Issue 15 guest editor Roger Eberhard

Roger Eberhard, Escapism, Wave (framed)

We’re featuring what our Issue 15 guest editors have been up to since the issue was released at Paris Photo in November 2022. Each of our 50 guest editors on the issue selected an image by an artist from our international open call to feature in a spread next to an image of their own in Issue 15. To see their work in the issue order your copy. Our guest editor Roger Eberhard’s work focuses on contemporary issues such as territory, borders, and globalization. His show “Escapism” curated by Stefano Stoll of IMAGES VEVEY was on view at SHIMADAI GALLERY KYOTO as part of the KYOTOGRAPHIE festival until May 14th. We caught up with him ahead of his book release on September 1st and accompanying show at Robert Morat Galerie in Berlin, which opened on September 7th, to ask him a few questions about his work.

Der Greif: Hi Roger! Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind your latest series, “Escapism”?

Roger Eberhard: For “Escapism” I appropriated images from small coffee creamer lids. With every coffee you order in Switzerland, you are given a little cup of cream which features a small picture on its lid. Images of exotic beaches, majestic icebergs or vast untouched deserts incite a feeling of Wanderlust – especially in a small landlocked country like Switzerland. They are an invitation to escape the concerns of one’s daily life while drinking a cup of coffee. While the overly romantic landscape pictures evoke a sense of Fernweh, their almost archetypical quality also causes a feeling of ambiguity; how can we not look at these idyllic photos through the prism of climate anxiety? The photographs seem like a requiem for the planet’s ecosystem, exemplarily showing what’s at stake if its demise can’t be stopped.

Der Greif: Why did you choose to focus on the coffee creamer lids for this project?

Roger Eberhard: For the past 50 years, these lids reproduced the world many times over. Thanks to their massive distribution throughout Switzerland, these miniatures helped shape the visual and often stereotypical understanding of the world long before social media did. These images planted an idea in the minds of Swiss people of what the planet looks like. But the images were always extremely simple, almost like children’s drawings; the subject centered, no visual complexities and distractions, blue skies etc. I am fascinated by the images’ cliché-like quality, their importance in Swiss sociology and how they are transformed and their readability is changed when the photographs are enlarged (roughly 100 times from the lids’ size to the final print).

Der Greif: Can you talk about the process of making the book “Escapism” with Stefano Stoll, the publisher of Éditions Images Vevey, and the graphic designer Giliane Cachin who already designed your last book?

Roger Eberhard: The CMYK color separation is such a visible part of the series, it was logical that it would play a vital role in the book. The three of us all brought different concepts and options to the table. It was really a collaborative effort. One of the highlights was to work with Simone Lappert, a Swiss writer and poet. She contributed 15 amazing poems to the book which added so many different new layers to the series and the book. The singer Valeska Steiner translated Simone’s poems and this process also added to the feeling of collaboration. All of us ended up looking through the different dummies and constantly giving feedback and altering the book. Giliane is such a great designer, she managed to blur the line between making a playful book and yet keeping it clean, informative and elegant. It was fantastic to work with Stefano on both the exhibitions and on the book, he constantly questioned my decisions and, at the same time, was open to any new weird idea. All of us shared the same goal, to make it the best possible book. For me, it could not have been better than working with them

Der Greif: How does your work in “Escapism” fit into the broader context of contemporary art, particularly in relation to movements such as appropriation art and pop art?

Roger Eberhard: The work is clearly appropriation and the color separation is reminiscent of pop art and even impressionism if you want. But there are also some references to popular culture such as the movie poster for Apocalypse Now, Marlboro advertisements or The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai. Many of the photographs are even clear references to other more contemporary artworks.

Der Greif: The concept of escapism is at the heart of this project. Is this something that you have explored in other parts of your practice or is this unique to this new body of work?

Roger Eberhard: Not really. Though you could probably argue that my work in the past has been partly driven by a sense of Wanderlust. Why else would I have traveled so much to realize my last series? It is quite amusing that “Escapism” is again a project that looks like a trip around the world, but only this time it was all done in my studio and the “trip” is more a journey through a land of tourist clichés.

Der Greif: The use of the CMYK printing pattern in your images highlights the industrial nature of the images, as well as bringing viewers back to reality. Can you discuss the ways in which this technique adds to the overall meaning of the project?

Roger Eberhard: First and foremost it allows the viewers to realize that they are looking at something that has been reproduced, that they are standing in front of a photograph of some printed matter. This grid of colorful dots appears and disappears according to the viewers’ position. The more the dots disappear the more visible and readable the photographs become and vice versa. I like how the appearance of the CMYK pattern disrupts the beauty of the scenes depicted in the photographs and invites you to reflect on the pictures’ suggestiveness.

Der Greif: You recently opened a show entitled “Das KRD Archiv”, at Gregor Hildebrandt’s offspace in Berlin this August, focusing on your source material for “Escapism”. Can you tell us about this archive and how showing it was different from showing the project it inspired?

Roger Eberhard: For several decades these illustrated coffee creamer lids were heavily collected in Switzerland, with people buying them at flea markets, in stores and at dedicated fairs for up to thousands of francs. Annual issues of professional directories revealed the latest estimated value of each lid. Then suddenly around the late 2000s, the lid marked crashed. Lids that cost a few hundred dollars became worthless. While working on “Escapism” I acquired a few massive collections and merged them into one, a complete collection of all official lids ever produced between 1968 and 2008, the end of the collectors frenzy. By showing the KRD (German abbreviation for coffee creamer lid) collection I pay homage to this particularity of Swiss history and show the source material for my project. At the same time, it will also be super cool for people unfamiliar with this to browse the tens of thousands of lids in the collection.

Der Greif: What do you hope viewers take away from your work in “Escapism”? Does showing this work abroad change the meaning for you at all?

Roger Eberhard: The biggest difference between showing this work abroad and in Switzerland (it was first shown at Images Vevey in 2022) is that people outside Switzerland are usually unfamiliar with the backstory of those lids. They enjoy hearing about it and seeing the actual lids - I always show the original lids that correspond with the prints in the exhibition in a vitrine. Besides this, I don’t think people react differently to the work in different countries. The landscapes are quite universally known and hence stereotypical for many people. Nevertheless, I absolutely look forward to new reactions and I am always curious how people relate to my work.

Der Greif: Thank you for joining us! Lastly, can you tell us what’s next for the project?

Roger Eberhard: After the show at Robert Morat Galerie, I will exhibit the work at Mai 36 Galerie in Zurich in October and have the Swiss book launch there. Later in November I will be having some pieces at Paris Photo with Robert Morat and do some signings at Polycopies. Hopefully, the series will still travel a little bit after that.