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Footfall – JocJonJosch in Martigny, 2017

1 May 2017

When the Anglo-Swiss-Slovakian art collective, JocJonJosch returned to Switzerland in February, Esther and I went too. Their latest exhibition, titled ‘ o  o  o   ‘, was to be hosted by the Manoir de la Ville de Martigny, and its opening night highlight would be a performance of ‘Footfall’. The work had premiered at Laure Genillard gallery in London on 25 November last year. Esther and I were part of its second performance in December, and I’d participated in the third and final performance on 3 February.

Tuesday 14 February

Having volunteered for the Martigny installation, we decided to extend our stay further and enjoy a mini-holiday in Switzerland. This began with a Valentine’s Day flight from Gatwick to Geneva. We’d booked AirBnB accommodation both here and in Martigny, and for one more night back in Geneva before flying home. It was late afternoon when we arrived and found our apartment on the southern side of the lake. That evening we acclimatised with a fine pinot noir in the evocative surroundings of Au Coin du Bar.


Lac Léman or Lake Gevena, as you prefer.

Wednesday 15 February

Next day, after al fresco coffees in brilliant sunshine at the lakeside Cottage Café, we made pilgrimages to Hotel Eden, followed by the United Nations Office at Geneva: the Palais des Nations. Esther’s mother had resided in the former for a few months as a baby in the 1950s, whilst her grandparents worked as World Federation of Trade Unions representatives to the International Labour Office in the latter. This history trail kept us absorbed till dusk, when a ferry took us back south. I do like a mission.


As one with art inside the Palais des Nations.


Where diplomats come to speak, listen and ignore each other.


The M4 ferry from De Chateaubriand to Pont Noir at sunset.

Thursday 16 February

More clear sunlight and cool air greeted us as we checked out of our Geneva AirBnB apartment to partake of coffees, brownies and tea at Cottage Cafe, before boarding a train to Martigny. All was going smoothly as we enjoyed fine scenery along the north side of Lac Léman. 20 minutes before we were due to arrive, however, our plans went crashing off the rails (metaphorically) when our AirBnB landlord in Martigny texted to say we could no longer stay with them. Apparently their hot water supply had failed.


On the 2pm train from Geneva, arriving in Martigny at 3:42pm.

We declined help to find alternative accommodation and instead used wifi at Martigny station to search online. AirBnB had nothing, and the cheapest hotel was significantly more expensive, but we had little choice – we began walking north. A good omen was the sight of two mudbrick ‘Raised Totems’ built by JocJonJosch in June. We checked into the adjacent Hotel Vatel and took time to relax. As darkness came we sought a reasonably-priced restaurant – not easy in Switzerland – but Siam Thaï would do.


Martigny by night.

Friday 17 February – Performance

We slept soundly in our hotel room overlooked by the Alps, not least because AirBnB emailed to say they would refund the difference in price of staying there. JocJonJosch themselves were contributing to our original cost of accommodation – they are always exceptionally considerate towards their participants. The performance of ‘Footfall’ was due to begin at 6:30pm today so after an improvised breakfast we went exploring; first to Château de la Bâtiaz, which we’d seen illuminated above town the night before.


Château de la Bâtiaz, overlooking La Drance river.


Esther, overlooking the modern town of Martigny.


Nude figure at Château de la Bâtiaz.

Naturally, with no-one else was about I couldn’t resist the temptation of an impromptu nude photoshoot. Esther took the shots with bemused tolerance whilst I made poses. Afterwards we wandered south to locate a seventeenth century café-restaurant called Les Trois Couronnes. This was another pilgrimage for Esther as she’d found out her parents had both dined there – entirely coincidentally – on separate visits before they were married. We dined there too: a superb meal of fresh fish and local Valais wine.


Outside Les Trois Couronnes.


Inside Les Trois Couronnes.

Rain began to fall whilst we ate – this would be our only day under cloudy skies – but it didn’t matter. After a fast turnaround back at our hotel, we headed out to the Manoir, arriving at quarter to five. We soon found our friends Glynis – with whom we performed in Venice and in Sion – and Stan, who’d been part of the second ‘Footfall’ in London, plus others who would be taking part in the performance. In total, we would be a “dirty dozen” comprised of seven women and five men – including Joschi of JocJonJosch.


Opening night of ‘ o  o  o   ‘ at the Manoir de la Ville de Martigny.


Before the show, Esther and a ‘Raised Totem’.

A broad, murky disc of mud awaited us on the floor of a dimly-lit, wood-panelled room. This was our performance space. As the start neared, women went in first, undressed and covered their bodies from head to toe in dirt. The men then followed, and together we began slowly, methodically treading the filth; coherent as a mass yet idiosyncratic in our own rhythms. The performance was to be continuous for two hours, with guests wandering in to watch – standing, staring, mesmerised in the humid musty gloom.


Our mud.

It was warm, wearying work. The mud seemed to dry upon us more quickly here than in London. Single, double, triple claps were to signal half-hour intervals, but confusion reigned as the first clap was a double. The knock-on effect towards the end was it felt like we’d overrun by half-an-hour – but never mind, it made for more of an exhilarating relief when the installation was finally declared complete. Applause echoed round the room. It had been an intense and powerful shared experience.


Esther and Glynis, post-performance beneath the Manoir.

Performers were given white dressing gowns and slippers, then led out through a side door, across a square to an adjacent school where we washed in separate communal showers for men and women. Body wash, body conditioner and towels were supplied. Once dressed we joined the party: first in the gallery where wine, soup, crisps, bread, cheese, and meats were plentiful; then down in the cave-like club beneath the Manoir, where Lydia Lunch graced the walls, and Brits were first on the dance floor.

Saturday 18 February

We had one final day in Martigny to unwind and chill among the mountains. Blue sky and sunshine had returned. On our way into town we stopped by the ‘Raised Totems’. I’d wanted to be photographed with them and – of course – for me there could only be one way to do it. Whereas the castle had been isolated and deserted, however, these totems were on land bordered by two hotels and a residential street. It took a while to build up courage, repeatedly checking around for passers-by, but eventually…


Esther and totem in scenic splendour.


The smaller of the two totems.


Nude figure with Raised Totem.

In town we partook of coffees on a sofa outside Le Minotaure café. We’d fulfilled our purpose for being there and could now savour the simple pleasures, yet I wasn’t quite ready to leave behind the world of JocJonJosch. Our participation in the opening night of ‘ o  o  o   ‘ meant we hadn’t had time to see the exhibition properly. Our last swigs of cappuccino took us past 2pm – opening time of the Manoir – so we returned to get a clearer look at works we’d glimpsed only fleetingly the day before.


All that was left of our ‘Footfall’.

With around three hours of daylight remaining, we set off for a hike through the valley. Heading north across the railway line, we bought some snacks from a roadside shop, then walked along country lanes to reach the mighty Rhône river. Snow-tipped peaks and yellow grass stood in silent observation as the sounds of traffic receded. We had no particular destination in mind but the river led us to a little town called Fully. Here we rested at Café Les Alpes before slumping into a bus back to Martigny.


Alongside the Rhône on our way to Fully.

Sunday 19 February

Still glutted with pasta from last night at Au Grotto restaurant, we lingered till quarter to twelve then bade a final farewell to our cosy room at Hotel Vatel. Le Minotaure café was closed on Sunday, so we had coffees at the bar next door before boarding a train for Geneva and returning to the same AirBnB place we’d left three days earlier. It was our last afternoon and evening in Switzerland but we were all out of energy. After a bit of token sightseeing, we took pizzas and wine back to our digs for a quiet night in.


At Martigny station, waiting for the train back to Geneva.

Monday 20 February

Our Swiss adventure was not yet over! After an early start to Geneva airport, we found ourselves at the wrong end of hideous queues to check-in our baggage, pass security control and get our passports scrutinised – finally running to the departure gate with a mere ten minutes to spare. It was an extraordinary end to a very special week. Whilst our purpose was participation in a physical art performance, we had been enriched by so much more: friends and family, culture and serenity, beauty and love. Oh, oh, oh!

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