A Most Unusual Artist Residency: Matza Amboy

What connects Valais, Switzerland, and Amboy, California, a ghost town on Route 66 with only a post office, restaurant-motel, and a tourist shop? According to Swiss artist and Matza Amboy artist residency director Séverin Guelpa, the two places resonate because of how humans and the natural environment interact.

The Matza Amboy residency runs from August 24 – September 20, 2015, and a public exhibition called Dryland Motel Lobby Lab runs through Spring 2016.

We asked Guelpa to elaborate on this unique residency and the idea behind it:

Q: Why did you seek to create a link between Valais and the desert of California?

A: I was visiting some of the masterpieces of land art such as Sun Tunnel from Nancy Holt (near Lucin, Utah) and Double Negative by Mickael Heizer (Moapa Valley near Overton, Nevada).

I wondered what a land art process would mean today, facing our new ecological, environmental, and technological issues. I decided to base Matza on the idea of reciprocity between people and nature by exploring the way they can benefit each other.

Matza means roughly a series of artistic projects interested in territory as a space of collective affirmation and political emancipation. It takes its inspiration from the ‘mazze’, a traditional object or tool used for democracy—a sign of democracy for the people of Haut-Valais and a strong symbol linked to the identity of the people of Valais, Switzerland.

I started reading and realized that California economists such as Nobel Prize Elinor Ostrom worked on theories based on examples in the Swiss Alps. The link between California and Switzerland was obvious and influenced the development of Matza.


Q: Is this residency an individual or collective experience for the artists involved?

A: Matza is based on the principle of common resources. It seeks to promote and experiment with forms of collective intelligence by gathering the sensibility of the artist, the competences of scientists, and the practice of local communities.

Every participant comes with his or her own know-how and project. By sharing ideas, expertise, and knowledge, each project feeds the others (and vice versa)—like in an open source system.

At the same time, Matza Amboy wants to reconsider the potential of collective questions as an alternative to public centralized administration or privatization.

Facing the rarefaction of natural resources (like water) and their importance for inhabitants, the theory of commons appears as a particularly relevant way of rethinking shared goods and nature.

Last but not least, Matza seeks to support initiatives or experimentations based on local practices or easy-to-find materials. It puts forward the idea of do-it-yourself systems by developing technologies that can benefit most of the people and be reproduced without copyright or law restriction.

Q: Is there an intended audience for the projects coming out of Matza? If so, who are they?

A: In the same way that an open source system does, Matza seeks to develop projects and art works that will be accessible to anyone.


More Info

Research and experimentation, August 24 – September 20, 2015

Public opening September 29, 2015 – Spring 2016

With Jérôme Massard – artist, Marie Velardi – artist, Guillaume de Morsier – architect, Ariane Arlotti – artist, Séverin Guelpa – artist, Valentin Kunik – architect and Matthias Solenthaler – urbanist.