Back to the Alps for this fourth stage of the Casa Vogue anthology and the mountains. It’s a story full of snow, lots and lots of ice – not the nonexistent if not soaked one of the past few years – exactly as skiers enjoy it in this strange winter season. After all, we see oddities and even more we now experience every moment. We are then in the Engadine (with Casa Vogue we went there in December 2004 thanks to the magnificent photos of Filippo Simonetti) and we find an artist at least unique, Not Vital. Of him, perhaps someone will remember, we told at the beginning of the pandemicisland-dwelling-cave-sculpture which he made on a Chilean lake. Very close to his land and the beautiful mountains, the artist often recovers the typical local houses and, in full respect of their forms and tradition, reinterprets them making the idea of home-dwelling something deeper that becomes an artistic expression. Which is not a completely strange idea. Indeed, it is a good suggestion to try to reconsider our living spaces and look at them no longer just as geometric containers of things, accommodation, but expression and mirror in continuous becoming and changing of our physical and emotional existences. (Paolo Lavezzari)
«The light is dramatic, you have to see it to understand; this warm light that comes out of the open mouths of the windows, in the intense cold outside. Very Doctor Zhivago ». Hot and cold, rooms black with soot and rooms of ice, embraces of physical but also architectural extremes, inside and outside the walls, between stone, soft wood, sharp edges of steel, Murano glass: from wherever you look, Not Vital’s house in Tschlin, far east of the Engadine, is “radical”. “Radical”: repeats, with a touch of pride, the Swiss artist with a nomadic spirit and hands in love with the substance of which dreams and nature are made. But he likes all the definitions of his house: even that of the gallery owner Gian Enzo Sperone: “This is not a house, it’s a sculpture”; or the initial one, “I wouldn’t even want to give it away”, by brother Duri, who then ended up building it all, from alpha to omega; and even the refusal of the friend for whom he had originally found it, in that “not beautiful country, destroyed by fire in the middle of the last century and badly rebuilt, with only one road to go up and down, so that one cannot pass through chance, you really have to want to go there. ” The friend then didn’t want it: then Not took it.
«I can also understand it, it was not easy to see beyond the ruin. Apparently it was just a typical Engadine house from the mid-nineteenth century, which belonged to a humble family of peasants. It remained as they had left it in the sixties ». Non-existent appeal even for the natives, who prefer comfort and thermal insulation to the preservation of traditional architecture. Unmissable challenge for Not. “I wanted to prove that you can leave the original structure of the house intact and live in it.” Indeed, living there precisely by virtue of that original structure, which allows the east wind, laden with snow, to collide with the heat on an excursion from the bellies of the heated rooms. And the mountains to impose themselves in all their majesty. The sight was one of the decisive trump cards: he, who was born and lives in Sent, a few kilometers away, comes to us for a walk or to read. And watch. “From my bathroom I can see Italy and Austria”. Piz Lat, the last mountain before the meeting of the two countries with Switzerland, is the conceptual and visual pivot of the barn, a large stone cave next to the house: suspended there is a telescope room with a degrading section, obtained from a whole trunk thirteen meters long. At the southern end there is an observatory, with a window facing the Piz. «It was originally one of those bridges from which the farmers threw down the hay: the architect Hans-Jörg Ruch helped me to convert it, who made the model».
The large telescope room.
His brother Duri, on the other hand, is the glass door with automated opening that seals the end of the duct, trapping the heat. All around in winter the snow, filtered by the cracks in the walls of the barn, mills; the bows are placed on the plaster models of other mountains, placed under the bridge. In the past, too, these were the districts of the cold: the hay collected was heated by diffusion from the level below, where there were the stables with the animals and the large central room with the manure deposit; instead of manure, Not and Duri have installed water. “While we were working on the house last summer, an unprecedented heat broke out: so we came up with the idea.” When the thermometer collapses, the water freezes and the walls of that room glow with northern light.
The room where the water freezes creating a Northern Lights effect.
In another room of the former stable snow reappears, in a “man made” version: it is the “Snowballs” setting in Murano glass, opaque stones in clear glass spheres (recently replaced by “Camel”, a series of silver spheres in which the Nigerian artist and master craftsmen have included the parts of a dehydrated camel). While, in a third adjacent space, Not Vital has set a long installation of stones, the work of Richard Long.
Richard Long’s work.
The stone and frost barn communicates with the isovolumic body of the house, where instead the wood dominates and sighs the warmth (not all rooms are heated). «I used the gembro, a soft wood that keeps its scent over the years». The floor plan is the classic Engadine one, with “stuva” (stove), kitchen and “chamineda” (pantry) on the ground floor and the sleeping area on the second floor. “Some time ago I complained to a local old woman,” But this country is all uphill! “. She replied “The dish is only the stuva” ». The Engadines take the stove very seriously: traditionally it was the only heated room in the house, communicating with the master bedroom through a hatch in the ceiling, to be opened before going to bed. Not doting on the kitchen, “chadafö”. “If I chose this house it is also for the ‘fire room’: it has walls completely blackened by the open hearth that has burned there for years”. Walls in this way must be tamed and again the solution is in the exaggerated contrast – the retaliation of steel – which becomes harmony, even with an almost Kubrickian trait. “In the house designed by architect Ruch for a friend, I saw a kitchen that I liked very much: it only flawed in the corner, which was rounded.”
In the house, a sculpture by Not Vital depicting the Russian dancer Nijinsky. The environment, including the wall clock, takes a photo of the famous artist now elderly while making one of his famous jumps.
Not was looking for the acute angle: he asks Duri, who has it made in Austria; perhaps he doesn’t even ask him: the two brothers work to save the word. “It was a magnificent collaboration: it is not the first time that we are together on a project, now we understand each other even without speaking”. Even in the bathroom, a composite steel module triumphs, stoicism of the material that leaves room for the mind for the most beautiful things; like travel, real or imaginary. The latter are written on the walls, in the amaranth, yellow and light blue lines of one of the bedrooms upstairs.
“For poor families, sleeping in such a room was equivalent to going on vacation to the South: I like it because it represents an eccentric element and for those lines, which I would like to reproduce in a pajama”. The real journeys are in the Georgian and Iranian carpets scattered here and there, and in the heels of Not, who have beaten the world in search of the world. It is inevitable to end up talking about the other residences. There is the giant open space on Broadway and the Village, where we interviewed him and where he never stops moving, to answer the phone, stock up on almonds, move the oxygen in the air. There is the domus of Lucca. There is Sent, at the center of an imaginary track of the heart: on the one hand Tschlin, in the opposite direction the new project, «a six-storey noble palace, with heraldic coats of arms everywhere; the town is one of the most beautiful in the Engadine, never destroyed by fire, with houses from 1620 ». Then there is Africa. He has a house in Agadez, with a perimeter of cow horns, “because they are the only part of the animal that the natives do not use”. A few steps away he set up a school, where abcedaries and hungry stomachs have something to feed on, a few kilometers away another construction site: «When you have people who work for you, you cannot do without the activity; I build a tower of cubic rooms, with a flight of external stairs facing west, which rise higher and higher ». So he can sit up high and watch the sunset. And think, perhaps, of how different and basically the same is that of his valley.