Swiss Club, Cape Town
© Denise Bertschi, 2017

PhD - Neutrality as an Agent

March 2018 to March 2022

By : Denise Bertschi
Beginning of the dissertation : 1.03.2018
Scheduled end of the dissertation : 28.02.2022
Co-direction: Prof. Doreen Mende (HEAD – Genève), Prof. Nicola Braghieri (EDAR/EPFL)

"No Neutrum is possible in the field of power." Roland Barthes 

Denise Bertschi's research investigates the concept of Swiss neutrality and makes visible its global implementation on a political, cultural and historical level. She focuses on Switzerland’s geopolitical and economic entanglements at various levels, e.g. transnational, national and local, and different times in history in Brazil (19th century), South Africa (20th century) and the border zones of the Koreas (20th/21st century). If “neutrality” tends to become invisible between conflicting forces, then how can it produce a visual experience? Can neutrality therefore be interpreted as a sort of fiction, a double strategy or an agent? This would stand in direct contradiction to neutrality as a maxim of Swiss national identity, a belief in one’s self that is strong, yet fanciful.

Denise Bertschi unravels such questions through her artistic and experimental research, wherein she values visual thinking as a means for knowledge production. Rooted in an extended archival research practice and through interviews and field work, Bertschi revisits Switzerland’s colonial complicity in these territories and re-examines elusive spectres of the past that resonate into the present. These cases analyse neutrality as a potential fiction, something imaginary or a myth. The aim is to reveal the invisible and slippery nature of neutrality in order to demystify it and eventually, to reconstruct a form of national consciousness towards openness, acceptance and respect for otherness.

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