Alp(en)traum Wellness

Alpine Dream/Nightmare Wellness

More than half a century ago, at the beginning of the 1950s, one could

witness how the first guests, who turned into crowds of tourists later on,

began to take ownership of rural Tyrol as a holiday destination. In

overwhelming numbers they saw in the primeval mountain landscapes a

quaint counterpar t to the inhospitableness of their cities. In the years that

followed the original character of the Tyrolean landscape, including towns

and villages, has been burdened and in some cases almost destroyed by

buildings and infrastructures for tourism. What is more, a lot of effor t has

been made to ar tificially create illusions of the irretrievably lost. Such

attempts are evident from the exterior architecture of buildings with

superficial Tyrolean decorations to interiors of romanticised alpine huts and

an ar tificial variety of basement spa facilities.

Hoteliers along with boundlessly imaginative interior designers have been

trying their hand at the ar t of interior design. Yet, Francisco de Goya

reckons: “When imagination is devoid of reason, it brings out impossible

monstrosities”. In our mind’s eyes, we overlook the missing optical

information – especially when it appears as unbearably kitsch – and are thus

able to imagine the past.

The photographer Lois Hechenblaikner, who considers art and good taste

as a moral state, has been working for years on the phenomenon of design

and representation in Alpine regions. With countless photographs taken

while visiting a number of hotels and tourist facilities, he has compiled an

extensive collection of grotesque design attempts. He has gone beyond the

ridicule of the situation long ago and this has given way to a deep sadness

over the loss of the ar tistic values that once defined the architecture of

exterior and interior constructions in Tyrol. This loss of direction becomes a

psychological state that tosses the unbiased onlooker to confusion and lets

one doubt a sincere attitude on behalf of their hosts. Subjective access to

the reality of certain matters is thus no longer free but influenced by


Hechenblaikner’s photographs document the decadence of the special

identity of Tyrol and its people as well as the attachment to the presumable

tastes of tourists. Ancient Egyptian decorations with pharaonic masks

alternate with Venetian impressions and mythical goddesses, draped in

Roman togas, populating surrogates of Greek temples and ar tificial

grottoes. Artistic landscapes are created for the little man’s magic

mountain, while farmer cabinet motifs painted on lift doors imitate rustic

culture. The depiction of these images of different kinds of nature is the

reverse, a surrogate of the abandoned unconsumed nature. In view of what

design can give bir th to, abysses of the lost cultural collective memory of

an entire region open up.

Lois Hechenblaikner is deeply affected by the loss of ties to one’s own, as

well as the vanished identity of the place and its people and por trays this

loss with surprising pictures. Instead of exposing the item to the ridicule, he

provokes through its denudation a counter-world, which has already come

into being in the viewer’s head. This could consist of regional influences by

seriously taken and further developed art and architecture. It would again

convey a real identity of the places and the character of the inhabitants

instead of sliding into ridiculous decorative worlds in which the conscious

viewer only gets nauseous. The technically flawless featured photo

documentation, challenges one to rethink and at the same time transcends

social feelings with its contemplation. Where the destruction is

experienced, we take pictures of beautiful situations. This may induce the

traveler to choose destinations where local identity is sensibly maintained

or has been created anew in accordance with the tastes of our time.

Then again, as a path to the better, architectural and decorative art can be

inspired by the bare portrayal of unabashed kitsch. Such art can be

developed from regional values and the awareness of its own character by

reflective architects and property owners. And this certainly exists as well,

but unfor tunately one has to painstakingly look for it among the chaos of

touristic derailments.

(4,875 ZmZw)

Andreas Gottlieb Hempel

Brixen, January 27, 2019