‘The Swiss are relaxed and lockdown measures were very humane’

Wild Geese: Photographer Shannon Guerrico co-runs an art gallery in Lausanne

Shannon Guerrico: “I examine the unceasing coexistence of life and death, fear and tenderness, ecstasy and anxiety, as well as magic and frustration.”

Shannon Guerrico: “I examine the unceasing coexistence of life and death, fear and tenderness, ecstasy and anxiety, as well as magic and frustration.”

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As a melting pot of cultures in the centre of Europe, Switzerland perfectly complements Shannon Guerrico’s mixed Irish-Argentinian background.

“My mother is from Newtownforbes in Co Longford and my dad is from Buenos Aires, so it’s an interesting mix. They met in Paris back in the 1970s. As a child, I moved between Ireland, the south of France and South America, before making Lausanne my home.”

The photographer who also co-runs an art gallery says life in Switzerland is just as the cliches would lead us to believe. “The cost of living is famously high, but we know that already. Then again, the wages are very high too compared to surrounding EU countries, but the quality of life is great and there’s a really good social system in place.”

“The little details really make it here, plus it’s a great place to raise a child,” she adds.

After leaving high school in the French-speaking part of Switzerland (Guerrico doesn’t speak any German or indeed Swiss German), she decided to take the creative route and study photography at the Photography School of Vevey in Lausanne.

“I completed my studies in 2010, and took a job at an auction house called Galartis, while at the same time creating my portfolio.”

A random lunch with her boss in 2013 saw them come across a stunning space, which they turned into a contemporary art gallery called Forma Art Contemporain in Lausanne, which she still co-runs today.

“I also have my own personal work on my site shannonguerrico.com, and I host exhibitions and work on various creative projects.”

Veering more on the artistic side of photography, Guerrico has had exhibitions and work displayed in France, Switzerland and the PhotoIreland Festival in Dublin.

“In 2013, I was commissioned by curator Marco Costantini to work around the character of US poet Emily Dickinson. I became immersed in her poetry and her extraordinary life and created a mix of documentary images, studio shots, interventions, scans and archive photographs. It’s reminiscent of a mind map, collection or a dream visit to her house in Amherst, Massachusetts.”

A residency in Iceland propelled Guerrico to create a series called Bifröst (glittering bridge/rainbow in Norse mythology) which combines photographs, wallpapers, scans, collages and sculptures. A series she describes as “one which revisits ancestral forms of imagination”.

Cultural policy

Guerrico says, compared to other countries, Switzerland invests a lot of money to promote arts and culture through different means. The “public law foundation” Pro Helvetia has been at the forefront of Swiss cultural policy since 1939 with the mandate to preserve Swiss culture and to “promote it at home and abroad”.

“This produces a very dynamic art scene. But in a way, its ‘benefit’ is also the main pitfall as it creates a bit of a comfortable bubble. As an artist, I think it’s important to push boundaries and get out of one’s own comfort zone,” she says.

Guerrico’s latest project is a very personal one as it focuses on the changes induced by motherhood. “Having a now four-year-old son inspired me to create this project. The exhibition depicts the ambivalence of how motherhood disrupts, in both good and bad. I examine the unceasing coexistence of life and death, fear and tenderness, ecstasy and anxiety, as well as magic and frustration.”

All going well, her exhibition will open in November, as long as Covid-19 doesn’t disrupt plans.

Despite the global upheaval the pandemic has brought, Switzerland got away lightly, she says. “We were very lucky here. Swiss people are relaxed and as a result, the lockdown measures in Switzerland were very humane. Our measures were nowhere near as strict as in neighbouring Italy, France or Germany.”

She says, early on in 2020, there was a lockdown, but children just missed six weeks of school and they were famously the first to be able to hug their grandparents last year. “So I really can’t complain. When everyone in Italy was in their apartment blocks, we were allowed to go hiking, walking and even skiing.”

Open-minded attitude

Guerrico says Switzerland boasts a very open-minded attitude, with a strong emphasis on citizens playing a role and having a word to say. So they don’t give strict guidelines. “They assume people are smart enough to make the right decisions when it comes to Covid-19 and everything else.”

That said, Swiss bureaucracy is still ever-present. “Of course, you have to follow procedures and many steps when you want to get any kind of administration done, but things will work out in the end. It’s the opposite of how things pan out in Argentina, but I really enjoy Argentinian culture too.”

As far as her surrounding landscape goes, Guerrico is spoilt. “Lausanne is a beautiful place and student town. Though beers cost between €8 and €10, in comparison to other Swiss cities, it’s not the most expensive.

“There’s a great student energy here. Then there’s the city’s natural beauty, which make it a fabulous place to be all year round. It sits on the shores of lake Geneva, which is beautiful. The landscape here is stunning and you have close contact with the wilderness. I love hiking and getting outside, and there are endless possibilities around here, with easy access to the city and central Europe.”

Guerrico says her son starts school in September, so the plan is to stay in Switzerland. “I think it’s important to feel grounded and rooted in a place, but I can’t wait to get back to Ireland. Unlike Australia or the US, there is not a strong Irish community in Switzerland, so a visit is on the cards.

“A residency abroad would be great, but I also want to enable my son to discover his heritage. Ireland is part of his identity, just like it’s part of mine.”

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