For the colourful butterfly collection, by Swiss artist Peter Wüthrich (b. 1962, Bern) at Galería Kewenig, not one moth or butterfly had to lose its life. In this unedited exhibition these delicate beings, which arose from snippets of book covers, flutter through the San Feliu Chapel, converting it into the perfect setting to reveal the artist’s complex message.
The installation, entitled “Bureau de Professeur”, seems to be the ideal spot, to take a sharp needle and prick it into the body of a beautiful rare specimen of a diurnal butterfly. Throughout, Wüthrich characterizes the room’s user carefully, showing a love of order hidden behind the decorative, showing a lover of deep paintings, with deer bellowing in a dark landscape, showing a person who enjoys a little tipple from time to time. Fortunately this meticulously ordered collection of butterflies has been cut-out from soft French paperback covers. And instead of ethyl-acetate to kill the insects stone dead, we find bottles displayed, ironically offering us a swig of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita or the Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. And it was not just by chance that Nabokov was chosen by Wüthrich, as he too was a passionate butterfly-catcher himself, in his time.
The work of Peter Wüthrich is always of the same medium, the book. The metamorphosis of classical literature bindings, where beautiful and fragile butterflies emerge, carrying messages from an imaginary but at the same time real world, is real, because literature after all is transforming. We can also find book marks, objects with the power to stop and resume time, in this enriching parallel world. The journey from book to butterfly seems likely when looking at earlier installations of the artist, in which brand-new open books perched on bars like winged creatures, observing the visitors from on high. Indeed the back of an open book bears great resemblance to the butterfly with its wings on both sides.
In his new work, the artist concentrates on the coloured covers of the classics, from which numerous butterfly forms come to view, often grouped by colour, form or content. One of his works, Tropique of Book Butterflies, France, shows butterflies of major French authors, such as Alexandre Dumas and Émile Zola, on a landscape of France. Not far away from the history-charged Verdun, there is a butterfly from a „Histoire de France“, which at second glance turns out to be more „Histoire de l’amour than bellicose.
Wüthrich’s choice of book titles revolve around the themes of love, life and death, just as the butterfly symbolizes life, death and rebirth in art, thus setting the scene for dealing with the great questions of our existence. Indeed in ancient Greek the word for butterfly was “psyche“, which also denotes breath and soul.
As a contrast to the levity, Wüthrich’s butterflies flutter over the surface of the dark landscape in the scientist’s office as well as over the books, downplaying their dark contents, which they surround like a protective mantel. Anna Karenina’s portrait on a butterfly’s wing seems to be much less sadder than her literary fortune pre-determined.
The book cover, which formerly served as a tool to increase sales by use of an attractive design, has been taken by Wüthrich, with his beautiful and humorous book of butterflies, to breathe new life into the world of literature, which is on the verge of extinction in this digital era.