C Doors am Arlberg © Dietmar Denger
Last summer, as the season was ending, he hid behind a rock again, up at Zürsersee lake. Daniel Nikolaus Kocher was checking one of the doors when he heard the voices of approaching hikers. So he decided to hide and do what he always does when he’s on the Green Ring, which is to watch how people interact with the art up there. Well, it is rather unusual to walk around a corner in a meadow high above Lech and suddenly find yourself standing in front of a closed door. “You always see very different reactions,” says Kocher. But something like the other day at the Zürsersee lake? “Two of the hikers actually walked around the door as if it wasn’t there at all. They just kept going without interrupting their pace.” Behind his rock, the curator of the Door Project and the Green Ring’s Artistic Director was dumbfounded, he’d never seen anything like it before. And the others in the group? They responded to the door, he says. Which is what actually everyone normally does. They walked through it back and forth several times before taking selfies. “They interacted with the art, each in their own way. Which is precisely why we installed it up there at the Green Ring.”
A wall bearing the names of the inhabitants of Lech
‘Up there’: the Green Ring is a hiking trail that takes hikers around Lech am Arlberg at an altitude of 2,000 metres and has, for a number of years now, made it possible for them to not only enjoy the spectacular 180-degree panoramic views but also encounters with art. Daniela Egger, who is a writer from Bregenz, has invented a complete world of legends for the trail and Daniel Nikolaus Kocher has created the appropriate sculptures for it. A hut library (where everyone can find something appropriate to read while taking a break from hiking) and an installation at the Europäische Wasserscheide (the watershed where visitors are able to see how the water on one side flows towards the North Sea and towards the Black Sea on the other) were gradually added, among other things, over time. The sixty-metre-long ‘Lecher Mauer’, which is to be found right behind the mountain station of the Petersbodenbahn cable car, lists the names of all the townspeople on its stones, in a sense as a permanent and everlasting contrast to the storage of digital data that has taken hold down in the valley.
A letterbox with postcards that visitors can write and post on the spot stands just a few metres further on. Lech Zürs Tourismus GmbH handles the postage at the end of the hiking season: ‘Emptied once a year at 4.00 p.m.’
Names of the Lecher at the Lecher Chluppa
There’s a separate Green Riddle. Ring for children
But the doors designed by nine artists from five different countries probably produced the most beautiful ‘What’s that?’ moments over the last three summers. Lines from a story were written on one of them, another had a small sign with the word ‘free’ on it, which immediately triggered associations under the endless arcing skies above Lech. And another one looked – well, just like a normal white door. The spyhole through which people could peep only became visible to them as they approached. And it suddenly made the seemingly endless world of peaks and ridges appear very small and manageable. The doors were brought down from the mountain last autumn. They have found new homes with their sponsors where they can now be admired (see box, page 43).
It’s possible to hike around the Green Ring in separate stages over the course of three days and ride back to the valley at the end of each stage. But it’s still possible for visitors to encounter art even if they’ve only an hour to spare. They simply have to walk just a few hundred metres into the Vorarlberg mountains along with their children for whom the special Rätsel-Ring has been created. The art is supposed to be there for everyone, not just for those who manage 25 mountain kilometres a day. And it is intended that there will always be different encounters with art. Daniel continues to install small temporary works along the trail, which requires no or hardly any intervention at all into nature and which then disappear again after a few years. He wants guests to be able to regularly experience something new, he says. Those who’ve already hiked around the Green Ring should be able to discover different art next time. And, in the best case, a new mountain world.
“Taking works of art out of their context and introducing them into new ones always affects the surroundings,” says Daniel. “They then also change the way people perceive nature.” The art on the Green Ring creates highlights and, because it often seems to hikers that the works appear out of nowhere, it changes their view of some of the most beautiful summit-and-valley panoramas in Austria. Daniel Nikolaus Kocher calls it making outdoor spaces tangible. You could also say that the works of art on the Green Ring succeed in making people look differently at the landscape above Lech. You suddenly see things that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise without encountering the art.
Most hikers on the Green Ring enjoy the food for thought that the art gives them and children like outdoor art anyway. Daniel Nikolaus Kocher and the Raiffeisenbank Lech organise an annual workshop for children in which the natural environment around the Libellensee lake is artistically decorated – with animals made from wood, leather, stone and paint.
With a little luck, it’s possible to get answers along the way – from the artist himself
So it’s not only possible to encounter art but also to participate in the activity. And sometimes it’s possible to meet the artist while hiking. And ask questions as well as get answers. When Daniel isn’t hiding behind a rock.