The infamous red-light district in Zurich goes along Langstrasse and its side streets. In this seedy part of town you can also find some very good restaurants, shops and a high percentage of designers and artists. At night, it is famous for its bars and clubs. On the night of September 21st, a new creative outlet opened. It goes by the name of “Perla-Mode”. A Swiss architect has bought the multi-tenant building in order to build a new hotel. Until the construction begins, however, he decided to rent it to local artists. The name “Perla-Mode” comes from the store that previously occupied the ground floor, selling clothing and textile, and was kept for the new art space. Although the location is close to the expensive city center, the rent is set unbelievably cheap so artists can afford it. In this valuable spot, artists with low budget can now rent a space of their own in the city, to represent themselves and their art works to a wider audience, and to hold various types of events. On opening night, September 21st, more than 1,000 guests attended. They enjoyed exhibitions, a concert, and a performance happening simultaneously on different floors.

Freymond-Guth & Co. Fine Arts Gallery at the corner of Perla-Mode on opening night

On the ground floor, there are Freymond-Guth & Co. Fine Arts gallery, zine gallery by Nieves Books and an atelier for Ajana Dracula.

An artist himself, Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth introduces the works of young Swiss artists through his gallery. Since 2002 he has been showcasing local artists through a NPO project called “Les Complices” in an environment free from commercial influence. This project has allowed him to make plenty of contacts with artists whose work he now represents exclusively.

Next to it is Nieves Books, the smallest independent publishing house in Switzerland known for its exclusive zine series and art books. Publisher Benjamin Sommerhalder displays his books and posters in the gallery on the ground floor and has his tiny office on the floor above. At the opening party, he introduced his new book “here and there 2006 vol.6: UNEXPECTED TRAVELING ISSUE” in collaboration with freelance editor Nakako Hayashi. The corresponding poster, designed by art director Kazunari Hattori, hung on the wall. Benjamin’s mother and sister had baked cakes and snacks for the event. Those were so popular that they were gone almost immediately after each refill.

In Nieves Books’ zine gallery, rows of zines and art books line up in the antique showcase. On the wall are posters from recent publication

In contrast to Nieves’ minimalist gallery, musician Ajana Dracula’s atelier looks like somebody’s living room, filled with wooden furniture and clothing on racks. There are posters randomly pinned to the colorful wall, and two pianos without cover stand next to each other. The atelier will host a classic concert every Thursday, and at the opening party Gabriel dal Vit and Valentino da Bambino played wonderful music in a dreamy atmosphere. The guests lounged on the sofa and listened to the music while little kids danced to the rhythm on the carpeted floor.

Upon a visit on the following day, Mark Divo, an artist based in Prague, was using Ajana’s atelier for production of his new art work. Famous for his underground art, back in the days he had occupied Cabaret Voltaire to protect this historic landmark from commercial use.

The Atelier by Ajana Dracula on first glance looks like a second hand shop

On the second floor, there are Message Salon Downtown by Esther Eppstein and a large balcony looking down Langstrasse. The balcony gave everybody the chance to mingle and to have a good look on the people coming and leaving on the street.

The balcony dimly lit by the street light from Langstrasse

Eppstein and her partner started a gallery space “Message Salon” in the 4th district of Zurich 10 years ago. Since Eppstein’s family has lived in this area for generations, she decided to open a downtown branch at Perla-Mode. At the opening party, Bettina Browar’s video about Perla-Mode and Langstrasse was projected on the wall.

A gallery called “Wartesaal (waiting lounge)” by Manuela Schlumpf and Adi Ehrat is on the top floor. The gallery focuses on non-commercial representation of young artists such as Thomas Galler, Alexis Saile, Barbara Davi, Franziska Koch, Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs, and Hendrik Stromberg.

As evening drew on, the building filled up, and people started to crowd out onto the street

That was when, in a small window display, brightly lit by fluorescent light, artists Ariel Zumstein and Niklaus R_egg started their performance. One wore a native Indian costume and the other was the cowboy. Their heads stuck out of a white wooden box, from where they stared at the audience in silence. Since nothing moved for quite a while, I left the building. However, according to Mark Divo, a heated argument between American Indian and cowboy was fought later on.

Party guests and passersby crowd in front of a display window, waiting for a performance.
Two artists in Indian and cowboy costumes mesmerize a child

Another performance I unfortunately missed was “Midnight Mass” by self-proclaimed Pastor Leumond. It was a mocked mass based on an imaginary religion, and the party guests joined him as worshipers. Delivering a meaningless sermon and singing mass with guests, he brought a lot of excitement to the party.

It might be due to the location in the red-light vicinity that such uncontrolled and creative activities can exist in a rather quiet and conservative city. Will Perla Mode be the spring of the next art movement? Let’s see.

Address: Langstrasse 84, CH 8004 Zurich, Switherland
Tel: +41(0)44 240 0481

Text and photos: Nem Kienzle

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