Opening on 3 September 2021, 13-20 hrs.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Friday, 1-5 p.m.
Free admission, guided tours on request
Robert Walser spent the last 23 years of his life in the psychiatric clinic in Herisau, where he was frequently visited by the journalist Carl Seelig. Seelig, who was likewise a literary writer, wrote about their trips together into the surrounding countryside in the memoir Wanderungen mit Robert Walser (Walks with Robert Walser). Even if the authenticity of these written conversations is disputed, the book, which is now available in a new extended edition, holds a lasting fascination. Through the linking of walking and talking, the landscape of eastern Switzerland is turned into the setting for a spectacular recapitulation of Robert Walser's life as a writer. The exhibition, which opens on September 3rd, stages this evocative memory space through the relief of the landscape they walked through and a panorama photograph of the view from the clinic in Herisau today.
Carl Seelig was not only a journalist and writer, but also a benefactor and supporter of numerous authors, especially during the period of the National Socialist reign of terror. From 1936 onwards, he visited Robert Walser, who had fallen into literary silence and had been almost forgotten, in order to go on excursions with him. They criss-cross eastern Switzerland, between Lake Constance and Säntis, Appenzellerland and Toggenburg. The starting and ending point is always the asylum in Herisau, where Walser lived from 1933 until his death in 1956.
Carl Seelig's work, first published in 1957, had a more profound impact on Walser's reception than any other book. It helped to rediscover the author and lent him the image of a good-natured, equally sensible and querulous King of the Ramblers. The new exhibition of the Robert Walser-Zentrum is accompanied by an extended new edition of this classic of a literary friendship, which highlights Seelig's multiple roles as the poet's confidant, guardian and spokesman.
Robert Walser's entire literary life comes to the fore on the forty-four walks documented in the book - the adventures of the oddball Swiss in fashionable Berlin as well as the “bitter, dangerous snake” of unsuccessfulness that led him back to Switzerland in 1913. Seelig also demonstrates what an alert contemporary Walser was even in the clinic. Conversations are held about his favourite authors Heinrich von Kleist, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Gottfried Keller, the “literary establishment” is ranted about and his own failure is discussed. Seelig, who was in contact with intellectual icons such as Thomas Mann, Nelly Sachs, Albert Einstein and Robert Musil, subtly and steadily introduces his own knowledge.
The conversations and insights, sometimes eloquent, sometimes laconic, read like an autobiography of Robert Walser – told by someone else. With an expansive wooden relief produced by the Bern University of Applied Sciences in Biel and a room-filling panorama shot by photographer Dominique Uldry, the exhibition showcases the book's memorial space, in which one can search for, follow and imagine the journeys of the two protagonists.
The new edition of Wanderungen mit Robert Walser, published to accompany the exhibition, restores the text of the first edition, is expanded with photographs, has a new epilogue and is available in both German and French: Carl Seelig: Wanderungen mit Robert Walser. Hrsg. von Lukas Gloor, Reto Sorg und Peter Utz. Berlin: Suhrkamp 2021 (Bibliothek Suhrkamp; 1521) / Carl Seelig: Promenades avec Robert Walser. Nouvelle édition. Ed. par Lukas Gloor, Reto Sorg et Peter Utz. Trad. par Marion Graf. Genève: Éditions Zoé 2021.
Publication in English: Carl Seelig: Walks with Robert Walser. Translated by Anne Posten. New York: New Directions 2018.
Galerie da Mihi, Gesellschaft zu Ober-Gerwern, Editions Zoé, IttenBrechbühl AG, Museum Herisau, Neues Museum Biel, Pro Scientia et Arte, Selection Schwander, Suhrkamp Verlag and USM U. Schärer Söhne AG.