“His skin is a device for creating fiction, signalling that you can, at any time, superimpose your own image on him: it is the blue screen of your imagination.”
— Patrick Gyger
L’Homme bleu (Blueman) made his first appearance in Basel in 1999. Since then, it has been difficult for André Kuenzy, the artist hidden beneath the strange azure latex suit, to cast his second skin aside. For more than twenty years, he has travelled from his native canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland to Japan, India and Mexico, taking in the United States, Thailand and even Senegal, collecting acquaintances and stories along his way through Europe and the rest of the world.
This strange and silent globetrotting creature endeavours to reach out to passers-by without ever speaking to them. When confronting these anonymous people, he provokes and collects a reaction, be it curiosity or fear. The character André Kuenzy plays is open to all fantasies, suspended out of time and norms and draws all those who meet him into a fragile, poetic and surrealist moment of togetherness.
Creator’s statement from André Kuenzy, the man behind Blueman
In 1990, when I graduated from EPFL Institute of Technology in Lausanne with a degree in architecture, my fate became closely tied to that of the huge disused Suchard confectionery site in Neuchâtel. Our office was located in the former factory there, a place impregnated with centuries of industrial history. That valley, crossed by La Serrière river, was somewhere my imagination could run wild, and it became a constant source of inspiration for my various projects. Eight years later, the opportunity arose for me to acquire two significant parts of the site – the former pallet warehouse and the adjacent sugar silo, both located on Rue des Usines.
In 1999, I started working with the CSEM (Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology in Neuchâtel) on a project selected for the upcoming Expo.02. Imagining the “universal family” that visitors to the event would form, I filmed four protagonists dressed in black diving suits, before a blue screen. Inspired by the blue screen experience, which let me place my characters in any setting I liked, I got the idea of placing the blue screen on a character instead, turning him into a mobile screen. I got myself a blue diving suit and wore it as I spent the day walking around Basel. Fired up by the experience, I decided to take things further. On my next outings, I placed a small camera in the suit and adapted the character’s anatomy around it. And hence, Blueman was born!
Blueman doesn’t speak: he draws on the fertility of his silent style, which lets him make contact free from any influence, free from any message. He quickly realised that his demeanour helps him approach people of any gender, age, culture or background. His presence reveals the other, and that other creates the story of an encounter. Blueman soon started to feel like some kind of free ambassador, whose role was simply to connect people. Although he is aware that his calling might appear foolish, he genuinely feels that he can forge links and bring people together. Over the next two decades, the character visited twenty or so countries around the world, meeting thousands of people.
Looking back over 20 years spent roaming the world, this exhibition is driven by the desire to share the wealth of the human experience that I’ve been lucky enough to encounter. The mobile, self-sustaining concept means it can be set up anywhere, often creating a wonderful opportunity for Blueman and accompanying him as he goes.
André Kuenzy Neuchâtel, June 2018
André is Blueman’s creator, but also his avatar. An architect from EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, he is passionate about gastronomy, travel and inventions of all kinds, and he designed the exhibition. He is the founder of production company Ombudfilms and of Rhinocéros. He values regional heritage but remains extremely outward-looking. André explores every discipline and seeks out unexpected encounters, offering a mischievous and astute view of his environment.
Les Amis de l’Homme Bleu (AHB)
This “Friends of Blueman” association brings together partners, artists and personalities who have met Blueman. Its role is to produce and disseminate Blueman’s work. It thus co-produced the Blueman on Tour exhibition and administers its assets. The Committee comprises Julien Spacio (president), Blaise Faessler (vice-president and treasurer) and Laetitia Gauchat (secretary).
Laetitia’s unusual career path, from economics to law, criminology and museology, bring a valuable new eye. Her background also includes extensive audiovisual experience, making her highly versatile and pragmatic.