Using the railway station in Appenzell as the point of departure, a detonating fuse was placed along the 20.06-kilometre Appenzell - Gais - St. Gallen railway line, and burned at the rate of 150 seconds/metre for 35 days.
The detonating fuse, which is normally used for explosives, was not affected by rain or moisture. The actual burning of the fuse was not visible as an open flame, for the fire advanced inside a protective casing. The only indication of its location was a faint cloud of smoke. The sections of the 20-kilometre fuse, each measuring about 100 metres in length, were laid out successively.
Ensuring the continuity of the flame along the entire stretch required that the flame at the end of one fuse be transferred to the beginning of the next fuse without interruption. The sections were connected with open, metal conduits, which Roman Signer had specially made, and the fuses were threaded through pipes. As the fire moved forward, it ignited a tiny clump of gunpowder, thus lighting the new, subsequent fuse. This minor sequence of explosions was repeated about every 4 hours, more than 200 times along the entire stretch. The fire and the fuse were checked and monitored around the clock for 35 days by Roman Signer himself or by staff members.
AKTION MIT EINER ZÜNDSCHNUR
(ACTION WITH A FUSE)
Appenzell – St. Gallen
Departure from Appenzell on September 11, 1989: 16.00
Arrival in St. Gallen on October 15, 1989: 12.04
If you ask me what this fuse means, it’s something more than merely physical. To some extent, I’m also departing from my place of birth.
Naturally, it’s impossible for just anyone to lay a fuse like this. I’m doing it, nonetheless. And what I’m doing here in public now is something many have probably already experienced emotionally. I moved away from here a long time ago; mentally, a very long time ago. It’s as if I have to reconstruct this farewell now one more time physically. The time has come to do it. Perhaps it’s also because of patience that I want to do it now. It certainly won’t be done again in a hundred years, if ever again. And that is already worth a great deal of effort.
5 seconds to countdown
It’s actually a journey. My journey, almost like a pilgrimage. As if I were to go to St. Gallen on my knees, very slowly and humbly through the countryside. And of course, to observe everything that happens along the way. A personal experience, like a sounding line that I’m laying in an unfamiliar place, a measuring tape. Naturally, I’m very familiar with this region, but I perceive it differently now with this action.
When it began with the small table and ignition in Appenzell, it was a spectacular event, immense, with lots of people. Summer, great weather, people outdoors in shirts and happy; everyone in a good mood. Then the crowd disperses, people disappear and you’re all alone. And then there was the thunderstorm, I saw the fuse, the smoke at night, and I started thinking... It struck me only then, and I thought to myself, murmuring: “Actually, this is utterly insane.“
And I told myself that even if everyone else abandoned this, I would carry on with the fuse. I might fall asleep somewhere, exhausted, there on the track. And in the end, the fuse would simply die out. That would be the end of this action.
Ultimately, it’s sheer madness to say that everything hinges on this cord. That the project only succeeds if the spark never goes out.
Like the sword of Damocles that can fall at any moment. But in truth, it’s not even that important. It’s very conceivable that the fuse could be lit over and over again.
For me it’s about the route, the passing of time and that is indeed authentic - the route is right, the time is right.
It would be wonderful, of course, if we didn’t have to light the fuse a second time. But that’s not the main point of this project.
When I lie in bed at night, I imagine the fuse. It simply hisses along, passing through the night. But mentally, the night is always like a wall, you know, and you have to see it through. When I return in the morning, the first thing I do is search anxiously for a sign of smoke: “Is the fuse still burning?” By now I have gained a certain amount of trust, however, that the fuse will still be burning. We’ve done this quite often by now.
There’s something new around every curve: a house, someone brings a coffee, someone else some wine. We exchange a few words and soon another person comes along. The next day it’s already a long way back, new people come. Sometimes even the same people again, a second time. And then at some point they don’t come anymore, we’re already too far along.
You leave everything behind you. The fuse continues to burn, like a film, you wind the charred remains on a reel and take it with you.
It’s very remarkable; different people are constantly coming. And the ones before them are already a long way behind.
It is like “once upon a time”; everything is strung on this fuse that is slowly burning.
Hello, Mr Dörig.
Hello, how’s it going?
Fine, so far.
Well, it caught the palm of my hand. Nothing is secured, you know.
Also your head?
It’s not bad. No, not at all.
How did it happen?
Well, it was sabotaged. We noticed it too late.
There was only a piece about 60cm long remaining, and I wanted to join the connecting piece to the fuse to prevent it from going out. Then I wanted to step away, but the black powder had already ignited.
Poetic justice, isn’t that what they call it?
Others go expeditions in the Sahara or the Antarctic and I’m doing it here in Appenzell. There are robber barons and Good Samaritans here, too. You’ve got everything, even on a small scale, murderers and bandits.
The distance between the two points here is exactly one hundred meters, this means four hours of burning time for the fuse. So it proceeds very steadily, slowly but surely and, with time, it results in distance.
I daydreamed a lot, looked at the stars or the fog, the landscape, grass - everything. I simply observed and reflected, almost with an empty mind. Or completely devoid of thought; sometimes it also was dreadfully boring.
Now we’re in Teufen and in two days we should be there with the fuse, probably on Sunday or Monday. We have already crossed the halfway point of the project. The project comprises 20 kilometers; yesterday was the ten-kilometer mark. And now it’s practically progressing according to plan, thanks to the people who are helping me. I’ve hired a watchman for the night. Naturally, it’s a test for all of us; I’m always afraid they could lose their motivation along the way or suddenly collapse, especially when I notice signs of my own fatigue. You reach a point of weariness; now we have to overcome it.
Next stop on request: Steinbach
We have to get off here.
It’s an incredibly interesting experience for me, extending time like this. Because the fuse burns so slowly, the days are very long, the weeks are incredibly long. One month has never been so drawn out for me. I have also gained time. And I have clearly felt what a provocation doing something like this signifies these days. Provoking slowness. Nowadays, when so much value is placed on speed, slowness is an extraordinary luxury and a tremendous provocation.
Then there came a magnificent part of the stretch and the weather also improved. Here, the descent to St. Gallen. And here, the curve, we had access with the car there. We were able to sit in the sun, it was really wonderful and everyone enjoyed it.
We were often compared with gypsies; there is also something gypsy-like about it, though. The Polish car, the chairs standing around ... like a troupe of artists, moving throughout the country. In any case, I have infringed on something here with this fuse. Maybe that was also the intention. It seems like a sonic depth finder going through the region, like profile of the various layers, also through the mental states. A fever curve, as it were.
We were here last night at six o’clock. Ten o’clock, then midnight, then two in the morning, six in the morning, ten o’clock. Now towards evening, at six o’clock, we’re should be here at the “Leonardsbrücke”, just before the railway station in St. Gallen. Actually, I really love this district. Yesterday the weather was also good, the silhouette of the church, the roofs, the boxcars...
You know, in some way, this is no longer really St. Gallen here, perhaps it’s the very reason that renders it bearable for me. I like it here.
One the one hand, I’m delighted that it’s finally over. In reality, it’s crazy – we were incredibly challenged. Nevertheless, I feel a sense of sadness among my crew - maybe even more so than I do. It’s reflected in the fact that everyone wants to be here now, day and night. So, I’ll take the liberty of sleeping the next night, too, for I have worked with the project long enough. I’d like to sleep a bit. But they don’t want to, they want to be involved. They want to still have the fire – as long as possible. And then suddenly it’s over, and that’s also kind of sad.
IFF Rotterdam 2009
Nuovo Cinema Aquila, Roma