Turning passports into a work of art

Pro Helvetia, Swiss Arts Council (July 2005)

Adela Picon can be seen in the project brochure wearing a traditional Bernese costume. But she states very clearly that she is a «Spanish artist naturalised in Berne.» And what has she got to offer to her audience? A brand new passport.

In this way, Adela Picon broaches a hot topic – the granting of citizenship. Typically for the Swiss way of life, the approach to this is federalistic. It varies from one canton to the next, and it is often claimed that this opens the door to abuse. Yet in a referendum, Swiss voters rejected a bill that sought to standardise the naturalisation procedure for second and third generation foreigners at national level.
The fact remains that one fifth of Switzerland's population is not Swiss. Adela Picon and a group of artists are highlighting and satirizing this fact in their «Pass Auf» project (a play on words meaning both «passport up» and «beware»).

Virtual naturalisation thanks to pictogram
Anyone can apply, whether Swiss or foreigner. The «Pass Auf» campaign enables you to apply for a new document. No specific language skills are required to fill in the online form. Non-smoker, organic food consumer or passionate dancer – information on the applicant is provided by means of a pictogram. And the decision whether or not an applicant is accepted is taken exclusively by users of the website. 
The project group has thus initiated a sort of digital community meeting to replace the municipal political meetings at which naturalization decisions are normally taken. It is actually a global community which decides, an anonymous international network of interested users.

A political art experiment
Adela Picon's project was launched in the middle of Berne at «Progr_Zentrum für Kulturproduktion». In an exemplary way, it avails itself of the tools used by modern political campaigns as much as by beauty contests, ranging from media campaigns and public panel discussions to the actual vote on whether a candidate is to be granted a coveted – fictitious – passport. 
«Pass auf» is an art experiment with social and political potential. This is why Pro Helvetia is supporting the project, in conjunction with other institutions whose aim it is to promote integration and foster inter-cultural dialogue.