On 25 August 1765, two scientists from Geneva, the brothers Jean-André and Guillaume-Antoine Deluc, attempted to climb Mont Buet (3096 m), a mountain in the Savoyard state. The aim of their expedition was to carry out several experiments at the summit: to measure the temperature of boiling water and to determine the height of the mountain by measuring the atmospheric pressure. While trying to reach the summit, their thermometer broke, forcing the two brothers to return to Geneva. After a second unsuccessful attempt, the Delucs finally reached the highest point of Mont Buet on 20 September 1770. The picturesque account of their ascent and experiences aroused the interest of other personalities. In 1775, a new route was discovered by Marc-Théodore Bourrit, an artist and writer from Geneva who made the mountains and glaciers of the region famous throughout Europe. The Genevan scientists Horace Bénédict de Saussure and Marc-Auguste Pictet followed Bourrit's footsteps to the summit of Mont Buet, where they repeated Deluc's experiments and made their own observations. These 18th century expeditions helped transform the mountain into a laboratory of nature. The summit became not only a privileged scientific site, but also a point of intersection between different social worlds, those of the patrician Saussure, the citizen Deluc, the "native" Bourrit, and the local chamois and crystal hunters who served as their guides.
In September 2020, then in August 2021, two hundred and fifty years after the first ascent, a group of historians from EPFL's Laboratory for the History of Science and Technology (Jérôme Baudry, Simon Dumas Primbault, Ion Mihailescu), researchers (Nicolas Chachereau, Marianna Fenzi, Nicolas Nova), a museum curator (Stéphane Fischer), and artists (Olga Cafiero, Pascale Favre, and Joell Nicolas) followed several paths to the summit of Mont Buet to reconstruct the historical expeditions of the Genevan scientists. They brought with them a replica of the barometer designed by Deluc and improved by Pictet, which was made by the Genevan Musée d'histoire des sciences, with the help of local craftsmen. This ascent was documented by the artists who sought to capture, hidden behind the summit designated by a dot on a map, the mountain as generated by the bodies climbing it.
The Geneva scholars not only multiplied the routes, they also wove together perspectives–accounts or reports, drawings and diagrams, measurements and panoramas–to the point of inventing new symbolic, verbal and graphic languages. If the environment imposed on its visitors to interweave traces and paths, it could, reciprocally, only be brought to the collective consciousness of the plain by a plurality of media. The contemporary expedition has extended this interdisciplinary adventure. As in the past, new languages were developed, new media were used–photography, sound, digital measuring instruments, drawing–in order to paint Mont Buet as a living environment, rebellious to complete domestication, an environment that will never cease to be lived in the diversity of individual experiences that are both sensitive and scientific.
Pascale Favre was born in 1970 in Geneva where she lives and works. She studied interior design from 1990 to 1994 at the École supérieure d'Arts appliqués de Genève, and then continued her studies at the École des Beaux-arts de Genève from 1998 to 2002. In the meantime, she worked as an interior designer in Germany and then devoted herself to baroque music. After graduating in Fine Arts and receiving the prize of the Fonds cantonal d'art contemporain, she worked as an assistant in the drawing and painting studio of the Geneva School of Fine Arts before receiving a grant and a residency in Cairo. Since her return, she has been teaching at the CFP ARTS in the preparatory classes of art and design. In 2006, she joined the committee of art&fiction editions, which she chaired from 2014 to 2016. Since 2006, in addition to her visual work, she has developed a stage work through performance, experimental and baroque music and readings. In 2010, she was awarded the Alice Bailly grant. In 2014, she published a first novel and also continued her research on the relationship between text and image. In 2016, she was awarded the illustration grant by the City and Canton of Geneva.
A space for thought
My artistic practice revolves around drawing, installation and writing, which I use to create a tenuous link with space, whether it is represented, described, remembered or re-appropriated. I approach the representation of landscape as a relationship to the world around me by transposing the reality of an experience through drawing. Mountains are a subject that I favour because they evoke not only a specific place that I have observed and contemplated but also a broader idea of landscape. Practically, the Indian ink drawings are mixed with coloured shapes initially laid on the surface of the paper as a trigger. The choice of colours, a sort of minimal index of our polychrome world, is the result of research oscillating between reality and memories. The coloured compositions thus concentrate their evocative qualities and suggest unlimited variations.
The work for The Peak that Hides the Mountain is developed in three distinct parts. A series of drawings evoking the landscapes I crossed, which I drew on my return to the studio and which are based on the memories of my impressions (colour and space), a herbarium made up of photographs of the flowers I encountered during the walk, and a set of drawings and texts - offering a more narrative vision of the expedition -, composed of the key moments of these two days of hiking around Mont Buet.
Joell Nicolas was born in Vevey in 1989. She studied piano and went on to become a member of the Department of Art History and Musicology at the University of Geneva. However, she interrupted her studies in 2012 to devote herself to her solo electronic music project under the name Verveine as a producer, composer and singer. She released a debut album Peaks (DKLK Records) in 2013, followed by an EP Antony (Creaked Records) in 2015. She aroused interest from Swiss cultural actors (Paléo, Fri-Son, Les Docks, M4Music, BadBonn Kilbi, Lethargy, L'Usine, Bâtie) and then opened the doors of pop music scenes in Europe (Transmusicales de Rennes, Printemps de Bourges, Plissken Festival in Greece, Iceland Airwaves in Iceland, Eurosonic Noorderslag in the Netherlands, Strangelove in Belgium, Zemlika in Latvia). She has opened for artists such as Connan Mockasin, Blond Red-Head, Dean Blunt, Lee Gamble and Planningtorock.
Joell Nicolas also collaborated on the sound design of several shows such as Peanuts, by Fausto Paradivino, directed by Claire Nicolas, for the Überrunter Company in Lausanne in 2012. L'Urgence: at the end you will love me by Caroline Bernard, directed by Karim Bel Kacem, at the Théâtre Saint-Gervais in Geneva, in May 2018. Mynameis, directed by Michele de Luca for the Centre d'Art Scénique in Brussels in March 2019. Eromania (God is a dead smoker), radio performance by Caroline Bernard in collaboration with Le Labo (Espace 2, RTS) at the Centre pour la Photographie in Geneva in June 2019. She released her first studio album Hotdrama in September 2020 with collaborations such as Christophe Calpini or Arthur Hnatek. She is currently continuing her tour between French-speaking Switzerland, German-speaking Switzerland, and France. At the end of 2021, she composed a sound piece entitled Les gens #1 in collaboration with the EPFL Laboratoire d'histoire des sciences et des techniques and CDH-Culture as part of the exhibition The Peak that Hides the Mountain. Recorded in "field recording", this piece is a free translation of the soundscapes encountered during the ascent of Mont-Buet.
This website is part of a broader project on the history of science in the mountain led at EPFL's Laboratory for the History of Science and Technology.
It was made possible by an Agora grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation.
Thanks are due to five Geneva institutions: le Musée d'histoire des sciences, le Muséum d'histoire naturelle, les Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques, la Bibliothèque de Genève, les Archives d'État de Genève.