“Attention Hannibalism – red elephant sighted on the Via Alpina!” An art project on route between Mont-Blanc and Cote d’Azur

Invitation: Come along on a trip through images and thoughts.   

If you are hiking this summer on the Red or Blue Via Alpina trail between Martigny and Monaco and happen to meet a bright red elephant, this is not a hallucination. It is an artistic project realised by Thomas Falk, an artist and passionate long-distance hiker from Northern Germany.
You might wonder what he is doing here and what this is all about. In a remote valley, or at the top of a high mountain, he pulls a big red plastic bag out of his backpack, blowing air into it – it is an elephant! He stands him in the landscape and takes photographs of the scene. Did he really walk up here with the elephant and the large backpack or has he been set down by a helicopter? Why is he doing that? Is it a promotional gimmick or what?




“My artistic action, on the trail from the Mont-Blanc to the Mediterranean, has been a full success. In addition to photographs and videos in front of spectacular backdrops in the high mountains, the elephant also produced himself at village fairs, in front of mountain huts, museums, churches and monasteries. He even surprised tourists and locals in front of famous monuments like the Porta Praetoria Gate and the Roman triumphal arch in Aosta or the Duomo in Milan.

Some will remember this encounter as an amusing episode in their holiday memories. But the observers with whom I was able to talk almost all had their own idea on the possible meaning of “Hannibalism”. And when I had the opportunity to discuss in more details with them, the people were associating many things with this action.

Often enough, the elephant became for the local people the symbolic figure of their resistance to dubious infrastructure projects in their region, the carrier of their fears and hopes in the battle for the preservation of their living environment, for a future in and with this space. This suits me. “Hannibalism” is art in action, and therefore for me also political. The elephant as foreign body, as invader heats up the spirits, provokes and prompts to think and communicate.

Some, especially children, simply like him. Unfortunately, these days people often believe that everything which just stands around in places they visit is only there for their entertainment. So I had to intervene energetically several times because children and adults were pulling the elephant’s ears, sitting on him or even swinging him in the air. Consequentially, the poor animal has suffered a lot and had to be mended several times. But now the – up to now nameless – elephant has fulfiled his task and can enjoy a well-earned retirement. On his many journeys from 2009 to 2013 has has criss-crossed the whole Alps and experienced and seen much on the way. He helped me and maybe also others to see the Alps as natural and cultural space in a different way, to experience them anew.

The travels with the elephant are now over, but not the project. The photographs taken on all the trips and a video documentation of the project, still in preparation, shall be made accessible to a broader public.

To this aim, I intend to stage over the next three years a series of exhibitions and film presentations in various places such as museums, cultural centres and galleries in the whole Alps; I am hoping for the support from the Via Alpina and other institutions and persons working towards the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage in the Alpine countries and the support of sustainable development in the Alpine space. I think that this art project is well suited for the transmission of such contents, without appearing dry and theoretical or too didactic and dogmatic.

Results – Answers to the questions which I had asked myself before the journey:
Trails have an existence. For sure part of our sensations or experiences on this or that path come from ourselves. But trails that we walk in the Alps often also reflect the spirit of those who have built, marked and described them and thus made them accessible to us. And of course the paths reflect the History or the stories. The stories of the builders but also of the users, the travellers. Tracking down these stories and the being of the trail is fascinating.

This is particularly fascinating and impressive on the route of the GTA or the Via Alpina Blue Trail. Following the paths and the spirit of the Via Alpina, we have walked through many trails: smugglers’ and partisans’ routes, mule deer tracks, pilgrimage and commerce routes, military roads, hunting paths, paths which teach, paths which we look for, where we had to progress with difficulty, and those which simply invited to a pleasurable walk. We hiked on the Sentieri Partigiani, Via Monaci, Via Francigena, Strade del Sale, Lou Viage and Percorso Occitano, followed the Grande Repatrio dei Valdesi, the Via Napoleonica, the route of the itinerant painters in the Val Maira, the Sentiero of the Bottai and the photographic and philosophical circular walk set up by the keeper of the Rifugio in Palent himself. But, crucially, we didn’t follow blindly the trails laid down but always kept awake, seeing with our eyes and heart, following reason and feeling.

Is our journey a journey into the unknown which generates new images, or only a journey in the images of our imagination? Well, it is difficult to let go of the images that we bring with us; of the expectations, the pictures that we have from travel guides etc, against which we measure what we find locally. To come without any preparation reading is not a solution, I think. Because: there are many things that we only see because we know them (see Bätzing). But on such a journey one is always surprised, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, always in comparison to one’s expectations. If we come to a place with many expectations then it is likely that we will be disappointed. But disappointment can be healing. If we manage to shift the image, the frame just a little, this can mean a widening of the horizon. Sometimes letting go, letting oneself be surprised, this isn’t easy at all on such a trip which needs to be well planned. But it can be very nice, as I saw in Marseilles and in other places.
I have now arrived but there are already new aims, artistic aims for instance finishing the movie or the planned exhibition, and alpine aims, new trails between moraine scree and sea strands, between palm trees and glaciers. Which strategies can still be found in order to link art, culture and alpine hiking? Let’s be surprised!”

The movie from Thomas Falk will be published on this page in February 2014!

Download the complete report (in German): PDF (90 Kb)

Den gesamten Bericht herunterladen (auf Deutsch): PDF (90 Kb)

Der film trailer:


The whole movie:


Interview with the artist:



The blog: www.tfkunstkonzept.wordpress.com

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