To coincide with Frieze, American artist Tom Sachs has opened his Swiss passport office at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in London but only remained open for 24 hours between 6pm Friday 5 October and 6pm Saturday 6 October. During that time, visitors were issued with a Swiss passport at a cost of €20 – no British pounds accepted – as part of an public art installation addressing international contemporary concerns, from Brexit to Syria, to Trump’s immigration policies and the notion of global citizenship.

‘The Swiss passport is the most prestigious brand name in international identity,’ Tom Sachs explains. A nation of boundaries, Switzerland is defined by its imposing mountainous landscape, its ‘shelter status’ for extreme wealth, and its neutral political position as an EU non-member state. For Sachs, Swiss citizenship is ‘the ultimate status nationality, representing wealth, neutrality and freedom’; a status he wishes to make available to all.

To obtain a passport, visitors at the gallery first had to fill in a form with their personal details (name, date and place of birth, and so on), and share their Instagram accounts with the passport official handling their application. What followed was an in-depth inquiry session of about 20 minutes, which included questions related to their Instagram posts, mixed with other details, such as the number of sexual partners they had had in the last 12 months, or whether they had ever broken the law.

 

At the end of the session, during which the answers one gave didn’t really seem to matter, the passport official, who during the whole time appeared to be writing down the answers on an old-school typewriter, would take an instant photograph of the applicant and hand-type his/her name onto a serial-numbered Tom Sachs studio passport.

‘With this project we break down the borders and eliminate the concept of nationality,’ notes Sachs, ‘this comes at a time where our liberal democracies are being threatened, and oppressed people all over the world live in danger and without refuge.’

‘Borders are artificial, created by governments and the corporations who control them. Swiss passport office represents enforcement of their artificiality, the antithesis of freedom, and the movement of people and goods. With Swiss passport office every man and woman may be Swiss,’ the American artist, who is known for his elaborate, sculptural recreations of modern icons, adds.

The 24-hour passport issuing period may be over, but the Swiss passport office installation will remain on view at the London Ely House of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac until 10th November.