After graduating from highschool in Zurich, Switzerland, Beat Streuli attended the Schools of Design in Basel and Zurich and the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin where he lived until the beginning of the 1990’s. During this time, studio grants allowed him to also live and work at Cité des Arts and Fondation Cartier in Paris (1985/86, 89 and 92) and Istituto Svizzero in Rome (1988/89) where he made his first “street photography” series.
In the 90’s, Streuli moved his European base to Dusseldorf and spent several years in New York, where he developed the style which would become characteristic of his work. First presented in small black and white format, he soon started to work on a larger scale and particularly in the form of monumental slide projections, later including videos and digital images. Billboards and other forms of installations in the public space appeared in his work in the mid-90’s and transparent images integrated in glass facades continue to be one of his favorite mediums. Beginning in 1996, he explored further the genre of portraiture and his work was exhibited on a global scale: his participation in the Sydney, Johannesburg and Kwangju Biennials coincided with personal exhibitions in museums and extended stays in cities such as London, Sydney and Tokyo.
From 2000, Streuli’s work, previously centered on the inhabitants and the everyday life in Western cities, became more complex. Following a reflection on globalization and the resulting conflicts, he became interested in the presence of non-Western cultures in the European social fabric. He also worked in the Near and Far East as well as in India and Africa. His participation in the Jordan Festival in Petra, with a 160-meter wall of images and his personal publication BXL (abbreviation of Brussels, where he has lived part-time since 2005) in which he approaches the Other as his neighbor, testify of this development. This decade was also marked by large-scale exhibitions and commissions and his participation in the biennials of Sharjah, Yokohama and Singapore. Since 2010 he teaches at ZHdK School of Fine Arts in Zurich.
Streuli currently works in a more pictorial line with a increased abstract approach to his subjects. He is interested in the inhabitants but also in the cities as urban and architectural concept and has recently often worked outside the global metropoles, in suburbs and smaller cities. He develops large installations for public space by integrating new technologies and produces works where fixed and moving image and more recently interactivity mix. This orientation is particularly present in his recent proposals for the European Parliament and the new NATO buildings in Brussels.
Streuli’s images have a precise destiny, which is to appear in the form of billboards in the streets, of large posters applied to walls, transparent figures on the windows of buildings, and as immaterial projections on wall high screens. Theirs is the destiny of images used by the mass media, from advertising to fashion, to cinema, television, and the Internet as well. With their essentiality, clarity, and visual presence, they speak directly to the locals, passersby, tourists, and anyone who moves in the urban spaces and public places where they are installed: people who are simultaneously the subjects of these images. Like a sort of gigantic television reality show, but with serious, elegant, civilized overtones. The circle is closed by a mechanism of mirroring which makes the actors and the spectators one and the same: in the circular nature of Beat Streuli’s project, the people who are photographed are the flesh of the city, but the flesh of the city is also those who view these large images installed in collective spaces. The images themselves have their effect on the architecture and on the image of the city itself. Streuli gently but resolutely compels us into the labyrinth of an art that takes over the techniques and places of the great, omnipresent communication that embraces everyone and everything. It is an art that wishes to be explicitly public and shared, today. An art that talks to us of beauty, of the possible beauty of us all. And of the identity of contemporary mankind, which is so hard to define.
Streuli’s work does not aim to single out ‘the other’, it simply aspires to document what lies around us, with characteristic formal clarity and sharpness of perception. Likewise, the artist does not try to force a specific socio-political reading of his images; although he does make us consider the question of how we view people – all people – around us, he refuses to exoticize or to emphasize difference in the political sense. So, while these images do reflect a multi-cultural reality, for Streuli this is not so much an issue, but rather something that is a de facto normality, and perpetually ‘there’. Similarly, he avoids pathos or sentimentality, or engendering feelings of naïve sympathy towards the people he photographs, and retains a certain distance at all times. As viewers we have to draw our own conclusions as to the possible meanings of these images. If one is indeed to talk about ‘difference’ in this context, it is a discussion that needs to be done on another level: what comes across more strikingly when considering the entirety of his project is that Streuli highlights what we often seem to forget when talking about ‘people’; the fact that the ordinary person in the street is as unique and individual as anyone. In that sense, Streuli’s work can be read as an ode to individuality and difference.