Destructive Identities

DRAFT a later version will be contributed to Wikipedia

Ink on paper

What fascinated me in the story of the Kuhreihen was the deep and even destructive longing for identity and belonging. Looking backwards it seems like in order to protect its members the Swiss army chose to repress its soldiers instead of helping them express and release their distress.

In this drawing I chose to describe a doctor visit. Instead of treating the patient in her room,  the patient is displaced in a hallway, where the fish are nibbling her feet and they wouldn’t let go.

A Ranz des Vaches or Kuhreihen is a simple melody traditionally played on the horn by the Swiss Alpine herdsmen as they drove their cattle to or from the pasture. The Kureihen was linked to the Swiss nostalgia and Homesickness (also known as mal du Suisse "Swiss illness" or Schweizerheimweh "Swiss homesickness").


Singing of Kuhreihen was forbidden to Swiss mercenaries because they led to nostalgia to the point of desertion, illness or death. The 1767 Dictionnaire de Musique by Jean-Jacques Rousseau claims that Swiss mercenaries were threatened with severe punishment to prevent them from singing their Swiss songs.
Dec 30th, 2010

Now Discuss:


  1. Ela Dec 31st, 10

    The first thing that came into my mind when I have seen this illustration is the tradition of playcards in Europe, especially those decks which are used to foretell the future. Each country has their own playcard patterns and symbols, which reflect on different national archetypes. In Germany, the Kipper cards are still widely used to foretell the future. Here is an example of how they look like:
    I find their design quite enigmatic and somewhat unsettling – yet, familiar, as I have discovered many concepts & beliefs of German history in them.
    The themes of “belonging” and “identity”, in relation to “home” (or “Heimat”) which you touch upon in this post are closely linked to the European playcard tradition and a fascinating collection of design patterns and illustrations. Here is a brief overview:
    Coming back to your illustration: The doctor visit as the symbol of being taken care of is a great visual interpretation of the Kuhreihen. I was just wondering about the feet-nibbling fish? Does this refer to the doctor fish? I find fish in relation to the Swiss Kuhreihen concept a bit problematic, because fish are simply not so important in the alpine environment of Switzerland…I could imagine that the fish theme needs some revision, but maybe I am totally wrong and others will get the idea right away…curious about more comments here.

    • galia Jan 1st, 11

      Thank you so much Ela for introducing me to those beautiful references. (happy to get inspiring images…) I was always interested with the aesthetics of Tarot cards and the way they relate to text. I think it’s a wonderful example of images that illustrate a world of abstract ideas.

      I was fascinated to know that the German cards deal with the concept of “Heimat” which brings me directly to my choice of the fish in the drawing. For me they are the uncanny (“unheimliche”) in the drawing: they are the foreign, strange element inside the familiar.

      The fish express the patient’s emotional pain, which is more slippery than physical pain. Like fish it is much harder to put your hands on…

      Another reason was to connect the patient’s pain with nature, as a contra to home. Although the patient is indoors her feet are soak in water with fish that consistently reminding her of her unease.

      • galia Jan 1st, 11

        BTW Here is an example of a more recent interpenetration of tarot illustrations that I really like. This link is taken from Aya Rosen‘s Flickr set of Tarot illustrations:
        Full Deck

  2. aya Jan 3rd, 11

    what do you think about adding colour to the fish ? it can make the idea of nature & life as contra to death & emotionl pain more vivid . intresting that longing in the text concern men , but in our mind it belongs to women. amasing how your drawings enrich my mind & soul. thanks.

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