Last One Standing
Since the winter of 2005, the art action Last One Standing (LOS) has presented a game situation anchored in the theme of the alpine winter.

LOS is an art action that confronts the nostalgic ideal, escaping the deadly “Heidi effect” by introducing artifice in an overt way. LOS plays with these two elements: nostalgia and artifice.

Our image of Swiss culture and winter sports is inextricably linked to a vision of a superabundance of snow. But this image is already a nostalgic one: winters are no longer what they used to be. It is true that people have been claiming this for generations, but today’s discussions of climate change and its impact on the mountains, for example the rapid disappearance of the glaciers, impart a new urgency to old debates. We are forced to confront the consequences of our behavior on the environment, and to acknowledge its impending loss. We now think in terms of controlled disappearance –  “the art of managing sustainable degradation” – but even as we recognize it as local problem for alpine winter tourism, we also realize that it is a global problem with diverse ramifications that are highly specific to each locality.

We created Last One Standing as a playful reaction to this rather somber perspective. We believe that in play, which should always contain the zest of subversion, we can render the visible and readable world in a metaphorical and entertaining way.

Any of us, encountering the first snowfall of winter, will take a handfull and compress it into a snowball – a primal gesture that echoes the many winters and snowball fights we have already seen. But the snow we are dealing with in LOS games is artificial. Snow cannons remain visible so that the real origins of the white substance cannot be avoided. The snowball is no longer handmade but mechanically produced, and available in a limited quantity to the players alone. This is a substance that is no longer abundant.

The “local” takes on a special resonance in developing the sites for LOS. This is an art action that is deliberately anchored in a given space and its popular culture. In effect, LOS is re-invented at every new restaging. Thus, when preparing the first test game in Fully, Valais, we chose to recruit our players from the bodies that characterize the Valais region: the marching bands, winemakers, staff of social institutions, lawyers and other lying bastards, and local celebrities. The conscious integration of local social actors weaves each LOS event into its specific context.

A key goal is to integrate students in an open learning process. Students from the Art School (ECAV) and the University of Social Sciences (HESS) of Valais played major roles in the development and production of LOS in Fully. They were the first to test-run the game during winter and summer camps, and the resulting suggestions and critiques were an indispensable contribution to finalizing the rules.

Helped by technical staff, the students were able to conceive and execute a sound workshop in which they created the jingles that signalled the game’s intermissions. Rotating crews handled video and photographic documentation of the LOS tournaments. Theory classes discussed the links between sport and the arts. Students from the HESS also trained and accompanied 800 young people aged between 11 and 18in afternoon sessions of LOS, allowing them to experiment with snowball fights. Thus LOS was introduced to potential players and fans of the future.

Our ambition is twofold:

  • to be recognized as the inventors of a new winter sport which will “go global”; and
  • to recognize in turn our responsibility as artists not just to “play the game”, either metaphorically or literally.

We bring an artistic and environmental awareness to the sport of LOS as it evolves, an evolution that is observed each time the real game is played and replayed, the rules become more sophisticated and teams develop expertise; and as LOS enters and crosses diverse institutional contexts, including the IOC. The institutional evolution is itself a potential snowball situation, in which the founders of LOS are as much part of a narrative as the various authorities that put their seal of approval to the Olympic version of LOS.

Snowball Association © Snowball Association 2005