Haeckel had already seen the diatoms through a high magnification microscope. Since the invention of the scanning electron microscope at the end of the 1960s, it has also been possible to photograph and reproduce the fantastic formations. The fascinating thing is that one can penetrate the endless structural system of the diatoms, which always take on a new aesthetic form in a section enlarged to scale. By the way, in contrast to the “Mandelbrot”, for which there is no scale, because the transformations take place outside our categories. I came across bionics and silicate chemistry through my involvement with the construction of a computer.
Even when I opened a tree trunk according to the annual rings – as I did with the family tank in 1988 – I was always interested in examining what was going on inside. That’s why dealing with ceramics was an important moment for me, because you work with hollow bodies there. In my first years of study, I worked almost exclusively in the workshop and did a lot of 1:1 work there. So I didn’t make any models, but I had to try out gravity on the real sculpture, with all the physical effort, in order to know what I was doing with my ideas in a spatial structure in the first place.
After thirteen years of working primarily on interior projects, I am now gradually venturing into exterior spaces. That’s a huge step today, if you don’t want to do the conventional “helicopter dropping” of furnishing what’s left of open outdoor space with sculpture.
I generally believe that autonomous plastic is dead. Today in Europe we live in such a complex system that it is an absolute presumption to still want to place autonomous sculptures in this condensed cultural space. You might still be able to put them on Mars. I do think that as a sculptor today you have the responsibility to deal intensively with the surroundings and to think carefully about how the remaining public space can be used sensibly for the people. In the seventies, it was not uncommon for artists to specialize fully in making small models while still in academia, only to have a caster blow them up. And with that the sculptures were in the world. My city trips have shown me that even impressive sculptures can become completely bogged down and neglected in the wrong environment. That is why I develop a great care already in the run-up to the production.
A certain statement on current things that touch me is already implied in my work. In the case of this accident story (accident project from 1993), I was shocked but also fascinated by the fact that in our high-tech world, a tanker is built with a single shell due to unthinking cost-cutting measures and is also incorrectly loaded so that it ends up breaking up. In my average project, I wanted to explore what kind of force displacements take place in the chambers of the interior spaces by dissecting a huge plaster mold, which in itself was not colossally ecological. In the end, I arrived at a kind of Schwitters building that was completely amorphous on the outside in its alabaster-like quality and had strong spatial structures on the inside.
Something built stands and falls with whether it enters into a symbiosis with the material. I also appreciate it very much in colleagues and architects when they have a precise idea of the material they are dealing with. The materiality itself already has a certain expressiveness and transports an idea. It is no coincidence that, unlike in the USA, Belgium or Spain, the material terracotta is still so strongly tabooed in our country.
As a teenager, architecture as represented in the linguistic idiom of the Bauhaus succession as a totally formal and functional aesthetic was something rather detestable to me. I strongly doubted this form of architecture because it seemed so empty of content. Our school was also a post-Bauhaus prefab with the obligatory color coding system. I always found that very oppressive and narrow. I liked the industrial buildings, like the ones my father designed, much better because they were engineering-oriented and there was actually a living production there. In the area there was a clear task in terms of content: The task was to install a working world.
In my sculptural work, I am fundamentally interested in occupying and defining space as I experience it. I do this by reducing the space to a surface, which then becomes a spatial body again through sculptural design. I do not come to sculpture directly through modeling, but through the study of the corresponding places, their functions, as well as the movements that occur there. That’s where I do some pretty thorough research and do some real fieldwork. For example, when the LMU announced an art competition in 1997 for the design of the entrance hall of the new Institute for Pharmaceutical Chemistry in Großhadern, I first sat down at the computer and checked how pharmaceutical chemists develop drug models today.
For me it is very important that a sculpture “works” from all conceivable angles and has a certain liveliness on the most diverse levels. That’s why I now often do the planning for larger room concepts on CAD, because you can travel through the entire room via animation and check it. I can use this simulation technique wonderfully to show how the shape develops from the different angles. For the smaller interior works, on the other hand, I start from the human scale. That is, from a person standing on the ground with a horizon approximately 1.45 meters high due to the level of his eyes. After all, the exterior sculpture in the Baroque period was perspective and modeled at horse-drawn carriage level, while today it is usually assumed to be at car driver height.
I found biology through urban development and through the discourse of how urban space can be defined in the future. In the debate about the complexity of urban contexts, bionic principles are repeatedly referred to. That is, some self-organization of structures can be inferred from observation of small organisms. Diatoms, for example – tiny single-celled plants – surround themselves with a silicate shell. The genetic code that produces the immensely diverse structural formations and also the complex static webs of these diatoms is absolutely unknown.
I push the individual ring elements of a wooden surface upwards so that they form a plastic structure. It was through working with large wooden surfaces that I first came to opening up surfaces in the first place. The model-like spatial forms of these 1.50 x 1.50 meter sculptures are elementary for me because I can think with my hands. Generally speaking, when I invent space, it’s not an analytical process; when I draw, I have stored in my head the meaning I want to give to a place. I usually focus on a circular shape to be opened. And then I immediately start building a model that I stretch out in space with very thin threads. Interestingly, my static feeling is correct even at 14 tons weight.
I wondered about that myself at first. Even before the sculpture is simulated, I walk in the imagined form as if in a dream, anticipating what will develop forcefully between the individual elements and what the differentiated structure will look like later. It’s comforting, but also kind of sad, because I don’t get the “aha!” moment with the completed sculpture. The sensation is actually the experiment, and then I set about implementing it in a very disciplined way, which also requires a lot of moderation. All the people involved in a big job have to be informed in detail about content and technology to ensure optimal implementation.
The circular surface forms a center in its own way, without centering. The circle also brings a kind of restriction. In this way, one reduces the outer form of a basic body to a minimum of deconcentration possibilities and thus directs the view to the actual.
The purely functional building will certainly continue to exist. At a lecture by Frank Gehry in Los Angeles, I noticed for the first time that the architecture of Deconstructivism defines itself exclusively as building art and that there is hardly any communication with visual artists. In the case of an artistic intervention, a conflict could easily arise. Architecture like Bilbao’s new museum is fascinating to me first and foremost as sculpture. Perhaps deconstructivist architecture is too young for the visual arts, it still has so many undiscovered resources.
I am sure that the places I get involved with also need my interventions. There is nothing I am less afraid of than empty rooms or empty walls. In the 27-meter-high atrium of the Munich Red Cross Hospital, there was an incredible downward pull. I believe that I have actually managed to reverse this pull and change the sense of space with the reduced structure of the finial.
My request to intervene in spaces at all is motivated by the fact that I seek to bridge the discrepancy between human scale and the speed of high technology. The virtual handling of things releases a completely different category of thinking than manual work with tools. The virtuality we experience, for example, at night in our REM phase, when we wildly copy together daily events and compose new films from them, is, in contrast to the virtual world of the computer, completely determined by us in terms of time.
In the REM phase, one definitely has power over the dream events. The computer, on the other hand, simply swallows our time. In the virtual spaces and in the time determined by the new media, I move in a different sphere.
I was also told by an art historian that my newer sculptures remind her of the Archigram ideas of the late sixties. At the time, the art discourse was discussing the question of whether the built space is an extension or prolongation of the body and how new worlds can be created architecturally. One also has to think of the modular systems of the time, which had something very hybrid about them.
At that time, the human being was very much at the center of art, which was supported by the idea of interaction. These ideas are also so topical again today because instead of the market, the focus has been on experimentation. The discussion about the current media world is also about the need to redefine the various forms and qualities of space: What is possible as built space? What needs to be materialized at all? Where is the purely virtual representation enough? What are the advantages of the tactile as a level of perception compared to the visual and auditory? I already attach great importance to materialized things. The things that surround people inevitably shape their lives.
In my opinion, a meaningful plaza design requires a complex cooperation of specialists from different fields. This means that humanities scholars must work with sculptors, transportation planners, psychologists, and sociologists. I can also well imagine extreme positions in dialogue with each other, that is, physically experienceable moments in contact with interactive ones. I am sure that personal exchange will play a major role again in the future.
Without site-specific sculptures, a very important dimension of experience would be lost. Especially artists who flirt with virtual dematerializations often have a strong desire to produce things 1:1.
Certainly, many places around the world will become increasingly similar in shape due to the extreme exchange of information. This does not only apply to artificial worlds of experience à la Disneyworld, but in general the experience levels in industrialized countries are becoming more and more similar. The supposed nomads are looking for familiar spatial patterns in hotel chains and mobile homes. On the other hand, engaging with a particular place as a topos involves undertaking a specific perceptual journey and thus countering global synchronization.