From gravitational waves to black holes to space bending in the way that Einstein described, artist and architect Anna Kubelik finds the inspiration for new pieces in theoretical physics.
Interview with Anna Kubelik — Sep 8, 2016
»Sometimes, I wonder if science has replaced religion in our century. We »believe« it, but what are the means of proof? Measuring devices that do nothing but set out to prove the theory, so how could they do anything else? I wonder if theoretical physics is nothing else but the bible of the twenty-first century.«
From gravitational waves to black holes to space bending in the way that Einstein described, artist and architect Anna Kubelik finds the inspiration for new pieces in theoretical physics. Listening to science podcasts and studying theories – a »wonderful mixture of logic and diligence combined with magic and wonder« (Anna Kubelik) – she started working on a new installation, which also includes the element of sound, during her fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude. In a visit to her Solitude studio filled with objects, notes, and models, she gives insight into her working practice, the way she approaches science, and how she is developing her new piece.
Clara Herrmann: You seem to have lived in many places, obviously never much in Germany, even though your first language is German. What role does nationality and identity play for you as an artist?
Anna Kubelik: I noticed how it confuses people (especially Germans) as I share the same language but not the same »generational memory.« This means things you grow up with and are socialized with (knowingly or unknowingly). Things that familiarize you with another person and that can say »you see where I am coming from?« or »you understand me because we have experienced the same things.« They look at me puzzled and wonder if I was left somewhere to grow up in outer space. We tend to put things in drawers because it gives a sense of orientation. That is the way we are programmed to think – I catch myself thinking that way too and then stop myself: I don’t want to limit myself!
I noticed how that also started to inform the way I can think about my practice.
Studying architecture (rather than art), I learned the craft of an architect to realize my own ideas: understanding scale, drawing, material, building processes, and social implications of space. Most importantly, I learned how to develop an idea by going through a process to end up with a project – no matter what form or context. Equipped with these skills, I understand that any project of any kind is possible. Why limit yourself by putting yourself in a drawer like identity or a standardized profession or even nationality?
CH: You get inspired by theories, science, scientific news – what interests you and how do you approach a topic?
AK: I have always loved science! So whenever I have the opportunity, I listen to science podcasts. For me there is some wonderful mixture of logic and diligence combined with magic and wonder! So when I hear something that triggers an idea or interest, I start researching the topic and find bits of text or images – they start adding to a huge »scrap-book« or sometimes even a wall full of sketches, notes, and images. I try to understand connections or try to discover them where they might not be obvious. I really try to understand in depth but also maintain some kind of overview.
CH: Unlike other architects, you are not so engaged with the »digital,« you draw a lot by hand, you investigate things with handmade objects…
AK: Yes, I am still »analog.« Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the technology of, let’s say, laser cutting, 3D printing, or AR (augmented reality) and can even get my head around electronics (if I had to), but I want to use it only if it’s really necessary for my project. I believe there is still tons to discover in the »analog« or »real« world. Things that can make us wonder, without using a program or even electricity. As soon as I feel a project needs »programming« or sensors or something of that sort, I won’t hesitate to use them, but for now I enjoy this challenge to make things »for real« and am very entertained by discovering with my own two hands. When I do get stuck however, I sit down to do some 3D modeling on the computer – after all, it’s a useful tool and I am lucky to live in a century where I can profit from this! Though perhaps I am boycotting the »digital« a bit!? I feel one can get so lost in that world and all the wonderful effects it can create. I have to ask myself: where is my body, my sensation, my understanding of what is really going on?
CH: The Swiss author Dürrenmatt, who is famous for his book The Physicians amongst others – and who was also a passionate drawer by the way – investigated the notion of ethics and science in his work. What is your approach towards the scientific world, its theories, and world view?
AK: At Akademie Schloss Solitude, I had the great opportunity to take a lot of time to research theoretical physics. I almost got addicted: »Oh, a new discovery here: gravitational waves, wow! What are they? What are black holes? How does space bend according to Einstein? …« I couldn’t stop (and from now on probably never will) because these theories are so mind-boggling! But scholarships end (unfortunately) and I needed to step back to see what I had learned. That is when it suddenly hit me: They are theories and hence also like wonderful stories! I suddenly realized that one can easily slip into philosophical questions and before you know it, you end up with religion. Sometimes, I wonder if science has replaced religion in our century. We »believe« it, but what are the means of proof? Measuring devices that do nothing but set out to prove the theory, so how could they do anything else? I wonder if theoretical physics is nothing else but the bible of the twenty-first century. The questions appear to be the same: Where did we come from and where could we go? A fantastical set of stories! Stories to imagine wonderful (or maybe sometimes not so wonderful) things. Through this intense research, I am certain it will influence my practice.
CH: What is your latest piece here about? How did you develop it? Where does it stand in relation to your other works?
AK: So after going through the theoretical physics »phase,« I wanted to get back to some hands-on physical work. This is when I came back to looking at my original intention I set out to do at Akademie Schloss Solitude. I have been looking at a mathematical formula that depicts a certain kind of geometry. It’s been discovered that this very same formula can also calculate particle collision. In other words: I went back to math! I have been looking at the cube, its triangulation, and deformation through quite simple but intriguing means. Based on this, I would like to create an installation also including the element of sound. It’s interesting how math also leads to rhythm and hence there is a connection to music – the elements I love working with. This how it relates to previous projects: Math and music always seem to be my starting point.
CH: The relation between the spectator and your work is also a crucial point. What would you like to achieve here?
AK: I love startling myself with my discoveries. I hope that this happens with the spectator as well. The spectator plays an important role, as without him there is no discovery. There should be an interaction with space and perhaps even his involvement to changing it (that is at least what I am aiming to achieve with this upcoming project). How people react and behave is unpredictable for me, and what they understand is uncontrollable, but I hope they can see and experience something that makes them as excited as me.
CH: And the last question: What’s next for you?
AK: I’m going to carry on exploring!
First, I’m aiming to complete the aforementioned project in order to show it in autumn 2017 in Stuttgart. Second, I am exploring the phenomenon of water further (I have been working with water in my last couple of projects). I am lucky as I get to start by studying the aqueducts in Rome.
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