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Through the gaze, Interview with Susanna Fritscher
Alice Fleury


Alice Fleury

Für die Luft is the central installation in the atrium and is made up of eight panels of silicone threads suspended from the ceiling and reaching to the ground. When the visitor enters this space, he does not immediately grasp the overall arrangement of the threads. He first perceives a network of threads, at once dense and transparent, that are overlapping, juxtaposed and intermingled. It is the upper structure that makes it possible to understand how the work is constructed. How did you perceive the atrium space? How did you design this grid, which responds to the space of the atrium and at the same time completely changes the perception of that space?


Susanna Fritscher

There are several issues here. The grid redefines the structure of the space through panels composed of threads. Depending on the viewpoint, the threads line up and form undulating blades, or dissolve into a multitude of luminous lines that oscillate according to your movement, or vibrate in the air.

It is indeed about blurring perception but, at the same time, it is important to note that what disturbs you is not an illusion. When you look up, you realise that multiple threads are stretched between a structure suspended from the ceiling and another placed on the ground. What you see does not escape you, you understand, but you are troubled. The visual impairment is not an effect, it’s based in reality.

AF    This is the first time you have worked with silicone cord. Previously, at the Frac Franche-Comté in 2014 and then at the Espace de l’Art Concret in Mouans-Sartoux in 2015, you used polyester thread hung in horizontal panels. Why did you choose silicone thread? Could you tell me what this new material changes in your work?

SF    The first threads were multi-filaments made of highly fragile ultra-thin polyester, scarcely a tenth of a millimetre thick, that I stretched horizontally, from wall to wall, at eye level. Barely visible and very dense at the same time, they captured the light, revealed it, made it float in the middle of the space.

Silicone threads are flexible and resilient wires that vibrate at the slightest contact or draught. The actual movement of these threads is doubled by the oscillation of light. Through the synthesis of visual movement and real movement, these wires increase the impression of volatility and uncertainty of the whole.

AF    How did the idea of “filling” the atrium with these threads come about?

SF    Before Für die Luft, I experimented with the act of “filling” in several installations. I’m thinking, for example, of the silicone cast I made for the floor of the courtyard of the Frac Lorraine in Metz in 2010, in Weisse Reise, in the Frac Franche-Comté, where I unrolled a transparent vaporous film throughout the exhibition room, and in Split/the eyes at the Espace de l’Art Concret, where I stretched a horizontal cloth of threads that intersected the gaze at eye level.

By filling the space, or by repeating one of its formal elements – in this instance the grid of the atrium – I free myself from the constraint of defining a limit to the work, of giving it a shape. The artwork is limited by the space, it’s part of it.

Without boundaries, the work is at one with its environment to such an extent that the act of making it should not be visible. It’s a real challenge in this space, which measures 500 m2 and is 15 m high. The continuous run of the thread allows it to become part of this immense volume without any break and without giving the impression of an “assembly” or “construction”. This translucent thread with its capacity to turn into shards of light obviously also corresponds to the large glass roof that dominates the room. It was also the room that dictated the verticality of the threads, whereas previously I had always stretched them horizontally.

AF    At first glance, you cannot take it in as a whole.

SF    Yes, that’s essential. You are in the artwork.

AF    So the space creates the artwork?

SF    No, it’s about attention to the place and the fact of incorporating its elements. It’s a strategy that aims to blend the artwork and the environment, to disrupt and modify our perception and sensations, to introduce a certain uncertainty.

AF    The layout and the structure are created by the space. If you’d been elsewhere, would everything have been different?

SF    Yes and no. The preconceptions operating in my work lie at the heart of each of my creaitons, but each space imposes new requirements and gives rise to new research and experimentation.

AF    Both aspects are there. Certain elements pre-existed while others arise from the context.

SF    Yes, the context overflows and disrupts the research.

AF    The viewers are active. They create their own route, enter a volume formed by the threads, stop, come out, continue on their way, go back. They are inside the work that is revealed to their gaze depending on their movements and according to an infinite number of possible combinations. They can also go out completely and obtain some distance in the gangways or climb up to the small first-floor galleries, but wherever they go, the perspectives and distances in the building seem to be disrupted. So everyone will have his or her own experience of the artwork. Was that the desired effect?

SF    Yes. The possibilities for approaching the work are open. There is no route or direction. The installation is discovered through walking. Encountering other visitors is part of the work. You discover the piece thanks to another person who moves away and disappears behind the threads, makes them vibrate with his or her footsteps. Finally, the person who goes through the artwork also reveals it to other visitors.

AF    This immersive dimension is an integral part of the experience of the artwork. I feel this is an increasingly important aspect of your work: at the Espace de l’Art Concret in Mouans-Sartoux, but especially with Weisse Reise at the FRAC Franche-Comté.

SF    Yes, the artwork is an environment, it envelops you. There’s no outside – just folds, curtains, ribbons, networks, beams, etc. The deployment of boundaries is infinite.

AF    I’d like to get back to the threads. Depending on the viewer’s wandering, an optical and vibrational energy emanates from these threads stretched in space, like the effect of certain kinetic art pieces. In this respect, one might think of Soto’s Penetrables, but they are devised in terms of the scale of the body and made up of plastic stalks and, with very rare exceptions, are not site-specific. Is kinetic art something that interests you?

SF    I find Soto’s pieces very beautiful. They have an independence that mine do not have. I equate them more with a pictorial work, whereas my installations are entirely related to space.

AF    The main thread in this exhibition is air. Air becomes visible, palpable, but also audible. This is quite obvious for Souffles where air is captured in crystal. The tightly stretched threads make the air circulating in the atrium tangible. Finally, the device suspended in the four corners of the walkways produces sound thanks to the air that vibrates in rotating tubes. Is air a new material in your work?

SF    My pieces are often described by their aerial appearance. Air is not a theme but a real material, as for example in the series of crystal Souffles, produced with the craftsmen of the Saint-Louis crystal factory in 2014. This work materialises the breath of the craftsman who produces their form. These fragile sculptures were made at the same time as the first sound pieces, produced with the soprano Helia Samadzadeh from Charles Pennequin’s texts, which connect air and the audible. Une autre pièce : blanc begins with a movement of the mouth, a click of the tongue. The singer’s breath leads to the voice, which imperceptibly turns into singing.

AF    You have been interested in working with sound for some time, but you have taken it a bit further in Nantes, it seems to me. Does this aspect open up new avenues for your work?

SF    The sound work has become more radical insofar as there is no support, no text or voice, but elements which, through contact with the air, its acceleration, produce sound. It is about an air column, frequency, sound vibration. Entering into the material of sound.

AF    The sound dimension is indeed essential in this exhibition with the four pieces that rotate simultaneously or not and that one also hears in the central room without necessarily being able to see them.

SF    The tactile and luminous vibration of the atrium installation continues in an aural vibration and beat. The whole exhibition is in motion.

AF    For this project, you worked with several partners: an engineer to study the structure suspended from the glass roof, a company that manufactured and installed the structure, and another that produced the threads. You often work with companies outside the art world and you frequently use materials that come from the field of industry, deploying them in new ways.

SF    The relationship with the companies was introduced in the studio through my participation in large-scale architectural projects: façades for three school buildings in Geneva, light concourses and passenger bridges at Vienna airport, ceilings for the National Archives at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine. These projects not only involved exchanges with architects, engineers and landscape designers, but also shifted the production site from the studio to industry. For each project, it was a case of adapting, diverting or inventing a sensory product, outside existing standards, and developing it within a company. A real exchange took place. To move forward, I had to gain a better understanding of the technology and at the same time push the company outside of its know-how.

AF    It is also important to emphasise that the materials you use are not products from the luxury industry.

SF    Indeed. The circle of my relationships with building companies has expanded due to the specific requirements of the installations. The very thin silicone thread was developed by a company based in Barcelona, which also produces construction steel. The large “curtain” for Weisse Reise was produced by a big plastics manufacturer.

AF    Was it the same process for Souffles?

SF    Yes, it was thanks to the Fondation d’Entreprise Hermès that I was introduced to Cristalleries Saint-Louis. I wanted to interrupt the process of producing forms and show what creates them: the breath of craftsmen.

AF    To obtain these shapes, the blowers had to somehow unlearn the way they work.

SF    The decision to not know the form beforehand disconcerted the blowers enormously, but they nevertheless went along with idea of questioning their technique, going beyond it and calling it into question. The aim was to achieve great freedom. For the threads, the company has developed a special tool to obtain such thinness, whereas at first they thought it was impossible to achieve. For them, as for me, it was a question of pushing back the limits of material and materiality.

AF    At the limit of immateriality?

SF    An immateriality also resulting from very material work, concerned with the material, its components and technology.

AF    Yes, it’s also apparent in the assembly process, which is very long and rather complex.

SF   The work is anything but an object. During the installation of the exhibition, the museum atrium was transformed into a workshop where preliminary research, models, tests and prototypes were developed in relation to the scale of the space. This “live” production contributes to the experience that one creates in the artwork, in its unexpected aspect of “being there”.