Conversation between Nicola Arthen (NA) and Adrian Sölch (AS) on two days in the beginning of May 2017 over Skype on the occasion the exhibition The Weathers They Live In
NA: I can just start talking about something.
AS: Yes, that would be nice.
NA: The other day, I went running in Osdorp at a place, where you always can see airplanes taking off. They were really close above in the sky. And when I heard the sound of the jet, I realized that the fan in those turbines must pull the wind similarly to a ventilator. It felt comforting for me, to find out that there is a connection between my earlier works, the simplified aircraft-wings and this new work. The movement and mechanics of the ventilator have a similar principal, but in another scale, of course.
AS: I thought, your interest was never the experience of flying itself, rather than this seemingly unreal experience of transporting passengers through the air, crossing several countries without having been outside in fresh air for once.
NA: Yeah, you’re right. It’s strange how the act of flying is mediated, isn’t it? For example, the efficiency of space in a plane. Everything is adapted to your body-size. The body is really suspended in between the folding table, the curved wall, the two armrests and some advertisement in front of you, or a monitor.
AS: Everything is designed to fulfil its purpose.
NA: But that’s somehow beautiful. People need to come together by the purpose to travel somewhere or even just being brought there.
When I was traveling to Mexico this year, I was really touched by the feeling of global-scale while flying. You literally cross a big part of the globe, but it’s also fascinating, how efficient everything works together. It’s a peak-point of structures working with one another. And then, there is also this strange acceptance of the surface. There has to be so many layers in between the inner pearl-effect plastic-skin and the outer aluminium-shell, like 15 different fabrics of some brands. They developed, like, honeycomb-fibre-structures, certain laminated plastic-parts, some glasswool and other stuff I have no idea about. All those layers protect you at anytime, while flying through minus 46 degrees in 10.000 metres height.
AS: But why should it be comforting and beautiful for a human-being to feel like a depersonalized unit?
NA: Maybe, it is the amount of effort, which is usually not applied to a human-scale [that is appealing]. It’s usually used for packaging-logistics, material-production, raw materials, products, financial transactions. Here, it´s a huge network, that works just for passengers.
AS: You worked for several months in the manufactures of BMW and Audi.
In difference to feeling like being a unit, how does it feel to produce a unit?
NA: There is one simple or immediate fascination I can directly remember. The amount of cars BMW produces in one day is 300 cars. And when I was there for, let’s say 50 days, I produced 6.000 cars. Okay, not the whole car, I did put 6.000 valve-head-screws into the valve-head, but it again gave me a glimpse of global-scale. I did put my fingers on something, that is now moving around many places around the world. I never enjoyed any feeling of ownership in the sense of, wow, they were all made by my hands and without me, they would not exist. It’s very clear how small my part in the process was, but… It gives a bit of access to the question, what it means… seven billion people. As a child, I always thought, when there are seven billion people, there has to be someone who thinks exactly like me, just because there are so many people on the world. What is a whole population or, what is global scale?
AS: The screw is the starting point for understanding a worldwide working economy on an emotional level. You have to imagine the rest, but at least the screw lies in your hand. In our daily life, there is no starting point and you also don’t see the end of the process, you are always in-between. That´s why calibrating scale is impossible.
NA: Maybe, it’s actualizing oneself’s identity within global scale.
But it also means breaking the anonymity of the material, which is always ignorant towards you. Most material and most products are just ignorant towards you. They don’t care if you exist or not.
AS: But I can always remember you being fascinated of products, that look like no one would have ever touched them. Did you ever ask yourself why?
NA: Even in a shape, that looks untouched or not made by human hands, I can see at least the decisions, that were made about it. I know both feelings: the frustration about some decision-making and the joy. My phone for example, I changed to a smartphone, and the keyboard is designed really shitty, so I cannot use it with my fingers. Really, there’s hardly any word coming out complete, that doesn’t have a spelling-mistake, just because of the way, the keys are placed. So, I use the spell-correction, which means, I choose one of maybe 120 words, instead of writing them myself. And that started to retard my language, because I started to write more or less always the same sentences. That’s a point where I get annoyed about the decisions, that have been made in the construction of it. While on the other hand, I can really enjoy, especially in public spaces, to look at an individual, not individual, but a specific solution of how a joint of two metallic pieces is placed on a house. I can really enjoy to see the decision of someone who is responsible for that. I’m also curious about this exhibition, because it´s the first time, I am using stuff made by others, a production-company for example. I will send something to the laser-cutter and it will come back as a piece of cut steel, even painted, so I’m curious to see, how somebody programmed a solution for the curves maybe smaller or bigger than in my model for practical reasons. These things leave traces of how they have been conceived. Like in the airplane, where you spend a very long time with certain objects. Don’t you know this small recess, where the cup should go on the plate? It´s a strangely familiar thing. Or that small hole in the window of the airplane? I think, people know how it feels.
AS: Is this maybe the core of your art-practice? The search for a stronger connection to the world of products and produced materials around us? Is there maybe a lack of connection you want to balance somehow?
NA: Yes, I think the lack of scale we talked about earlier, is very similarly to this lack of connection, you are mentioning now. There is some desire to connect to those inhospitable and anonymous places or these serial objects. Things, that exist almost identically thousands of times or also, automated machines, that run entirely by themselves. I ask myself, where can we put our finger in between. Where could you zoom in to see something individual, maybe not even individual, but at least something, we can connect to.
AS: Do you already feel advanced in that process of connecting to this emotionally alienating environment? This would at least be an explanation for me, why you never seem to be stressed about those speed-increasing changes in our daily life, while other people feel the urge to escape to something that feels somehow more “real”, like quiet nature.
NA: I do get stressed. Even flights are a certain stress-level for me, being at the airport with its long hallways, the restricted atmosphere, the security Check-In and the packing. But then in the air, especially on a long-distance flight, it connects me to the desire of being closer to nature. Nature, that’s of course the fresh air in the forest and the cracking sticks under your feet or climbing up a mountain, but it’s also seeing those vast parts of the world, which at least by distance seem uncivilized. It’s very beautiful to see it from the airplane. I am also really trying to internalize the idea, that the separation between natural and technical does hardly exist. I think, it’s hardly possible to make that particular distinction between, say, the forest in Bavaria and the airplane at the airport. The terms have to be different and also its evaluation of their quality. Because all the materials used in the airplane are natural as is their development, because they are produced by humans and humans are a part of nature and so on. Of course, it feels strange to read it that way. To say, consequently, there is maybe no such thing like being inside or outside. But the desire for an outside exists, for the outside-perspective, the elevated position in an airplane, the outside of being on a mountain or in a forest. And also, the feeling that there will come this day, where I will actually stop using my laptop. I am just using it now, but that’s just a temporary state to get somewhere else, where I won’t need it anymore. The illusion of the outside is there all the time.
Adrian Sölch is an artist, poet and writer based in Munich. He studies as Meisterschüler at the academy of Fine Arts in Munich and regularly conducts interviews for a local radio station. Adrian and Nicola studied together at Gerrit Rietveld Academie for some years and know each other's work well through an ongoing exchange they keep having.