Designing space differently
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Fluorescent wave-shaped X-rays

© Dietrich Förster, Kunst im öffentlichen Raum

Dietrich Förster specializes in public art. In an interview, the sculptor explains how he develops his ideas and the role suitable materials such as PLEXIGLAS® play.

Hailing from Apfeldorf (a village in Bavaria, Germany), Dietrich Förster has been working on public art projects since 1990. The 58-year old strives to create a counterpart to architecture which also blends in perfectly with the environment. In implementing his ideas, Förster likes to make use of different materials, such as PLEXIGLAS®.

At the University of Greifswald, for instance, he installed DIN-A4-sized white sheets of Röhm’s brand acrylic glass, which seem to float through the library. In Passau, a “luminous salt crystal” made from PLEXIGLAS® reminds passers-by of an old salt trade route. And the “Luminous Wave” installed at the Development Center for X-ray Technology of the Fraunhofer Society IIS in Fürth represent the X-rays researched at the institute in the shape of waves made of fluorescent PLEXIGLAS® – even though X-rays aren’t actually visible.

Piece by piece

The X-rays researched at the Fraunhofer Institute in Fürth were the inspiration for Dietrich Förster’s installation “Luminous Wave”.

© Dietrich Förster, Kunst im öffentlichen Raum

Artwork made of PLEXIGLAS®

The individual elements consist of PLEXIGLAS® GS - fluorescent. The properties of the material create a luminous effect without any need for electricity.

© Dietrich Förster, Kunst im öffentlichen Raum

You have realized your projects in many different locations. What challenges does public art involve?

© Dietrich Förster, Kunst im öffentlichen Raum

Förster: “Public art often depends on tenders. Thus the challenge is sounding out the established framework. In the public sphere, you have to adhere strictly to the requirements. If you don’t, there’s no chance of realizing your idea. For example, there is the budget. And there are regulations to ensure that there is no risk of injury and that children cannot climb on the work of art. It is sometimes difficult to comply with these requirements. In addition, the architectural situation and the people who work there also provide a framework. I put it all together and build something out of it.”

When Förster inspects the situation on site, he usually already has an idea in mind – e.g. where the installation is to stand, hang or be attached in the end. It’s crucial to have that personal impression. For sometimes he has an idea in mind, but then he visits the site and realizes that the circumstances are actually quite different. One time a “park area” was advertised in the tender that turned out to be a parking lot rather than an outside space. Another time, right on the spot that he had selected for his artwork, there was an ancient tree that hadn’t been shown on the plan.

Ultimately, maintaining close contact with the persons responsible on the ground is crucial for Förster. It’s the only way he can exert some influence and sometimes even suggest changes.

How did you come up with the idea for the “Luminous Wave”?

Förster: “The layered representation of objects examined with X-rays, which I had seen at the Development Center for X-ray Technology of the Fraunhofer Society, certainly inspired my idea for the “Luminous Wave”. The analogy to waves of water was obvious to me because I was living right by the Lech river at that time.”

Did you have a specific material in mind when you were developing the idea?

Förster: “When I have an idea, I go on the hunt for a suitable material that I can use to bring it to life. The possibilities of realizing ideas depend on the available material and its properties. With the wave-shaped X-rays, I quickly realized that I would opt for acrylic glass.”

Why is that?

Förster: “My first idea was a block, from the top of which a wave form would be milled out, which meant that glass was out of the question. It would have involved an insane amount of effort and it would have been much more expensive than with PLEXIGLAS®, a material I am already familiar with from other projects. In addition, acrylic glass involves lower safety risks as it considerably more durable than glass – just think of children playing near the work of art, skating or riding on scooters.”

Why did you abandon your initial idea of a block of acrylic glass?

© Dietrich Förster, Kunst im öffentlichen Raum

Förster: “To stay within budget, the only acrylic glass block that would have been feasible was too small to work in the surrounding architecture. Instead of a block, I reduced the representation of the wave to cut planes and was thus able to produce a much larger sculpture with less material. Plastics specialists recommended the use of fluorescent PLEXIGLAS®. Thanks to the special material properties, the sculpture now looks as if it were illuminated, thus creating the illusion of a flowing wave that glides through the space.”

Safety aspects

The motif of the flowing waves is continued on the inside of the building, except that they are fixed to the ceiling rather than to the floor.

Förster: “If you want to hang glass objects above people’s heads, you need to put in a lot of effort to get clearance from the building authority. This process is not required with PLEXIGLAS®. The acrylic glass is more durable and can be used without official approval in most cases.”

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