08 November 2017

The principle of difference

How has the building developed from an artistic view point? And what remains? Christian Scholz talks about this and more in the following interview.

Ch. Scholz

Mr Scholz, you have been documenting the SRN construction project from an artist/photographer's perspective since 2013. What, for you, have been the major milestones in the development of the project? How has the building developed from an artistic view point?

My standout memory is of the ground slab being reached in 2014. And now, in 2017, its full height, its envisaged size. What was planned has become reality. Back in 2014, I could look through the camera from the lowest point upwards along the supporting wall. Now, all the empty space is filled with concrete and furniture, floors and staircases, ventilation and power installations, ie with meaning and structure. All enfolded within undulating glass. An invitation to engage with transparency, reflected light, changing colour impressions. From the outside, too. What you can already see: passers-by stopping – staring in amazement.

What was the greatest challenge for you in this assignment?

Helmet on, overalls on, boots on, going down underground or up on the roof in the ice-cold winter. To do my work there and "perform", exactly as the workers right next to me were doing, fully committed to their work. It may sound strange, but looking at and comparing myself to the workers was challenging: ie not shivering, not being anxious on black ice, obeying safety rules, while adjusting the camera precisely with the view of the materials, the crane loads, colours, light reflections, panoramas.  And the site looked different every day. My art project was extremely "process oriented". It was driven by transformations. Something was always happening on the site. That was liberating. What I learned was that the principle of difference carries within itself something extremely free. Some of my pictures tell that story.

Was there a particular highlight?

Yes, there were many in fact, but only weeks later, at the big table in my studio. Fascinated as I was by analogue technology, I "fed" the camera with slide and colour negative film. This meant that the cartridges had to be developed. Only when I had the prints in large format in front of me was I able to see if I'd been able to wrangle something new artistically out of the reality. As you can imagine, that's a demanding task. It's nothing to do with unconstrained "inspiration". In the end, finding a theme is sort of like "cutting out" a picture from reality. It’s often an act of force. That was also the case in this instance: I was only satisfied when I noticed a difference compared with the previous shoot. The timeshift again: Even when you're concentrating fully on the viewfinder, you’re aware only of its highlights. A bit like flying sparks in welding, or the “portrait” of a broom that's standing there so patiently. Only afterwards do you achieve certainty. Perhaps I'm a late developer. Or rather, the film is the late developer, it “develops” optimally in the flow of time.

You said recently: "A picture always comprises a memory and vision". What remains after the completion of Swiss Re Next? More memory, or even more vision?

Even more vision. Your question touches on the multidimensionality and density of artistic work and experience. No sooner is there joy and the memory of it, than it goes still further: with the vision. It will, in fact, take years to fathom the meaning of this Swiss Re art project, to come to terms with it. The visions ask a lot of me. What links my Swiss Re Next pictures with the photographic work from my other work cycles? How can I display something completely new – together with my Swiss Re Next worker portraits? In an exhibition, in a book of photographs? There is, and continues to be, plain empiricism. Thanks to the work of the developer, the architect and the site management, the workers have created a BUILDING. All that effort is now pulsating in the structured material. As a result, an ancient concept is alive here: material and human effort. In a world going completely off the rails, at least intermittently, the whole thing is highly volatile, ie right up-to-the-minute. My visions lie in that direction. And Swiss Re has always been visionary.

What do you wish for the building and all those who work in it?

Wow! Can I wish for something, in this case for women and men that I don't know? Okay, I'll come back to the glass. My wish is that they make the undulating form their own. There is never harmony. There is always difference. That is also happiness. The universe itself owes its existence to difference, coincidence. So my wish for them is: stay mobile, seek new solutions, keep absorbing the wave, resonate with it, don't seal yourself off in your work or in your circle of colleagues. Rather promote dialogue and refinement. And if someone behind the undulating glass ever gets a little tired, I hope that person can take a brief swim in the lake! One thing is certain: this architecture is a sign of strength. The glass sheath speaks of vivacity; indeed it calls for it. Unfortunately, some people out there in Zurich have not wanted to see that. They have failed in their duty to assess precisely, to open their minds, to look at the work by the lake, in the morning, at midday, in the evening, while walking round it. You simply have to keep moving in Zurich. At any rate, that's the attitude I hope the staff will have at the time of the handover in October 2017.