Image Courtesy Jan Bourquin
Interview with Jan Bourquin
As an observer the realm of artistic merit spans many arenas. The lines are blurred between work that merely occupies space and the space that forms and informs the work itself.
There are also disciplinary intersections when it comes to construction and the realisation of an object or installation. Here we find Jan Bourquin with a foot in both the design world and the art world. His early informative work is about installation and experimentation but his eye has always been firmly cast on design and architecture. This has culminated in an appreciation for the object as functional and primarily purpose built, but inevitably bound up in a desire to create an aesthetic quality and sculptural form in the resulting product.
Some consider the blurred distinction a step too far, meet Jan Bourquin in sharp focus.
Q. Are you sculptor, installation artist or designer first and foremost?
I see myself as a furniture designer. I was always attracted to furniture as a powerful tool to define your own living space and express your personality. You can have an almost emotional response to it. Obviously there is a sculptural aspect, and perceiving it in a spatial, sociological, and aesthetic context also plays an essential role. So it feels quite natural to be informed by sculpture and installation art as well as extending my practice into these areas.
Q. It makes sense to me to combine sculptural work, installation and design in a wider spatial approach or practice. How do you reconcile your identity within those disciplines?
In installation my discourse is different to the approach in design which is often dominated by technical requirements. In a way the result is more pure, undiluted by any given parameters. The challenge for me as a designer is to translate this pureness and authenticity back into design without compromising functionality.
Q. Did you know what you wanted to do when you came out of college?
For some time I was oscillating between placing myself in an art or a design context. Experiencing both fields I learned to understand the expectations and demands of a client not as restrictions but as a welcome invitation to explore their boundaries and look for solutions beyond these coordinates.
Q. You’ve had a brief collaborative phase with the collective Who is Danasz Bourski. Is that something you will revisit?
Danasz Bourski consisted of Daniel Kern, Jonas von Ostrowski and me. It existed for three years.
The three of us met at university and from early on had an unusually constructive way to communicate. We decided to form a team and worked closely together, on mutual projects as well as on personal ones, critically reflecting our ideas and discussing our moves. This led us to a certain independence from the framework of the university, and to a very productive outcome. Our exhibition ‘Who is Danasz Bourski?’, an overview of all our works so far, focused on the user implementing our products and won us respect from the art department of the faculty as well as a grant.
Over time our collaboration morphed into a mutual point of view, a common identity, and common goals, and we had plans to continue working together after our graduations. In the end we split up before that because a need emerged to emancipate ourselves from the group and develop our own profiles. My final year project, ‘The Eyes are Extrusions of the Brain’, was part of my process to position myself after Danasz Bourski and an important step to form my own artistic identity. This was essential, also in order to get ready for other collaborations as part of my practice, like today with the painter Cathy Jardon and our project UWO.
Q. Can you tell me a bit about Frappant E. V. and your involvement in it?
Frappant e.V. is an interdisciplinary association of creatives founded in Hamburg in 2009.
It came to life when a group of some 30 artists, designers, architects and urbanists in dire need of affordable work spaces gathered a contract to use a long-time abandoned, brutalist shopping complex from the 1970’s in the district of Altona. Known as Frappant. it was widely considered an eyesore due to its neglected state and had become a symbol for failed economy and the social decline of the whole neighbourhood, a working class residential area.
The sheer physical dimensions of the building and its poor condition (think burst water pipes at temperatures way below zero) made it a real challenge to inhabit the space and fill it with life, one could literally get lost in there. On the other hand it made projects possible that in smaller spaces weren’t even thinkable but that also called for joining forces and collaborations. Soon the number of artists working at Frappant grew to 120, concepts about dealing with the structure and the local community prospered, and the place opened up to the public with a cultural program from exhibitions to concerts, workshops, talks and lectures.
At the same time the Senate of Hamburg convinced IKEA to replace the Frappant with what would be their first downtown store, even bigger in dimensions than the relict shopping mall, in an attempt to resolve social problems in Altona through a boost of commerce.
To cut a long story short, soon a heated political discussion about culture versus gentrification divided Hamburg, with a conservative government on one side, Frappant e.V. on the other, and IKEA struggling somewhere in the middle. It resulted in two public referendums, and where the Frappant building stood there is now a blue and yellow box. Ironically it has turned into a social hub rather than a commercial success, people mostly hang out there for cheap meals.
Frappant e.V., the artists association, negotiated a new space with the City Council, a former police barracks in Altona, and continue to cultivate their cross-disciplinary practice as a vibrant network.
The year with Frappant was a pretty wild experience. Not only that finally Danasz Bourski had a studio of their own, set apart from the context of the University of Fine Arts. Parallel to working on our own projects we got involved in the dynamics of the space and the community. Debating with minds from various disciplines, developing and defending alternative urban concepts for the city we lived in, passing the borders of art and diving into politics opened doors that I hardly knew existed. We invested much of our time and took quite some risks, but this also set free a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Frappant also became the subject of my thesis.
In installation my discourse is different to the approach in design … the result is more pure, undiluted by any given parameters. The challenge for me as a designer is to translate this pureness and authenticity back into design …
Q. What got you started no this career route, have you always wanted to create physical objects?
I always loved making objects and never thought of becoming a lawyer. Something that certainly put me on this track at an early stage was LEGO. I was obsessed with it, it empowered me to experiment and create whatever I imagined. What also left a deep impression on me was my favourite children’s book: The House That Beebo Built by Philippe Fix from 1967. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNiz1HUk3Ow). It’s the story of a humble man who inherits an old ruin that he transforms into his own utopia with immense creative resourcefulness. When investors threaten to demolish it and the bulldozers come, he invents an infinite stairway into the sky. I reconstructed those stairs in the video for the TableChair. And more than once the Frappant reminded me of Beebo’s House…
Q. What are you currently working on?
Since 2012 I am working on UWO – Unbekanntes Wohnobjekt (Unknown Interior Object), together with the French artist Cathy Jardon (cathyjardon.eu). Parallel and in close dialogue we create paintings and pieces of furniture that become intrinsically tied to each other or that become even one. Playing on the expectations of art and design the resulting objects are not meant to be contemplated but to be implemented in everyday life, with the user adding the final layer to them. Since UWO dwells on art as well as on design the environment in which the works can be experienced is open. For the last two years we had a traveling exhibition in France and are now planning a show in Berlin.
Another design I’m currently working on is Aki, a shelf system based on brackets. It enables you to combine all kinds of slabs to complex structures without having to modify them. This allows a broad range of material choices that I haven’t fully explored yet. Latest result is a series of sideboards built of marble and other stone.
Q. Do you plan to do any more installation work in the future, or is it open to possibility?
Even though UWO is not initially conceived as installation art I think the boundaries are blurry.
However I’m open to new forms of installation work even though I don’t have any concrete plans at the moment.