Netzwerke des Wissens – Networks of Knowledge – by Annette Sauermann

About the artist

The Essen-born artist Annette Sauermann, now in her adopted home city of Aachen, specializes in creating "areas of light" and sculptures made of concrete, paper, light filters and plexiglass. She has been a regular contributor to international exhibitions in Europe and in the USA since 1990. An additional focus of her creativity has been a number of large-format and contextual works in public spaces, which she has developed as part of art and building projects.

One such project is the "Netzwerke des Wissens – Networks of Knowledge", the two impressive light installations which light up the facades of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT and the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT in a range of colors, shapes and intensities.  

Ideas in the context of the institutes

Interview with Annette Sauermann

Fraunhofer: Thank you for taking the time to speak to us, Frau Sauermann, you have created two works of art for the newly constructed Fraunhofer ILT and Fraunhofer IPT buildings reflecting the nature of the work carried out at each of the two institutes – what do the "Networks of Knowledge" represent?

Annette Sauermann: I always like to develop my ideas for art and building projects using their context as a starting point. So the "Networks of Knowledge" relate to the structure and style of each of the two institutes. In this particular project, the underlying themes were light, which plays an important role in both institutes and connected, adaptive production. The analogy between connected operating processes and the image of a pulsating neural network immediately sprang to mind. I see the network graphics as an abstract picture of a neural network.  

Fraunhofer: And how do you think the engineers on the other side of the facade interpret your work?

Annette Sauermann: I consciously structure my artwork in such a way as to give others the opportunity to interpret it in their own way and to develop their own ideas. People identify with my work in their own, individual way, depending partly on the context and it offers onlookers a canvas for personal reflection. Human imagination knows no boundaries.

Fraunhofer: How do the networks of art fit into your other creative work?

Annette Sauermann: Like all of my art related to construction projects, "Netzwerke - Networks" are completely new, developed from scratch with this particular site in mind. All of the important conceptual elements which characterize my work are included. Light, for example, is pivotal to all of my work and natural and artificial light alternate to take center-stage. However, there is one thing I had previously never done; that is to work with graphic elements.                                 

Fraunhofer: What materials do you use in your artwork?

Annette Sauermann: In principle, the materials I always work with, even in my sculptures, are everyday materials such as concrete, plexiglass or light filters like those used in the film industry. This project is the first in which I have worked directly with the architecture. Initially, I had parts of the glass from the façade processed in several stages to bring out various light effects, both in daylight and by night. At this point, the focus, of course, is on the technology, that is to say the light system, which is highly complex in itself.

Fraunhofer: How significant are color, the layout of the lines and material?

Annette Sauermann: I developed the layout of the network lines based on the context in which they appear. On the Fraunhofer ILT building, the lines are straight and in perspective, reflecting the straight course of the laser beam into infinity. The color, of course, relates to the red helium neon laser. At the Fraunhofer IPT, the lines circle denoting the grinding and material removal processes which are frequently the subjects of discussion and development here. These operations appeared not to be associated with any color so my original intention was to use only white, as the color which contains every other color in the spectrum. However, in the course of the creative process I decided to integrate a short green-blue sequence in order to increase the range of possible variations.

Fraunhofer: What technology is involved?

Annette Sauermann: The light system comprising 410 LED chains with 6560 LED modules does not simply light up the network lines at random but is connected with the internal computer networks at the two institutes. As a result, the system receives impulses in the form of data from various sources. I draw on the number of users who are logged in, internet-traffic and other data generated from network traffic within the institutes as a basis for the selection and activity of various light scenes which we had previously developed. Additionally, the data influence the speed, duration, nature and frequency of the occurrence of the light scenes whose brightness is regulated in accordance with the daylight.

Fraunhofer: What sort of service providers and suppliers are required in order to create a work of art of this nature?

Annette Sauermann: Initially I worked with one company which specialized in constructional glass. I subsequently involved a glass processing supplier and a specialist in LED engineering who not only has the standard industrial know-how but is also familiar with the implementation of artistic concepts.

Fraunhofer: How does this sort of collaboration work? Were there any particularly challenging moments?

Annette Sauermann: Throughout the entire time, there was close and trusting cooperation between myself, the three companies involved, the users and the building owner. However, some challenges did arise, for example the fact that the architect had planned the areas of glass as opaque areas without back-lighting in a certain RAL-tone in dark grey and white. But backlighting makes this type of glass semi-transparent, which would have meant that the supporting structure would have become visible. So we were continuously confronted with the question as to how we were going to get the special areas of glass required for the art work with a diverse range of digital printing cycles, center lines and sand blasting to look exactly the same from the front as the industrial glass with its straightforward coating. Anyone who has mixed paints and tried to mix exactly the same color tone twice will appreciate just how difficult this undertaking was. A number of specialists including a glass foundry and a company which works with ceramic glass colors achieved excellent results.

Fraunhofer: Did everything work out as you had planned from the beginning?

Annette Sauermann: Yes, on the whole it did. Of course a lot of water passes under the bridge between the initial idea to the final handover and in that time, I was able to optimize a number of details and had to deal with unforeseeable new problems. But now we – that is to say all the project partners and myself – are very pleased with the outcome.

Fraunhofer: How long did the whole project take?

Annette Sauermann: The competition was put out to tender in mid-August 2013 and the opening ceremony was at the end of February 2015 – so a good 18 months.

Fraunhofer: And how much of that was art and how much of it was more like project management?

Annette Sauermann: In some phases there was indeed very little that could be described directly as art except of course for the fact that I had to keep an eye on the artistic aspects. Ultimately, it is vital to ensure that the numerous other requirements such as safety or costs do not dominate at the expense of art, which can then no longer have the desired effect.

Fraunhofer: How did you integrate the art into the architectural concept? At what point did you become involved in the building activities?

Annette Sauermann: Not until the competition was put out to tender – at which point the work planning was already complete. From my point of view as an artist, it would of course have been more advantageous to have been involved at an earlier stage – in the planning phase.    

Fraunhofer: How did the institutes and building owners react to your design? Was everything that was implemented, planned exactly like that from the very beginning?

Annette Sauermann: They were really enthusiastic about the fact that my designs for this project were based on the mission statements and work contents of the institutes. Naturally the graphics underwent further development once the result of the competition had been announced but these were artistic processes over which I had complete control. Essentially, the design had been finalized by the time it was submitted.

Fraunhofer: How do those inside the institutes feel about the art works now?

Annette Sauermann: So far, most of the feedback I have received has of course been from the people with whom I am in direct contact in one way or another: Directors and those involved in the project such as the members of the IT groups from both buildings who helped to develop the links to the internal networks and the technicians in both institutes. Most of them have expressed great interest in the project, with some saying that they get a real buzz out of it which I find very gratifying.

Fraunhofer: Have you had any feedback from parties not directly involved?

Annette Sauermann: That has been unequivocal: Everyone so far who has seen the networks from outside the buildings, and there have been plenty of visitors, has reacted very positively. Their popularity is demonstrated by the large number of car and photography enthusiasts who come round after work in order to take photos either of the art works themselves or, amusingly, of their lamborghinis in front of them.  But even professional photographers who are familiar with this type of art have praised it very highly, citing the fact that it is the first art work of its kind.

Fraunhofer: An finally – Was it important to you personally to install your art work here in Aachen?

Annette Sauermann: It was a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to undertake a project of this nature right on my own doorstep so to speak. And of course it was particularly exciting have the new campus as the location because so much will change here in the next few years. It would be wonderful if this project were to give rise to follow-on projects, creating a whole new campus environment.

Fraunhofer: Thenk you very much for this interview Ms Sauermann. We wish you every success in your creative work in general and in expanding your project portfolio here in Aachen!