Tag Archives: Gstaad

Raphael Hefti: Project 1049

This feature appeared in Dutch translation in the October issue of Metropolis M:

The streets of Gstaad might as well be paved with gold. The main promenade of the exclusive alpine ski resort, which plays host to the international jet set, is lined with designer boutiques and luxury hotels. For a period of three weeks this summer, Swiss artist Raphael Hefti had the pavements of Gstaad and the neighboring Saanen village spray-painted with pulverized Swarovski ‘diamonds’ – to dazzling and quite uncanny effect.

Unveiled on the final weekend of July, this somewhat elusive work was presented as part of the artist-run Project 1049, which Hefti himself initiated, working with a close-knit group of friends and collaborators whom he got to know while studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. During the day, if one stood over the painted stretch of street with one’s back to the sun, an iridescent halo would miraculously appear around one’s shadow, yet only at a certain angle and in direct sunlight. At night, one could still experience the work by torchlight, say, but then a more diffuse prismatic light would envelop one’s hands and whole body, in lieu of the starker two-dimensional rainbow effect centred on the viewer’s head and shoulders in the daytime version.

‘You either see it, or you don’t,’ as Hefti says. ‘I didn’t want anything indicating that it’s an artwork.’ In the absence of any kind of label drawing attention to it, the work could go unnoticed. At a glance, the spray-painted surface looked no different to the rest of the road. So much so that the mother of Gstaad-born curator Olympia Scarry, having stumbled upon the piece in town, thought she had better alert her eye doctor, who had warned her of possible side effects following an operation. ‘I was afraid something was not right with my vision,’ she told Hefti, after repeatedly seeing rainbow reflections when walking around Gstaad.

Hefti relates the anecdote to me in a local bakery over coffee and bread rolls with tiny red-and-white flags sticking out of them, made especially for the Swiss National Day on 1 August. Swiss people are inordinately proud of their streets and how clean they are; nowhere more so than in Gstaad. Getting permission to apply anything to them was no mean feat despite it being an artistic project sponsored by LUMA Foundation with no shortage of local connections. (The founder, Swiss art patron Maja Hoffmann, has a house in Gstaad.) ‘A lot of artworks fail because normally public spaces are no go in Switzerland,’ Hefti assures me. They had to carry out all sorts of tests to show that the work would have no permanent character and to determine how it would behave.

The powers that be were ultimately swayed by the fact that the artist worked closely with companies like SWARCO specializing in reflective road markings made with minute glass beads (Reflexglasperlen in German) added to the striping. Hailing from northern Bohemia, renowned for its high-quality glassware, Daniel Swarovski (1862-1956) and his heirs made their name in the manufacture of precision-cut crystals that looked remarkably like diamonds and other gemstones, refracting light in a rainbow spectrum. In time, their range of products came to include optical instruments, cutting tools, lighting designs, luminous road signals and markings, besides jewelry, fashion accessories and crystal figurines. Though not a subsidiary company, SWARCO was established in 1969 by Manfred Swarovski, one of the founder’s many descendants.

How Hefti came to discover the rainbow effect produced by the tiny high index glass beads that SWARCO has been manufacturing for over 40 years is still another story, told by way of an excursus on glass-making. ‘It took humanity a long time to find out how to make flat glass,’ he pronounces, before launching into a detailed explanation. ‘When it comes to glass pearls, it’s even more high-tech,’ Hefti resumes. ‘You take glass flakes and grind them into a powder, which you put into a vertical oven and heat up with gas at a precise temperature until the powder liquefies. Then the glass collects like rain drops in a cloud, it falls and, paff, you frieze it by pumping cold air into it – and you have the perfect round shape of glass pearls.’

One warm April day, Hefti looked out of his studio in Zurich as road markings were being repainted on the street. He became curious when he saw one of the men spray the freshly-striped lines with powder and asked him what they were doing. The man said he was spraying the surface with glass beads, which reflect the white paint colour when headlights are shone on them at night. Hefti took some of the powder, scattered it directly onto the pavement and suddenly a faint rainbow appeared. When he asked what was going on, he was told this effect can sometimes occur but is considered a fault.

Mistakes such as this are grist to Hefti’s mill. The artist, who trained to be an engineer before studying industrial design and photography, is always on the lookout for what others deem to be production flaws. His own work often comes out of this productive gap. Over the years, Hefti has grown adept at convincing industrial manufacturers that changing a certain factor in the production can yield interesting results. ‘You have to tickle them in the right spot: their pride; you have to challenge them a bit,’ he says.

On this occasion, Hefti visited SWARCO’s reflective glass bead factory in Austria and succeeded in getting them to enlarge the size of glass beads so as to reinforce the rainbow effect. ‘Together we created a whole new line of “pearls”,’ he says proudly. ‘I couldn’t do it myself; they would not do it by themselves,’ he adds. As far as Hefti is concerned, the resulting artwork – titled High Index Beads, refracted and reflected (2016) after SWARCO’s signature product – is a joint effort.

The title points to the unusually high refraction index of said glass beads. Glass has the capacity to refract, reflect and transmit light, not unlike water droplets in what is commonly known as the rainbow. To explain the physics behind the optical illusion, Hefti adduces the image of the crystal ball fortunetellers use to see into the future: if sunlight penetrates it, the ball refracts light and separates it, generating a rainbow effect. But then this refraction is mirrored at the other end of the glass sphere and because it is round, it is reflected back. He concludes: ‘That’s what they are, these glass pearls: tiny little balls, perfectly round, spread on the street where the paint is.’

And how does one account for the fact that you only see your own rainbow-like halo and not your neighbour’s standing beside you? ‘It’s crazy,’ Hefti concedes. ‘I can’t give you an explanation because I don’t understand it yet. It’s also a new work for me.’ Does he think he will remake it elsewhere? ‘I could imagine it as a permanent installation somewhere,’ Hefti ventures. ‘But maybe not; maybe it’s just a gesture.’

The streets of Gstaad might as well be paved with gold. The main promenade of the exclusive alpine ski resort, which plays host to the international jet set, is lined with designer boutiques and luxury hotels. For a period of three weeks this summer, Swiss artist Raphael Hefti had the pavements of Gstaad and the neighboring Saanen village spray-painted with pulverized Swarovski ‘diamonds’ – to dazzling and quite uncanny effect.

Unveiled on the final weekend of July, this somewhat elusive work was presented as part of the artist-run Project 1049, which Hefti himself initiated, working with a close-knit group of friends and collaborators whom he got to know while studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. During the day, if one stood over the painted stretch of street with one’s back to the sun, an iridescent halo would miraculously appear around one’s shadow, yet only at a certain angle and in direct sunlight. At night, one could still experience the work by torchlight, say, but then a more diffuse prismatic light would envelop one’s hands and whole body, in lieu of the starker two-dimensional rainbow effect centred on the viewer’s head and shoulders in the daytime version.

‘You either see it, or you don’t,’ as Hefti says. ‘I didn’t want anything indicating that it’s an artwork.’ In the absence of any kind of label drawing attention to it, the work could go unnoticed. At a glance, the spray-painted surface looked no different to the rest of the road. So much so that the mother of Gstaad-born curator Olympia Scarry, having stumbled upon the piece in town, thought she had better alert her eye doctor, who had warned her of possible side effects following an operation. ‘I was afraid something was not right with my vision,’ she told Hefti, after repeatedly seeing rainbow reflections when walking around Gstaad.

Hefti relates the anecdote to me in a local bakery over coffee and bread rolls with tiny red-and-white flags sticking out of them, made especially for the Swiss National Day on 1 August. Swiss people are inordinately proud of their streets and how clean they are; nowhere more so than in Gstaad. Getting permission to apply anything to them was no mean feat despite it being an artistic project sponsored by LUMA Foundation with no shortage of local connections. (The founder, Swiss art patron Maja Hoffmann, has a house in Gstaad.) ‘A lot of artworks fail because normally public spaces are no go in Switzerland,’ Hefti assures me. They had to carry out all sorts of tests to show that the work would have no permanent character and to determine how it would behave.

The powers that be were ultimately swayed by the fact that the artist worked closely with companies like SWARCO specializing in reflective road markings made with minute glass beads (Reflexglasperlen in German) added to the striping. Hailing from northern Bohemia, renowned for its high-quality glassware, Daniel Swarovski (1862-1956) and his heirs made their name in the manufacture of precision-cut crystals that looked remarkably like diamonds and other gemstones, refracting light in a rainbow spectrum. In time, their range of products came to include optical instruments, cutting tools, lighting designs, luminous road signals and markings, besides jewelry, fashion accessories and crystal figurines. Though not a subsidiary company, SWARCO was established in 1969 by Manfred Swarovski, one of the founder’s many descendants.

How Hefti came to discover the rainbow effect produced by the tiny high index glass beads that SWARCO has been manufacturing for over 40 years is still another story, told by way of an excursus on glass-making. ‘It took humanity a long time to find out how to make flat glass,’ he pronounces, before launching into a detailed explanation. ‘When it comes to glass pearls, it’s even more high-tech,’ Hefti resumes. ‘You take glass flakes and grind them into a powder, which you put into a vertical oven and heat up with gas at a precise temperature until the powder liquefies. Then the glass collects like rain drops in a cloud, it falls and, paff, you frieze it by pumping cold air into it – and you have the perfect round shape of glass pearls.’

One warm April day, Hefti looked out of his studio in Zurich as road markings were being repainted on the street. He became curious when he saw one of the men spray the freshly-striped lines with powder and asked him what they were doing. The man said he was spraying the surface with glass beads, which reflect the white paint colour when headlights are shone on them at night. Hefti took some of the powder, scattered it directly onto the pavement and suddenly a faint rainbow appeared. When he asked what was going on, he was told this effect can sometimes occur but is considered a fault.

Mistakes such as this are grist to Hefti’s mill. The artist, who trained to be an engineer before studying industrial design and photography, is always on the lookout for what others deem to be production flaws. His own work often comes out of this productive gap. Over the years, Hefti has grown adept at convincing industrial manufacturers that changing a certain factor in the production can yield interesting results. ‘You have to tickle them in the right spot: their pride; you have to challenge them a bit,’ he says.

On this occasion, Hefti visited SWARCO’s reflective glass bead factory in Austria and succeeded in getting them to enlarge the size of glass beads so as to reinforce the rainbow effect. ‘Together we created a whole new line of “pearls”,’ he says proudly. ‘I couldn’t do it myself; they would not do it by themselves,’ he adds. As far as Hefti is concerned, the resulting artwork – titled High Index Beads, refracted and reflected (2016) after SWARCO’s signature product – is a joint effort.

The title points to the unusually high refraction index of said glass beads. Glass has the capacity to refract, reflect and transmit light, not unlike water droplets in what is commonly known as the rainbow. To explain the physics behind the optical illusion, Hefti adduces the image of the crystal ball fortunetellers use to see into the future: if sunlight penetrates it, the ball refracts light and separates it, generating a rainbow effect. But then this refraction is mirrored at the other end of the glass sphere and because it is round, it is reflected back. He concludes: ‘That’s what they are, these glass pearls: tiny little balls, perfectly round, spread on the street where the paint is.’

And how does one account for the fact that you only see your own rainbow-like halo and not your neighbour’s standing beside you? ‘It’s crazy,’ Hefti concedes. ‘I can’t give you an explanation because I don’t understand it yet. It’s also a new work for me.’ Does he think he will remake it elsewhere? ‘I could imagine it as a permanent installation somewhere,’ Hefti ventures. ‘But maybe not; maybe it’s just a gesture.’

The streets of Gstaad might as well be paved with gold. The main promenade of the exclusive alpine ski resort, which plays host to the international jet set, is lined with designer boutiques and luxury hotels. For a period of three weeks this summer, Swiss artist Raphael Hefti had the pavements of Gstaad and the neighboring Saanen village spray-painted with pulverized Swarovski ‘diamonds’ – to dazzling and quite uncanny effect.

Unveiled on the final weekend of July, this somewhat elusive work was presented as part of the artist-run Project 1049, which Hefti himself initiated, working with a close-knit group of friends and collaborators whom he got to know while studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. During the day, if one stood over the painted stretch of street with one’s back to the sun, an iridescent halo would miraculously appear around one’s shadow, yet only at a certain angle and in direct sunlight. At night, one could still experience the work by torchlight, say, but then a more diffuse prismatic light would envelop one’s hands and whole body, in lieu of the starker two-dimensional rainbow effect centred on the viewer’s head and shoulders in the daytime version.

‘You either see it, or you don’t,’ as Hefti says. ‘I didn’t want anything indicating that it’s an artwork.’ In the absence of any kind of label drawing attention to it, the work could go unnoticed. At a glance, the spray-painted surface looked no different to the rest of the road. So much so that the mother of Gstaad-born curator Olympia Scarry, having stumbled upon the piece in town, thought she had better alert her eye doctor, who had warned her of possible side effects following an operation. ‘I was afraid something was not right with my vision,’ she told Hefti, after repeatedly seeing rainbow reflections when walking around Gstaad.

Hefti relates the anecdote to me in a local bakery over coffee and bread rolls with tiny red-and-white flags sticking out of them, made especially for the Swiss National Day on 1 August. Swiss people are inordinately proud of their streets and how clean they are; nowhere more so than in Gstaad. Getting permission to apply anything to them was no mean feat despite it being an artistic project sponsored by LUMA Foundation with no shortage of local connections. (The founder, Swiss art patron Maja Hoffmann, has a house in Gstaad.) ‘A lot of artworks fail because normally public spaces are no go in Switzerland,’ Hefti assures me. They had to carry out all sorts of tests to show that the work would have no permanent character and to determine how it would behave.

The powers that be were ultimately swayed by the fact that the artist worked closely with companies like SWARCO specializing in reflective road markings made with minute glass beads (Reflexglasperlen in German) added to the striping. Hailing from northern Bohemia, renowned for its high-quality glassware, Daniel Swarovski (1862-1956) and his heirs made their name in the manufacture of precision-cut crystals that looked remarkably like diamonds and other gemstones, refracting light in a rainbow spectrum. In time, their range of products came to include optical instruments, cutting tools, lighting designs, luminous road signals and markings, besides jewelry, fashion accessories and crystal figurines. Though not a subsidiary company, SWARCO was established in 1969 by Manfred Swarovski, one of the founder’s many descendants.

How Hefti came to discover the rainbow effect produced by the tiny high index glass beads that SWARCO has been manufacturing for over 40 years is still another story, told by way of an excursus on glass-making. ‘It took humanity a long time to find out how to make flat glass,’ he pronounces, before launching into a detailed explanation. ‘When it comes to glass pearls, it’s even more high-tech,’ Hefti resumes. ‘You take glass flakes and grind them into a powder, which you put into a vertical oven and heat up with gas at a precise temperature until the powder liquefies. Then the glass collects like rain drops in a cloud, it falls and, paff, you frieze it by pumping cold air into it – and you have the perfect round shape of glass pearls.’

One warm April day, Hefti looked out of his studio in Zurich as road markings were being repainted on the street. He became curious when he saw one of the men spray the freshly-striped lines with powder and asked him what they were doing. The man said he was spraying the surface with glass beads, which reflect the white paint colour when headlights are shone on them at night. Hefti took some of the powder, scattered it directly onto the pavement and suddenly a faint rainbow appeared. When he asked what was going on, he was told this effect can sometimes occur but is considered a fault.

Mistakes such as this are grist to Hefti’s mill. The artist, who trained to be an engineer before studying industrial design and photography, is always on the lookout for what others deem to be production flaws. His own work often comes out of this productive gap. Over the years, Hefti has grown adept at convincing industrial manufacturers that changing a certain factor in the production can yield interesting results. ‘You have to tickle them in the right spot: their pride; you have to challenge them a bit,’ he says.

On this occasion, Hefti visited SWARCO’s reflective glass bead factory in Austria and succeeded in getting them to enlarge the size of glass beads so as to reinforce the rainbow effect. ‘Together we created a whole new line of “pearls”,’ he says proudly. ‘I couldn’t do it myself; they would not do it by themselves,’ he adds. As far as Hefti is concerned, the resulting artwork – titled High Index Beads, refracted and reflected (2016) after SWARCO’s signature product – is a joint effort.

The title points to the unusually high refraction index of said glass beads. Glass has the capacity to refract, reflect and transmit light, not unlike water droplets in what is commonly known as the rainbow. To explain the physics behind the optical illusion, Hefti adduces the image of the crystal ball fortunetellers use to see into the future: if sunlight penetrates it, the ball refracts light and separates it, generating a rainbow effect. But then this refraction is mirrored at the other end of the glass sphere and because it is round, it is reflected back. He concludes: ‘That’s what they are, these glass pearls: tiny little balls, perfectly round, spread on the street where the paint is.’

And how does one account for the fact that you only see your own rainbow-like halo and not your neighbour’s standing beside you? ‘It’s crazy,’ Hefti concedes. ‘I can’t give you an explanation because I don’t understand it yet. It’s also a new work for me.’ Does he think he will remake it elsewhere? ‘I could imagine it as a permanent installation somewhere,’ Hefti ventures. ‘But maybe not; maybe it’s just a gesture.’

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