Tag Archives: Raphael Hefti

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.’

Private Eyes

This report from the 4th artgeneve appeared on artforum.com:

Left: Dealer Massimo Minini and Andrea Bellini, director of the Centre d’Art Contemporain Geneve. Right: One of the spinners in Ahmet Ogut’s Fair Wage. (All photos: Agnieszka Gratza)

CONVENIENTLY LOCATED FOR THE CITY AIRPORT, if not much else, artgenève is a ten-minute walk from the arrival gate. Though styled as a salon d’art, there is nothing salon-like about the vast complex known as Palexpo—short for Palais des Expositions et des Congrès—that has housed the fair since its inception.

Now in its fourth edition, artgenève prides itself on being more intimate and “human-scale” than most fairs. For one thing, the number of exhibiting galleries is capped at seventy. These share the floor with private groups like The Syz Collection, local institutions, and nonprofit spaces, whose aim it is to show work rather than sell it. According to artgenève director Thomas Hug, this mix of commercial and noncommercial spaces has been there right from the start. “There are more things around which are not for sale this year,” one of the performers in Ahmet Ögüt’s Fair Wage for a Made Up Job told me. She and three other performers worked in shifts to spin portable monitors showing Ögüt’s film Sign Spinners for an hourly wage of fifty Swiss francs, exactly what the director of the fair is paid, not counting expenses and various other perks.

There was also an ambitious but underattended public program curated by Joanna Warsza and produced by the artist duo Lou Cantor. Kolja Gläser, one half of Lou Cantor, used to run a gallery in Berlin with Hug called COMA (Center for Opinions in Music and Art). A pianist by training, Hug is passionate about music and “artgenève-musique”—framed as a conversation between art and music—is his pet project. As the second day of curated talks was winding down, a group of us headed to the nearby Villa Sarasin in time for some bubbly served in the Villa’s lobby, speeches, and performances by Anri Sala as well as the Swiss M/2 collective that could be heard from behind walls and closed doors.

Left: Artist Raphael Hefti. Right: Artist Ernie Gehr.

By then it was high time to head to the opening for Raphael Hefti, veteran filmmaker Ernie Gehr, and artist-in-residence Alfredo Aceto at the Centre d’Art Contemporain, a train ride away from the Geneva airport which I’d barely left. There in the dark, curtained space where Gehr’s mirrored images of misty rivers and strolling shadows were being projected on multiple screens in a retrospective of the artist’s digital works, I stumbled upon Bruce Haines, director of London gallery Ancient & Modern, who introduced me to Hefti.

The last time I visited the Centre, John Armleder gave me a circumstantial account of his brief sojourn in prison as a conscientious objector. Now it was Hefti’s turn to relate how pressing the wrong button on a radar-controlled device landed him with a five-year criminal record. The accident, which caused his car to blow up with all his equipment in it, would have been bad enough in and of itself. But it happened to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos and the firemen felt obliged to call in the terror unit. A long story to explain why the artist, who is about to begin a residency in Soho, has not been allowed to travel to the States these past few years.

Snapshots of NYC’s busy squares and streets, in a complex interplay of digital images, one lodged inside another, were displayed all around the space as if to taunt us. These works demand and reward sustained viewing, but it was getting late and dinner at the Cercle des Bains beckoned. Luckily, I was sat next to Gehr. Over wine—selected for us by “Président” Pierre Keller who presides over the Office des Vins Vaudois as well as the Fondation du Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève—we talked about New York, the city where Gehr has lived since 1965, and Harry Houdini, whose feats he strives to emulate with his own insubstantial acts of magic. “I don’t make things that are commodities,” he confided.

Left: Kolja Gläser of Lou Cantor and composer/conductor Ari Benjamin Meyers. Right: Curator Joanna Warsza, artist Alexandra Pirici, and Jozefina Chetko.

Commodities and valuables, things one can put a price tag on, were the order of the following day. The afternoon kicked off with a visit to Pictet & Cie, one of the oldest Swiss private banks, which houses a fine, if necessarily subdued, collection of modern and contemporary art firmly focused on Swiss artists. More daring stuff by the likes of Pipilotti Rist was to be seen, hung salon-style on every available wall surface, in the home of the mother and son collectors Jocelyne and Fabrice Petignat.

A brisk tour of The Neon Parallax project (drifting snow is hardly an ideal condition for viewing neon signs placed on top of buildings) and several visits to anonymous contemporary art/design collections later, dealer Jose Castafial told me, over a martini, that the fair’s branding itself as a salon fits in perfectly with Geneva’s image as a “private city.” It’s the city of private banks, private dealers, private collectors. “People like to keep things secret,” he said. “Look at the VIP program. They give you an address but never the collector’s name.”

We were at Le Verre à Monique—a self-styled saloon serving cocktails in teapots and cups—where Esther Schipper (whose spare booth won my vote for the best gallery presentation at the fair) hosted its party that evening. Schipper herself was not in Geneva. Armleder, that Genevan institution, may not have been physically present either but he was with us in spirit, via limited-edition watches gracing the wrists of collectors like Manuel Emch and certainly at the Temple de la Fusterie, where everyone headed after for the artgenève bash. His son, Stephan Armleder (aka the Genevan Heathen) of Villa Magica Records, was DJing that night.

Left: Dealers Julia Dziumla and Bruce Haines of Ancient & Modern, London. Right: Watchmaker Manuel Emch and curator Nicolas Trembley.

An eagerly anticipated excursion to CERN the next morning, organized as part of Warsza’s program, turned out to be something of a letdown. After sitting through a particle-physics-for-dummies lecture delivered in scientific English, the artgenève group was whisked off to the Atlas Experiment site only to be told that we would not be able to access the tunnel, which was about to be closed off to the public as scientists gear up for the second three-year run of the Large Hadron Collider. We had to content ourselves with a virtual 3D tour and yet more lecturing.

By the time we left, my head was abuzz with talk of protons, neutrons, electrons, and quarks. Back at Palexpo, the founder of arts@CERN, Ariane Koek, talked to us about artists, filmmakers, choreographers, and fashion designers moved by particle theory, who got to hang out at CERN with no expectations thanks to her residencies program. The end results, which ranged from kidnapping scientists to creating a fashion collection inspired by magnetic fields to turning the Collider into a musical instrument, struck me as lacking the simplicity of artist Gianni Motti’s own gambit.

In 2005, long before arts@CERN was set up, Motti walked the length of the seventeen-mile LHC tunnel where protons are accelerated. Documented on film in a single tracking shot, the five-and-a-half-hour long action was continually projected on four monitors dotted round the artgenève salon. The artist’s quest to transform himself into a particle continues with the planned sequel to Higgs: In Search of the Anti-Motti, something only Motti could dream up. But in this matter I have been sworn to secrecy.

Left: Artist Gianni Motti. Right: Inside the Atlas Experiment at CERN.