San Francisco/Mission – He has been on our radar for quite a while, but it was hard to pin him down face-to-face. We recently got the chance to talk to the multi-faceted artist/designer/architect Linus Gruszewski in his new base in San Francisco. We discussed his exploration of the boundaries between art and architecture, ice deserts, and the ethereal installations he’s created over the last few years. Read more about this reflective young man, his impressive portfolio and what he is passionate about.
Linus, great to meet you “in real life” and get the chance to talk to you about some of your projects and ideas. You grew up in a very creative, multi-disciplinary household – how has your upbringing influenced your work?
I grew up between building sites and art studios. Some of my earliest memories are the smell of oil paint and of the metallic sparks of an angle grinder chomping through steel. Home was always a workspace too, and having an artist and an architect for parents meant that the interstices between the disciplines have always been part of my world.
You studied architecture in France and Australia, interned in several architecture firms, but also spent a year assisting the German artist Markus Hansen and worked with several other photographers and contemporary artists. How did you cross the border between architecture and art, and why?
I don’t think there is a hard border between them, wonder who would patrol such a frontier… My interest is – in the most general sense – in the impact space has on people, and the impact people have on space. This is as much of a concern for artists, architects, set designers, dancers…
There is something fascinating about borders though. Did you know that the longest land border France shares with any of its neighbours is with Australia? Terre Adélie, the sliver of Antarctica claimed by the French, is wedged in between two segments of Australian Antarctic Territory. There is a delineation between the two territories which stretches some 5200 km.
Is this a case of the map being more interesting than the territory?
Haven’t had a chance to go to Antarctica yet, but as a French Australian, I feel a strong emotional connection with the idea of this glacial desert joining two of the most distant places on earth.
Sounds like a good basis for a project!
What sort of work has influenced you lately?
I was reading about the Oblomov Foundation the other day, which was an art prize created by Maurizio Cattelan to reward a contemporary artist for not showing their work for an entire year. He raised ten thousand Euros in funding and shortlisted several artists for the prize, but ended up awarding it to himself and spent the money to move to New York.
So you’re interested in conceptual art at the moment?
Certainly, but I’m also really moved by installation, sculpture, and some works of architecture. What keeps coming up is Lawrence Weiner’s famous line about “fucking up people’s’ reality”. I think we’ve all had moments when a work of art has done that to us. For instance entering Anish Kapoor’s Leviathan, which was an enormous inflatable structure set up in the Grand Palais in Paris. It was black and rubbery on the outside, very monolithic and opaque, upon entering however, the membrane became pink, and the shadows from the steel latticework of the glass canopy above feel like lace. The muscular exterior feels so much more sensual from within.
Was it Kapoor who sparked your interest in inflatable structures?
Always been fascinated by hot air balloons, parachutes and all those highly rational silk structures. In architecture school I was lucky enough to take part in several studios run by Hans-Walter Müller, one of the pioneers of inflatable architecture. He exposed us to a discipline between sailmaking, installation and architecture. Working with plastic films, fabric, rubber, turning a flat sheet of material into a dynamic, immersive space. Kapoor brought out the seamstress in me.
What did you make?
There had been a lot of discussion among designers about boycotting the use of plastic. Some plastics are virtually indestructible, yet we use things like plastic bags for something like half an hour on average. My grandmother used to wash plastic bags and hang them out to dry, they must have had three or four bags in the house at the time … these days, it seems that everyone collects bags under the sink, but never really uses them. So I raided my friends’ cupboards and found eight hundred and seventy polyethylene checkout bags.
That’s a very precise number…
Apparently, the embodied energy in 8.7 bags could propel a car for one kilometre. So I wondered what could be made from the equivalent of 100 kilometre.
The bags were fused together to form an airtight bubble, which looks grey and heavy on the outside, but translucent and ethereal inside. I was interested in the way this volume interacts with its surroundings, creating an interior space which reflects the exterior constraints through the geometric interplay of air/solid, rectilinear/curvilinear and through the translucency of the material. The colours inside sublimate the petrochemical provenance of the material, like an oil slick on the tarmac.
100 km, polyethylene bags and domestic fan
What is the importance of using recuperated materials?
Apart from the fact that I was flat broke when I built this? One of the driving forces behind this project was a desire to make use of “poor materials”, which are so ubiquitous in our lives, and transform them into a space for congregation and contemplation. Hopefully the space is more than the sum of it’s parts.
It is also ephemeral, and can be deflated, packed into a single plastic bag, along with the fan, and deployed in a new location.
You describe this work as a space rather than an installation or a piece of sculpture, would you call it architecture?
From primitive tents to inflatable concert halls and hospitals, to the Lunar Module, the membrane is the frontier between man’s environment and Outside. Fabric is the basis of architecture. Hi-Tech, Lo-Tech or Crap-Tech.
What sort of experience are you trying to provide through the space?
Trying not to be too prescriptive, and imposing a particular reading, but I hope the playful nature of the material, the haptic relationship that we have with the space will delight and challenge our spatial perception. In the Anemone space, one navigates through a sea of mylar pillars, which react to movement and bend towards the user.
This was also an experiment in non-representation: designing by doing, rather than drawing. No plans or 3d models were produced for this project, the ultimate test was challenging the structure with my own bodyweight. Trial and error. Body over mind.
Is this also the case with your experimental furniture projects?
Yes, the inflatable furniture came from the challenge of supporting a person’s weight on a balloon. If I sit on a balloon, it explodes, and I fall to the ground. But by constraining a number of balloons within a membrane, and sucking out all the air between the balloons, they form cells of air, and are able to withstand much greater loads. That was how AirCube came about: filling a clear plastic pouch with three hundred balloons and vacuuming out all the air to pull the balloons together.
Aircube, latex balloons, pvc membrane
So if that is your chair, what does your desk look like?
I use an old door as my table, it has been invaded by an enormous philodendron. Piles of books and bike parts lying around, as well as an industrial quantity of San Pellegrino bottles, because hipsterism is all about fetish.
Scandalous! Thank you for your time with us. We are excited to follow your next steps!
More about this young vagabond and his projects here: