Ralfonso “Ralf” Gschwend is a Swiss designer of large environmentally interactive, kinetic, light and sound sculptures. As a kinetic artist he has pushed the boundaries of traditional, static art forms to introduce visual experiences through the interaction with the environment such as wind, light and water.
He is an award winner of the Beijing City Sculpture Competition 2007 and a winner in the “Contest of Landscape Sculpture Designs for Beijing 2008 Olympic Games”. His wind sculpture “Dance with the Wind” – 33 ft (10m) tall – was commissioned and permanently installed at the Olympic Park in Beijing, the People’s Republic of China (China) in 2008.
With his passion for Kinetic Art, he cofounded the Kinetic Art Organization (KAO) in 2001 with a German and a US fellow Kinetic Artist. Now, with more than 1000 members in over 60 countries KAO has become the largest kinetic art organization in the world. www.kinetic-art.org
Please tell us about what inspires you in your work?
My passion for this particular niche of sculptural art started very early. Even as a very young boy I was always fascinated with engineering, mechanics and design. From this fascination I started to design objects and sculptures that have a motion component. I am inspired by nature, by the shape and natural interaction of all the elements. So my sculptures gently move with the wind, the water, or when pushed by hand.
I believe that the art experience should be an active continuous exchange and discovery between art and viewer. So instead of a passive, static and one-sided viewing, I strongly believe it should be a dynamic interaction where the art and the viewer change, react and interact. With this quest for dynamic interaction and discovery, I now have started to design sculptures that can be viewed through social media – SMS, Internet, Smart Apps – locally and from all over the world. See as an example the EX STRATA sculpture in Beijing and the Netherlands at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OWX2_ksSwU
Who are your clients?
Clients for my large, site-specific public sculptures are mostly cities, such as our current UNION kinetic sculpture group project with the City of Orlando or Cities like Beijing, Zhengzhou, Wuhu, etc.
The second largest group of clients are developers of large, master planned developments, such as the Mass Transit Railway corporation (MTR) in China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region or large corporations, such as the RBI Holding in the Russian Federation, or the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line Corporation in the USA.
The third group of clients are Universities such as the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics at Stony Brook in New York, the Tsinghua University in Beijing, or the University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands (NHL) where we are now developing a new internet and smart phone interactive
Light sculpture called EX STRATA III that will connect with the EX STRATA at Tsinghua University.
Lastly, I am starting to design much smaller sculptures, in the 60 cm to 3 m range for a few private clients who have commissioned me to design site specific sculptures for their gardens or homes.
Do you collaborate with other artists to make your art pieces or do you create them all from A to Z? I would love to collaborate with other artists, students and scientists, especially if they come from different disciplines.
From conception to the engineering and the achievement of the prototype I work on my own. I make the small sculptures, however for the larger size sculptures, once my little prototype is fine-tuned, I commission different Chinese companies which I have been collaborating with for the past ten years. We collaborate in synergy and I am always happy to receive suggestions from my Chinese colleagues on my original plan.
In China, people are flexible, curious, show a genuine interest for any type of art and are always open to learn new methods of work. Once a piece of art is done, it is shipped to the client.
How long can the entire process take from the conception to the final touch?
I am an intuitive person and sometimes I visualize the concept immediately, sometimes it takes weeks or months to finalize it. There are still some projects that I have started years ago waiting for me to find the “missing” element and to be finalized.
Life and art in motionWhat are your plans for the future? For me, life is about movements and interactions. Art is a way of life. I am extremely fortunate as my art brings me to see amazing places around the world, meet wonderful people and make new friends.
I am constantly exploring different approaches and methods. As an artist my goal is to push the envelope of interactive and dynamic public art, whether with sculptures that connect universities and cities via interactive art or by creating visual and audio feedback loops between the art and the viewer.
In order to explore this “bleeding edge” in design, materials and opportunities, I have worked with students at various technical Universities, such as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) and the Ecole poly technique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, and currently with the University of Applied Sciences (NHL) in the Netherlands. I really would like to do much more interaction with students for my projects, as it is a wonderful learning experience allowing me to discover new techniques.
This year, during the month of November, I will teach the very first Kinetic Art class in China, at the Tsinghua University. I believe kinetic art can make a major contribution and positive difference in the education of young people, especially if the learning is multidisciplinary.
This will be a new challenging experience at a cultural, personal and professional level for me. Teaching is also about interaction and learning to adapt to different audiences.
I am also currently discussing with large urban developers for the benefits of a master- planned strategic public art implementation approach. Here our concept is, to provide an overall art plan for completely novel and interactive art experiences for the visitors, residents, tenants of their large developments. So this calls much more for an overall curatorial and art master planning approach than the design of a single piece. As president of the KAO, I know most of the artists around the world that do this kind of contemporary kinetic and interactive art, so it is a great pleasure to be able to help create a thematic and harmonious approach to the art pieces in a new city or mixed use development, rather than the piecemeal approach so often seen.
Where can one admire your work?
My sculptures have so far been exhibited or permanently installed in Switzerland, The Netherlands, the Russian Federation, China, Germany, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), France and the USA.
My recent exhibitions include: “Art in Motion” in the Netherlands; “Ralfonso Kinetic Art” in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation; “MomentuM”, Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey, USA; the Changchun International Sculpture Park, China; the Inaugural Exhibition at Cuadro Gallery in Dubai, UAE, the Wuhu International Sculpture Park, China, etc.
Currently you can join us at the open air sculptures exhibition “Mouvement et Lumière” until 3 November 2013 at the “Centre d’art contemporain Frank Popper” in Marcigny, France.
As an artist you are also involved in a charity cause.
Yes, every year I create a sculpture and donate it to “The Sabrina Children’s Foundation” based in Geneva. The Foundation was created to provide support to children who suffer from cancer and their families through various initiatives. In 2010 the “Sabrina” sculpture was auctioned in Geneva for 24,000 Swiss francs, which I was really happy about. I am glad to work with charity causes, if I am asked.
Among all your work, what is your favorite piece?
The next one! My life is a quest for discovery. It is art that takes me on a life-long journey leading me to new places, new friends and new opportunities.