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Neutralized art: Olaf Probst on his work “more or less” in the new MLZ buildings
“More or Less” is the name of the sculpture Olaf Probst created for the new MLZ buildings. In an interview, the artist tells us what inspired him to create his work and where the greatest challenges laid.
Your sculpture “more or less” was created within the framework of “Kunst am Bau” (art in construction). In this context, the state, as the building owner, budgets a certain proportion of the building sum for works of art. How did the contact with the MLZ come about?
In this case, it was a closed competition. That is, the jury selected possible participants who were invited. I have known for a long time the chairman of the jury, Prof. Dr. Bernhart Schwenk who heads the collection and exhibition area of contemporary art at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. Two other jury members, Sabrina Hohmann and Heribert Heindl, knew my work as well. All of them knew that I am also open to projects related to science.
How did you prevail over the proposals of the other six applicants?
Frankly I was amazed that I won. My idea was quite radical. All the other proposals involved were to be on the facade – mine was the only one that would be in the room. In the end, I think the clarity of my project was the deciding factor, along with a very visual description of the production processes with a good model.
What inspired you to create your sculpture?
As part of the competition, there is a colloquium at the beginning. The clients, architects, and users are invited to a site inspection. This consisted of visiting an excavation pit. But behind it I saw the beautiful Atomic Egg, which is quite a visual spectacle.
The sculpture "more or less" by Olaf Probst in the new MLZ buildings © Valentin Wormbs
Did the tour of the site help you come up with the ideas?
I took home a puzzle: What can I do there? What happens at the neutron source is also a big mystery to me. I’m not completely blank on physics, but I still like to be an analog person. If you understand something, you understand it physically in the truest sense. What is examined and measured at the MLZ only becomes visible through various instruments and has to be translated by experts. That’s also how I wanted to make something visible.
How did you intend to make the actually invisible neutrons visible?
I like to approach things conceptually and take terms literally. My entire work always has to do with language. Here I took my cue from the term “neutron.” The neutron is electrically neutral, so I also wanted to make something neutral. As an artist, I can use shapes, materials, colors, and arrangements to do that. As for the shape, I transitioned a square into a circle for the modules. Therefore, it is neither circle nor square, but merging continuously, virtually a null number. The material used is neither high-grade nor low-grade. It is medium-grade. A neutral plastic, recyclable even. And the color is gray, exactly between white and black. Also, due to the way it’s made, the modules are slightly rough on the outside and smooth on the inside. I didn’t anticipate that at all, but I’m extremely happy about it now. So, there is another neutralization.
How was your experience in the collaboration with MLZ?
Artistically, I was completely free, which was really great. When I presented my work internally, I didn’t like my title yet. That’s why I launched an internal search competition. Anyone with a great title should get in touch. In the end, the title “more or less” came about through discussions with colleagues.
It was clear from the beginning that I would not be able to mount the sculptures until after the final construction cleaning, when there would be no more dust. But the locking brackets into which the columns are hooked had to be placed early on. That meant I was also on site a few times during the construction process, coordinating with the construction manager, the locksmith, and the technical assistant.
Also, I thought it was great how proactively Anke Görg from the MLZ press office approached me to create a brochure about my artwork.
Were there any particular challenges for you?
In terms of transport and assembly, I didn’t know beforehand whether it would really work. I’m glad that I ultimately stored and assembled the modules individually. That way I could be much more flexible. To see everything that was first pure speculation, thoughts, gestures in the air, and then a few sketches on paper actually taking shape and working was very exciting: the greatest satisfaction.
With the manufacturing and materials I have entered completely new territory. Overall, the sculptures are very independent and unique within my work. I am particularly proud of this.
Olaf Probst: About the artist
Olaf Probst was born in Stuttgart in 1962 and lives in Munich. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Stuttgart and received numerous scholarships. His focus is on drawings, sculptures, and currently performance and film. In doing so, he likes to deal with language analytically and very literally.
Probst has already been invited several times to competitions in the context of art in construction, his sculpture for the MLZ is the first realization
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