The Swiss artist and architect Ferdinand Facklam is a trained structural draughtsman and as such gained valuable experience at Herzog & de Meuron and later as an architect in various offices. He deepened his knowledge by listening to Prof. Rüegg and Prof. Kollhoff at the ETH Zurich. Building on this, Facklam obtained the Master of Advanced Studies in CAAD at the ETH Zurich under Prof. Dr. Hovestadt. In August 2019 Ferdinand Facklam showed his first solo exhibition in Berlin, where he currently lives and works.
Ferdinand, to start of please two sentences regarding your CV/resumé with some information that the internet currently keeps from us. Where are you from, which are the stages in your life that have formed you?
I was born on March 13, 1969 in Basel (Switzerland). I’m very grateful that I was able to work at Herzog & de Meuron as a young architectural draughtsman. Professionally it probably was the time in my life that formed me the most. In this time my immense passion for architecture and art was fostered. Only much later the studies with Professor Dr. Ludger Hovestadt at the chair for CAAD of the ETH Zurich added a further important corner stone for my current work. In both of these instances the implicitness of ‘everything goes’ was instilled in me.
Grant us a slightly off question. Who was there first, the architect or the artist Ferdinand Facklam? Or in other words how did you get into art – why art?
That ran alongside each other for the whole time. I grew up in the art and culture city that is Basel. In my childhood my grandpa would read biographies of famous artists to me. The many great museums and exhibitions as well as the art fair Art Basel always inspired me and were part of my life. First I was an architectural draughtsman and later I gained experience professionally as an architect, which unfortunately was often characterized by frustration as creativity and aesthetics were often not appreciated. I got into art by taking part in a competition. My project triggered lots of positive feedback, which motivated me to continue.
What characterises your art and what are the big issues within? Please share the intention of your art with us.
Through my art I want to convey to people the beauty and the treasure that is nature. Often I use architectural elements, such as shape, light and material. I’m interested in the juxtaposition of natural and artificial phenomena. The initiation for this was my short story ‘forms learn to live”, which I wrote during my studies with Prof. Dr. Ludger Hovestadt.
Your artworks are most often big and expansive in scale. We can imagine that the actual impact of the art work only comes to full effect when built or set up in the public space? How do you manage to anticipate its impact and is the outcome always as you designed it on the computer or drawing board before – as it was planned by you?
From the outset I do try and find out through modelling how the intended impact is achieved in the best way, but the exact result I can not plan for. With the Palm generator in Spain, for instance, I was especially impressed how the railing, light and nature came to be in such harmony with each other. In the video it’s well visible how the palm leaves are reflected in fluid intervals in the afternoon sun. With the Moos mural for the exhibition I was surprised by the three dimensional plasticity and the radiance of the leaves. The painting created an emotional and cognitive interplay in the perception of the observer quite different to what would have been possible through computer simulation.
© Ferdinand Facklam, Photo Ulrich Stockhaus
What do you currently think about the most? What are you dealing with?
That does not necessarily concern art. The city of Berlin and its rapid economical boom, the social problems of the people living here and the demise of public and creative space consume a lot of my thoughts. I’d like to see a change and more humility in business and politics.
How do you protect yourself from too much inspiration, impressions, messages, from the loss of focus?
It is true, today it is not easy to keep focused on one subject. Especially the internet today generates a whole lot of ‘inspiration’. I find my serenity in nature or when doing yoga.
What currently makes you happy or anxious?
In Berlin I finally feel that I’ve arrived. It makes me happy to be able to present my work here in a solo exhibition. Happiness I draw from a respectful and loving interaction amongst fellow humans. What worries me is that, be it in society, be it in climatic, environmental terms, be it in the economic realm, the fundamental balance has been lost. In addition to that I worry about family policy and the fact that so many couples get divorced.
How do you see the current developments regarding the art market?
This question is surely better answered by the gallerists. My impression is that the art market is a reflection of our global economic development. Huge sums are being invested into the works of famous artists while the majority of young artists can not make a living selling their work.
Two sentences on your next project that you want to pursue after your exhibition at gallery erstererster. How satisfied are you with this exhibition and what did it kick of?
The exhibition was a great success for me and I had a wonderful time. The cooperation with everyone involved I thoroughly enjoyed and it was a great learning experience. I don’t want to give away too much regarding my next project. I’m going to try and fuse painting and sculpture in one art project.
Exhibition “Urban Codes of Nature” by Ferdinand Facklam, Galerie erstererster, Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg in August 2019, Photo: Martin Tervoort
And what are your (next) goals?
My next goal is to have a prototype of the Light Tree built. And also I have a clear vision for some other new, demanding project.
How much in your work is planned in advance – how much comes about due to intuition?
When creating my work I try to plan as much as possible beforehand in order to better organise the ongoing process. When looking for an idea most of the decisions are intuitive and I rarely have a clear explanation why choosing this or that.
Do you believe that art has a social responsibility? And what do you think what impact it can have?
Art in the public space can inspire people and connect them, it can initiate debate and enhance the quality of being in that space. This is especially true for cold “non-spaces”: shopping malls, concrete foreyards, street zones. Urban spaces that most of the time have no connection with their environments or the human scale, have no identity or are uninviting. Through art one can give some of that back to people, include all of society and strengthen a sense of identity.
At times of the internet of things do we still (in your view) need galleries? If so, what for?
Very much so, we do need (real) spaces where artist can present their work. The internet merely helps to build a virtual archive and collect pieces of information. It lacks the true getting together of human beings and the dialogue, which can also be challenging.
Do you have a credo – if so, what is it?
Gratefulness, humility, tolerance, appreciation, respect, empathy and ethics are some of the elements which my life is based on. I’d hope that people treated each other with more love and good intent, that they tried and forgive and that they are tolerant towards other believes and creeds.
With all your works and the subjects that you cover, which is the most important one?
The human being with her or his perception has priority. My art has to enhance and enrich the environment.
How does the idea for an art piece come about?
Most often spontaneously and intuitively.
What is your art intended to provoke in your audience?
During the exhibition Urban Codes of Nature I was the whole time on site and was witnessing the conversations and reactions among the audience. In hindsight that was a very important and fruitful time for me.
My artwork is intended to be accessible, trigger emotional response and initiate debate and it might also polarise. An encounter that has stuck with me is a reaction from a female visitor of the exhibition telling me that the moos mural had triggered very similar emotions in her as a trip into nature itself. In her opinion I had brought some nature back into the city.
In what way has your art changed over the years and what were the triggers? My work has become more accessible as I have become somewhat more moderate over the years. Back then I was very inspired by the work of Bruce Naumann, Georg Baselitz, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Cindy Sherman and Rebecca Horn. More often than not provocation was part of my thinking. Over time I’ve grown more subtle and have become more pleasant for people around me, I believe.
Ferdinand Facklam, Mural (Detail) in the exhibition “Urban Codes of Nature”
How far would you go? Are there any taboos?
There are plenty of taboos. My measure of value lies within myself. I want to do something that is good for people around me, for my environment and for myself.
Which project wold you like to realise?
In general the most recent thing, it takes priority. Currently I’m looking forward to realising the Light Tree.
Are you interested in what collectors might do with you work?
My artworks are intended for the public space. So in that respect my concerns have to do with neglect regarding the maintenance of my work or in the worst case that it falls victim to vandalism.
What are in your view attributes for good art?
Good art or architecture deals in depths with its subject, is contemporary and conveys a message. The piece needs to be executed with excellent craftsmanship based on a solid foundation. Art has to inspire me passionately, challenge me and make me think.
Do you listen to music during your work? If so, which one?
In general I love to listen to music and do so a lot, at the moment my favourites are Max Richter, Johann Johansson or Nils Frahm. While working, though, I rarely listen to music as I’m very focused then.
Which writers or books have influenced you the most?
The art editions by the publisher Parkett have had a strong influence on me for many years. They are always up-to-date and give a solid insight into contemporary art.
Is there an artist or a piece that has had a lasting impact on you?
I’d like to point out art events that have had a lasting influence on me. The art spectacle Bimbo Town in 1994 in the old dye factory in Basel with the artist Jim Whiting. The mechanical installations were in constant movement and interaction with the audience. The light installations by James Turell in the Kunsthaus Bregenz. A wonderful example how art and architecture can form a symbiotic relationship. Also my visit of the art paradise Inhotim near Belo Horizonte has left its mark on me. A huge designed park with objects by renowned contemporary artists.
Are people born as artists? Or do you have to get a degree from art school?
As I didn’t graduate from art school this is a difficult question for me. My work is interdisciplinary and involves a constant process of learning. The mural for the exhibition Urban Codes of Nature was executed in cooperation with the craftsman and painter Norbert Schimpf. He supported and complemented me professionally. For the mould or template I had Marina Konstantatou on my side. We work as a team.
Who do you show you latest work to first?
First I show it to my closest friends and my girlfriend. Since my work is so strongly based on intuition I then decide whether it has any potential to be developed further. Following that I take another step and show it to some artists and architects whose work I admire.
Does Berlin have any influence on your art? If so, which one?
Berlin has a very important influence on a meta level. For me Berlin is – despite it’s recent changes over the last few years – an endearing and benevolent city. These surroundings inspire me on a daily basis and provide me with a sense of freedom. Since I started working in Berlin I’ve met a lot of interesting people, who have had a positive effect on me and have given me strength in what I do.
Where in Berlin 1.) can you have the best breakfast 2.) drinks 3.) party?
Berlin offers a lot in terms of enjoyment. Though, I have now very much warmed to home-cooking. However, to name a few I’d like to mention the Chipperfield Canteen or the wine bar Otto Rink as well as the splendid bread roles of my local bakery Cafe Krümel.
What does the first hour of your day look like?
I like to start the day spontaneously – that’s why it looks different from day to day.
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