Studio Visit: Reinhard Haverkamp

Photos: Tove Lise Mossestad

Interview: Nora Adwan

Q&A with Reinhard Haverkamp: Sculptor living and working in Bergen, Norway

RH: Reinhard, A+F: ART + FOLK

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The sun is shining as I visit Reinhard´s purpose built studio in his garden. As you walk through the garden down to the studio, you pass a few of his sculptures quivering and lightly turning in the breeze. Reinhard is a Bergen based artist originally from Germany.

A+F: What led you to become an artist, rather than for example an engineer? With your skillset and interests you could have taken a different path.

RH: Actually I was planning to study computer science when I left school. I wasn´t as strong in maths as I should have been to pursue this though. I was called up to do army service at 17 and I thought I might as well get it over with. It was possible to opt out but it wasn´t that easy to do it. Once I got there I realised it was really bullshit. I started to draw a lot while I was there and something became clear to me in that time. It was during this period that I decided to become an artist.

A+F: Do you think the decision was a kind of resistance to the army experience?

RH: Something like that. As we got close to discharge, we had these tape measures which you cut down to show how many days you still had to go. I drew a huge picture of a recruit hanging on strings like a puppet while he scrubbed the floor with his tape measure next to him. It didn´t go over well with the supervisors and I felt like I was finally doing something worthwhile. So I think that played a role in my decision making. 

A+F: So, you did your art education in Germany before moving to Norway; tell me a bit about that and how you came to be in Bergen.

RH: I studied in Münster at the department for art educators at the art academy in Düsseldorf. The course was identical to the art academy courses except that in addition I studied pedagogy at the university. I graduated as an art teacher. Later in Berlin I studied in the technical workshops; in wood, metal, paper and plastics. It was possible to learn a lot of techniques if you were interested; this wasn´t offered at the art academy.

I moved from Berlin to Moss. My wife is Norwegian and we were living with our two children in Berlin when the wall fell. After that Berlin became too big and too confusing for us, and my wife wanted to return home, so we made the leap and moved. It really wasn´t easy in the beginning.

While we lived in Moss, I sometimes worked at the art academy in Bergen. That was my first introduction to the city and I was very fascinated by the mountains and this perspective of seeing everything from above and the harbour with the ships. Living here I think we often forget to appreciate what we have.

A+F: What is it about sculpture in particular that interests you?

RH: It´s something about the spatial perspectives. Even as a child I built things. I built models out of paper and wood, also my own creations not just things from kits. The material and the spatial dimension really interested me; I did drawing as well but not as much. I built these complicated paper models from patterns. You really learn to visualise in three dimensions from this process of seeing the grid and understanding what the final result should be. It also teaches precision and patience; the parts were tiny!

In the art academy we had orientation classes. I painted a bit there, but it wasn´t for me. I always come back to space and construction.

A+F: Have you always worked with abstract forms or did you have an interest for figurative sculpture at some point?

RH: I was interested in abstraction from the beginning. I take phenomena as a starting point; things that make me curious. I then explore them on a physical and visual level. The physical level is stuff like gravity, mass, balance; to consider it. Normally we don´t think about our own weight, we don´t feel it, we carry it around as if it´s not there; until we fall flat on our face and then we suddenly realise what we are carrying around. I see this as a phenomenon to be explored; something we are not normally conscious of.

Optical phenomena, how things change through perspective is another important theme. For example, I see a house, as I walk around it I see a hundred different versions of the house but I still see the same house. Why is that actually? These are all things that occur in three dimensions and in the physical world. This is what I experiment with, I look closely at things to discover phenomena and then I use the discoveries to create something new.

I like to use the line in space. With a line you have transparency, it outlines the space and when it moves the perspective changes and an entirely new surprising element comes to life. I always consider gravity in my work, the work has to function. Through the use of gravity and balance comes surprise, as heavy things appear light. Movement also creates curiosity; things which stand still don´t command as much attention. For example, an animal that´s being hunted and freezes becomes invisible. As soon as something moves it becomes visible and draws your attention. The movement also adds an element of time to the work, it holds your attention and concentration on the object until the full range of movement is done. When something is changing, you take the time to watch it and don´t just walk past.

During my studies I read things like Rudolf Arnheim, ´Art and Visual Perception´, and Wolfgang Metzger, ´Laws of Seeing´-cognition theories which consider how attention and perception functions. When I´m working in the studio, I´m not thinking about philosophy in that way, but there is always a development, I´m always observing the things around me and discovering phenomena which I then develop as a kind of evolution. My work is about connections, nothing exists in isolation, the form and the function work together. This is also the way in nature, we are becoming aware that we can´t just use nature, that all the systems are interlinked and each action effects all the others. I see my works as being systems in the same way. They only function when everything works together, otherwise they collapse. Maybe it´s an exaggeration but I see a connection.

A+F: You work in public space and with commissions quite often. When you are invited to create a work for, let´s say, a school. How do you decide what to make for that particular space?

RH: Well I almost always fall back on whatever I happen to be working on at that moment. It depends a bit on what stage of the development I am at with the work at the moment I get the commission. Of course I look at the space which influences the form and dimensions of the work. But the way in which I produce the work, the principles and core idea of it, always depends on what I am working with at that moment. I don´t develop something completely new and different just for that. Mostly if I´m asked it´s because someone already has an idea of what I do and thinks it would work well with a particular project. I have a continuity in my work.

A+F: So, you have a certain freedom to decide how you want to work and what you will produce?

RH: More and more in the last years the projects come with conditions. There used to be more freedom and more trust that artworks create their own value. Now there should be a political perspective, or the work has to reflect the function or history of the building. Art becomes very steered towards function and intellectualised. A lot of freedom has been lost. There needs to be justification and explanations for everything you make now. More curators are being involved in projects and they want to influence the direction of the artworks.

A+F: How do you work, what´s your process into creating the sculptures?

RH: I study my own works. I consider what functions and what I like or don´t like about different works and what can be improved. I sketch, and then consider what could be made out of the sketches. Sometimes I discover something interesting in the drawings and then I test it out.

I also work with materials found in the hardware store, from broomsticks to water hoses, drainage pipes, aluminium profiles, plywood panels and roofing laths to found objects such as bicycle rims and bicycle tubes. They can serve as the basis or inspiration for sculptures. The material properties and formal qualities that I discover in them are what´s important, and which I playfully and experimentally try to use

I often use this thin wire to try things out. With the wire you see immediately if the relative weights of the elements make sense and how the piece would function. I´m always dependant on the functionality of an idea. I am not completely free to make any form as I´m restricted by gravity and materials.  It´s in the interplay between form and function that I find the ideal form. The forms should create concise images. If I have two shapes or elements then there are several moving elements, not just one. They move together and create new forms again through the different perspectives, but the new forms made by the movement need to be specific and not just accidental. All this while keeping in mind the function, for example that it has to move in the wind. It´s an experimental process.

Everything you see here is made in the workshop. If I have a large commission I´ll make a model in this size, about half the size of the final work, to be sure that everything functions. With the actual commission pieces I work with structural engineers to calculate everything and companies to produce the sculpture. When the work is going to stand in public space, safety is an important consideration.

The larger moving works are always connected with ball bearings to prevent accidents if there are storms. The small works function with balance only which is more fascinating in a way. Large or small the works have the same relationship to balance. The separate parts can sit together and move on this specific point without extra fixtures. If I remove any one part of the sculpture, it will balance on the end of my finger. This is important for the movement, the balance negates gravity. It´s interesting with this balance, the object can fall in any direction if given the smallest push. If you work with this phenomena of balance you can create elements of surprise.

There are also the works which function through tension. This one for example.

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The curve holds the tension and simultaneously the cable creates the curve. The tension on the cable gives it a surprising stability. From this, constructions can be made which look as though they are floating.

A+F: I really enjoy that these works are activated by the wind, by nature and that they rely on this interaction for their function.

RH: I think that both nature and artworks are similar in that they stand above any concept of utility or value, I mean we see them as profitable but actually we should value them for their intrinsic worth and then we would be more respectful in our relationship.

Thanks so much for your time!

Once a month, ART + FOLK will introduce someone from our local art community.  We will open the doors to their home or to their studio and have them tell us a bit about their everyday, their work and what they have on their own walls.

Interview by Nora Adwan; photos by Tove Lise Mossestad. 

This project is supported by the City of Bergen (Bergen Kommune) and Arts Council Norway (Norsk Kulturrådet).

Nora Adwan