On LeveL – the fragile balance of utopia, with mischer’traxler.
Austrian design studio mischer’traxler’s LeveL – the fragile balance of utopia is a perfect network of lights. An epic mobile created from 63 carbon-fibre rods of different diameters and lengths and 126 illuminated Japanese paper balloons. Copper sticks within each rod in the installation form electric circuits and hand crafted hinges hold each element together. Custom designed circuit boards house LED’s and an accelerometer acts as a sensor to tilt or motion. The interactive installation seeks to trigger a reflection on the concept of Utopia: something we strive for and that, once achieved, never lasts for long. The perfect network where each element affects another and opposing forces counterbalance each other.
Exhibiting alongside LeveL are seven other projects by the acclaimed design duo: interaction as part of a project (LeveL and Curiosity Cloud). (mis)-using what is there” (Relumine and Reversed Volumes). (re)-linking to reality” (real Limited and knowledge – tools – memory) and connecting rather than inventing” (the idea of a tree and 97m veneer).
FORM caught up with the designers behind this spectacular, surprising exhibition ahead of its November 23 opening at The Goods Shed
Can you walk us through the process you went through to create Level?
“In October 2015 we were approached by Austria Design Net to design the Austrian contribution for the London Design Biennale 2016 – of course we were interested. Time was rather short since we needed the proposal by the beginning of November. The theme of the whole Biennale was “Utopia by Design”. We had several meetings with the Austrian curator Thomas Geisler and decided that we simply did not want to quickly design a Utopia. Instead, we chose to show how we understand and interpret “Utopia”. The two of us went for long walks and discussed a lot what we would like to show, make and why and slowly we created the concept for “LeveL”.
The installation is called “LeveL – the fragile balance of utopia” and tries to trigger people to reflect upon that topic. Utopia is something that we all should strive for and that, once achieved, would never last for long. Utopia would be a perfectly well balanced system where all elements effect each other, where forces counterbalance each other and that together forms the perfect network. However such a system is very fragile to any outer influences or to forces from within. Unplanned, uncoordinated actions would shake the network. All such thoughts we translated into a big mobile hanging in a room. Many interconnected and well balanced carbon-fiber rods form LeveL. Each rod on its ends holds a circuit board with LED’s, covered with a balloon like paper lampshade.
When in perfect balance the whole installation shines the brightest. However when wind blows through the room or people touch the installation, the rod starts to move and tilt and challenges the balance – the lights on each staff dim darker the more tilted they are.
Since it is a connected system the mobile reacts as a complete network. A slight touch, the light dims for a moment and slowly lights up again. If the impact is more dominant, the whole mobile is affected. More lights dim, leaving a nearly dark room until the balance is found again.
When the mobile shines the brightest it appears solid and perfect, whilst when dimming and moving after a touch, it is less bright, less perfect but more alive.
The concept and the first visualizations were finished in November. We received the go ahead for the project in January and went to London to see the exhibition venue. We slightly adapted the size of the piece. From March onwards we started working on the Design of all single elements. In the beginning, especially on the lampshades, were we created various shapes out of various materials until reaching the final ones. We developed all custom designed hinges and how to handle the wiring of the piece. In the meantime Simon Laburda, the genius behind the electro-technical development and the programming, worked on the specially designed circuit boards with sensor and LEDs. The final design was a consequence of tests, failures and logic consequences. By late May we had the first Prototype-rods. After some small changes we started to have all pieces laser-cut, milled, black-zinced and organized all other required elements (screws, cables etc.) From end of June until the middle of August’our studio was mainly busy assembling everything. Sewing all lampshades, testing everything and so on. By the middle of August the piece was shipped to London and in the beginning of September it was unveiled at the Biennale.”
If you could tell us a story about Level, what would it be?
“The best stories are probably the small episodes we were able to witness when the audience was interacting with LeveL. There were people that gently interacted with the piece whilst others tried to put the whole piece in motion. The nicest was, however, a small girl, maybe 5 years old, who was gently blowing each lampshade and always running between all the rods. Like a little fairy that would put the light to sleep, one by one. And she was so genuinely happy that she was able to have an impact on the big installation by just using her breath.”
How did the exhibition evolve between your initial concept, your research and the end result and what influenced this?
“Of course every exhibition changes slightly, but since we hardly work with renderings or precise visualisations and more with sketches and collages, we have the end result mainly in our head and therefore the changes are not so visible (neither for us). Since all longer projects are continuously adapting it is actually very nice to see, in the end, the influences and single steps/decisions which were made and had also consequences on the final design – We really like this journey partly into the unknown and also the freedom to change things on the way.
For the exhibition in Perth things grew continuously over time. From “just” LeveL, a whole solo exhibition slowly came together and we are very happy that in the end we can show our approach towards design rather than just one project.”
Where do you want to take your practice in the future (literally and artistically)?
“As a main base we really do love having the studio in Vienna. We like the city and its living quality and as well there are many companies that we can collaborate with on prototypes or on the production of small series. We can work with old craft-workshops that know techniques from the past but as well find companies with new technologies. This mix is really great to have at hand and thus we have not the urge to have the studio somewhere else. Apart from that we love that our profession gives us a lot of possibilities to travel to a lot of other places, so we never feel stuck here. Artistically we hope we can keep the diversity of our works. We work in many scales, with all kinds of materials and we get a lot of great opportunities. Still we love to try out new things and new adventures and so we hope we can push the studio always a bit further. So the list is still long with things we have not done yet: stage design, developing a new process with a company, starting a workshop-world-tour, etc…”
What motivated you to come to Australia?
“We have not been to Australia and never really showed work there so it was immediately appealing to us to come, when we were asked. Additionally we loved the idea to have the possibility to show LeveL somewhere else after London. As well the idea of the residency and a possible new project sounded great. So motivation enough -– well actually as well November weather in Vienna is not the nicest, so we are happy to flee the rainy and dusky city that time of the year and think of a new project for another place.”
mischer‘traxler’s LeveL and Volumes exhibits from November 24 until the end of January 2017.