Interview with Professor Tina Haase, Chair of Visual Arts
"Buildings should be individualists"
What importance does art have in architecture?
Tina Haase: We create art with our architects. That said, our students are not here to become contemporary artists. The point of teaching art within an architecture degree program is to develop and refine the way architects look at things and think about them, and to give them the space to develop their own visions. I believe it’s extremely important to show how an artistic approach can enrich a design. In art, you can try things out, turn them upside down, look at them the wrong way up, or even explore the converse. Art is important for giving shape to something that might start out only as a vague notion or a feeling. We work with our students to jointly develop artistic and experimental tools to inspire them in their search for answers.
How do you go about giving form to a feeling or an idea?
Haase: There are no set rules. You just have to dive in, start out with an idea, and see where the journey takes you, one step at a time. I try to identify with every idea a student brings to me and to nurture it; exactly how depends on the individual idea. What I try to get across is that it’s important for students to embrace the process rather than feel daunted by it, and to have confidence that they can make good progress on their own through trial and error. The brief for our exhibition entitled “Import/Export” was for students to create art from pallets. One of the students, a former refugee, turned a pallet into a door. The door was set up so that you could pass through it one way but not back. He wanted to express that he was happy to be here but that it is a peculiar feeling being unable to return.
You also create art works in urban spaces.
Haase: One of our recurring research topics is the subject of art in the context of urban modernization or renewal projects. In 2014, we began doing research in a redevelopment area in Neuaubing-Westkreuz to the west of Munich, in which we explored artistic approaches. The other novel factor with this project was the fact that it involved community participation. That meant trying to achieve something in cooperation with local residents. We had to assess how best to accomplish this – especially when the residents were actually not interested in art. That's rather exciting.
So how did that work out on the ground?
Haase: It’s important to look first at the local structures and identify what’s missing. We experimented with different perception tools. For instance, the students suggested following people leaving the supermarket; that way they could see which routes and shortcuts the locals took. The students also cycled around, two to a bike; the passenger kept their eyes closed so they could only hear and smell. That way, someone suddenly noticed the smell of washing. They’d found a housing development where people hung out washing on dryers in the yard or in greenspaces. Meeting places like this have now largely disappeared, so we created a sculpture consisting of three abstract, oversized umbrella clothes dryers to serve as a meeting point – without the washing obviously.
How did you involve local residents in your projects?
Haase: The view that greets people as they exit the rail station is of the back wall of a supermarket and a chain-link fence. This is Neuaubing’s welcome sign, so to speak. The students cut colored plastic strips from carrier bags and attached them to the fence. People stepping off the trains applauded. The students then launched a fundraiser to purchase more durable materials. It was a very big success, and local residents later helped with the installation. So we really succeeded in getting the local residents on board. They networked with each another and developed a sense of community.
Can architects apply this artistic approach in their daily work?
Haase: The point is, we need to look at things from a fresh perspective. I’m not trying to dictate how buildings should look; that’s not my job. But I think it’s good if buildings can find a way of being individualists. Sad to say, it seems that all of the buildings going up everywhere look similar. In Cologne, my second home, I really notice it. There are these bright white or sandy-colored buildings with floor-to-ceiling windows. I see these narrow, floor-length windows everywhere. And it’s been that way for years now. So, what I really want is for people to take a closer look and notice what’s lacking.
How does an artist see architecture?
Haase: That’s difficult to answer because I’ve never seen architecture through the eyes of a non-artist. I often think houses are like people, and I’d like to have a say in what kinds of "built individuals" will be with us in future. If you stroll, say, across the lawn at the Pinakothek or head toward the Glyptothek in Munich, something happens inside you: Certain thoughts arise. I want to help aspiring architects to sharpen their senses and articulate what they perceive. What does a building exude, what kind of energy does it project? Does it make you feel small, or does it inspire an uplifting sense of greatness in you? We will need a more multi-layered perception of buildings in the future. At the moment, it’s as if everyone is simply copying everyone else, and that’s because of overly restrictive rules and regulations.