Allowing a different view of reality

Interview with artist Karin Sander about her project "transcendental elevator"

With the "transcendental elevator" for the University of Art and Design in Linz, artist Karin Sander has created an environment that is simultaneously a tool, an icon and a place for producing art.

With the "transcendental elevator" for the University of Art and Design in Linz, artist Karin Sander has created an environment that is simultaneously a tool, an icon and a place for producing art. © Zumtobel / Photography: Faruk Pinjo
The Berlin-based artist has now created with the "transcendental elevator" a work for the University of Art and Design Linz that is architecture and art at the same time. © Karin Sander

Karin Sander's work is highly precise; she leaves nothing to chance. The immediate surroundings and conditions at the site play a key role in many of her pieces, such as "Quellcode" ["Source Code"], which displays an XML/SVG code in large format on the walls, describing the architecture of the exhibition space. In "Berliner Zimmer" ["Berlin Room"], a carpet produced especially for the gallery space reveals the invisible lines and measurements of the floor plan. The precise language employed by the artist opens up a definitional space that subtly oscillates between rationality and individual perception. Her works have been exhibited internationally. The Whitney Museum of American Art and MoMA in New York, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Osaka, the ZKM [Center for Art and Media] Karlsruhe and the Künstlerhaus Bregenz are just a few of the numerous venues where they have been shown. As well as making art, Karin Sander is a professor in the prestigious architecture department at ETH Zurich. The Berlin-based artist has now created a work for the University of Art and Design Linz that is architecture and art at the same time. It requires students to engage with the space and offers virtually endless possibilities for the young artists to make it their own.

Ms Sander, what was the thinking behind the idea to transform such an everyday object as a goods lift into a work of art?

I didn't want to create an object that future students at the University of Art and Design would have to work around, that just stands there and exists. I was thinking more of something that is linked to the running of a university – like a goods lift, which is essential for the production of art. After all, it transports people, artworks and materials. A goods lift is therefore a vital tool in the day-to-day activities of such an institution, and right from the beginning it will be incorporated into everything that's going on (at the University of Art and Design) and the process of creating art.

But just because a goods lift is essential in running a university, doesn't make it a work of art. What's different about the "transcendental elevator" at the University of Linz?

First of all, it rises up far above the roof, you could almost say into the sky, where, because it's made of glass, it offers amazing views extending far over the city and beyond. At the same time, I had the idea of enabling this goods lift to become an exhibition space in itself. It allows students to transform it into a place for making or presenting art. That means it is simultaneously a work of art, a sculpture that is sent out over the roof and can be seen from the city.

And how can students change the design of the lift?

They can't change the design, of course, but they can change the atmosphere it creates and the message it sends out. Together with the building contractor Big Art – an enterprise owned by Bundes Immobilien Gesellschaft [a quasi-governmental organisation that manages publicly owned real estate] in Austria – and the architecture firm Krischanitz, we've had every conceivable type of technology installed in the lift, so that it offers the broadest possible range of options to meet the demands of today's art students: from data lines for projections to a lighting system that allows the lift to be immersed in any colour. Everything is programmable; even the length of time it stays at individual levels and the choreography of travel can be defined.

© Zumtobel / Photography:
Faruk Pinjo
A "transcendental elevator" that is simultaneously an artistic object, an appliance and an icon. © Zumtobel / Photography: Faruk Pinjo

And how is light used in the "transcendental elevator"?

Firstly, I asked myself: Will all the light come from the lift itself? In that case, the lift tower would be barely visible when it was dark. Suitable spotlights were therefore needed to illuminate the structure and the tower – and they also had to be adjustable and changeable. However, the most important tool in the lift is the illuminated ceiling, which Zumtobel developed with me. The ability to change the light is particularly important here. All colours, time intervals and alternating states needed to be possible. Zumtobel was a great partner here and was by my side with a wealth of knowledge and experience in development and implementation.

Is light an important aspect of your creative work?

Of course, because light determines how art is perceived! Often the conditions only become apparent during the implementation phase: how the light falls and where it's coming from, what the museum's specifications are, how the light behaves in relation to the space. Usually I simply accept the conditions at the site. With the "transcendental elevator", however, I was able to specify for the first time the conditions that students need to produce art, as well as those that the lift requires in order to be seen from the outside. It was an interesting experience! And the collaboration with Zumtobel was an essential part of it.

The lift is both a place for making art and a work of art itself. It's also an icon for the university that can be seen from far away. Can art be such a hybrid?

I love hybrids! Yes, the lift is a functional tool for the university, which makes the university stand out in the cityscape and is also a reference to what goes on inside. The lift can pick up students and visitors and transport them to another reality. If the lift is illuminated, it becomes a light sculpture that you can walk into, while simultaneously epitomising how art can enable you to view reality in a completely different way. That means it is able to break through spatial and mental boundaries – and not just the roof – and that it can open up new ways of thinking and experiences for the students.

On a completely personal note, what does light mean to you?

Visibility.

Look up to the roof of the University of Art in the Upper Austrian city of Linz and you may at first be a little confused. Why exactly is a glass goods lift – a contraption that can be seen from far and wide – standing high above the roof of the university? This creative construction project, which is presently catching everyone's eye in Linz, is the work of the artist Karin Sander. She has designed a hybrid known as the "transcendental elevator". © Zumtobel / Photography: Faruk Pinjo

The transcendental elevator is not the only special feature associated with this construction project. Visit the University of Art and you will discover a true design gem: the ALVA spherical luminaire.