Flying Plexiglas in Greifswald by Dietrich Förster from Apfeldorf

© 2017 Betrieb für Bau und Liegenschaften Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

Like leaves of paper in the air

Artist Dietrich Förster went searching for the right material to find out how sheets of paper can learn to fly. His artwork entitled “Transfer” appears to be made of paper, when in fact it’s made of PLEXIGLAS®.

Quite often, an application marks the beginning of a piece of art in the public realm as it did for Dietrich Förster’s artwork “Transfer”. The piece was his submission to the “Kunst am Bau” (architectural art) competition in 2016. The challenge was designing the interior space of the library at the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University in Greifswald. “When I saw the 21-meter-high room, I had an idea – order and freedom,” says Förster. “I immediately thought of flying sheets of paper.” A thought that convinced the jury.

Transferring symbolic knowledge

It was the architects of the university library that inspired him to name his artwork “Transfer”. “They constantly spoke of the repository of knowledge,” Förster adds. But he didn’t see the sense behind the pure storage of knowledge. He wants to use his artwork “Transfer” to point out that the benefit of a knowledge repository is only generated through the transfer of its knowledge to its visitors. It quickly became clear to the installation artist that “something floating had to be installed.” Something that would not darken the room or impair the visual relationships. Since the building is rather drab, but the books are colorful, he wanted to exercise restraint in his use of color.

Imitate materials

Using paper for the artwork was out of the question. “Even despite the fact that I wanted to create as true an impression of paper as possible,” says Förster. However, paper itself would not have been suitable for a long-term installation, as it would soon have lost its firmness and tuckered out. In addition, paper turns yellow with time and “would not have been translucent enough to appear white under backlighting.” Thus, the artist commissioned the plastics experts at k-tec in Austria, who were familiar with Förster’s work from previous installations, to find a material that looks like paper, can be thermoplastically molded and is translucent, i.e. has the look of frosted glass. They chose: PLEXIGLAS® XT Film White 99532.

Which requirements must a material meet for it to seem like paper?

For Dietrich Förster, the material must be impressive in terms of color, translucence, and in its stretched form, it must demonstrate stability and UV-stability. “In addition, it should not turn yellow,” says Förster, adding “PLEXIGLAS® has all of these properties and is easy to process. I have used it on other projects before and will do so again in the future.”

© Dietrich Förster, Kunst im öffenltichen Raum / Profilwerkstatt

UV-stability and thermally moldable

“There were other, less expensive materials, but they would not have had the permanent UV-stability that PLEXIGLAS® has,” says Dietrich Förster. This particular type of the brand acrylic glass from Evonik does have a special feature – it shines. “k-tec thus had to dull the surface,” Förster adds. But they are professionals who know what they are doing. Because wet grinding was used, the observer does not see any grinding marks on the PLEXIGLAS® sheets. k-tec used this method to produce almost 7,000 DIN A-4-size, dull PLEXIGLAS® sheets. To create the impression of flying paper, the plastics experts thermally formed an additional 70 sheets made of PLEXIGLAS®.

Attached with nylon

The sheets have been flying from a stack of paper on the ground floor to the third floor since March 2017. “The stack on the ground floor is about my height, 1.80 meters, and weighs about as much as I do,” Förster says. “It’s almost like a counterpart for visitors entering the library.” And it not a hard, single block of PLEXIGLAS®. Förster stacked the 0.5-millimeter-thin sheets himself. “It was to look like someone stacked the papers by hand,” the artist says. And to prevent a student from shuffling the papers into a proper stack, he spot-glued the individual PLEXIGLAS® to two interior stainless steel pipes that stabilize the stack.

Invisible mounting

Förster installed another 70 sheets by means of a nearly invisible structure made of nylon thread. Förster: “I only use horizontal and vertical threads, because they blend in with the existing lines of the architecture.” It creates the impression of flying paper.