Creating an Avalanche :: Interview with Clemens Behr

Clemens Behr is an artist from Berlin, whose geometric installations were incredibly influential to me when I first became interested in design. Every exposure to each designer or artist was like learning a piece of a language, a kind of aesthetic vocabulary. A.M. Cassandre’s work taught me the geometry of design and the way individual shapes function to create the whole. Behr’s work, which also highlights basic shapes and colors, is a natural extension of those lessons.

Behr’s work is very different than Cassandre’s though. It is more abstract, but most significantly, it is three-dimensional. My design life, up until my encounter with Behr, was entirely played out through digital means. While I printed my work, there was always an intangibility to it because I was separated by a computer screen throughout the creative process. Seeing Behr’s work, primarily created with his hands and physical objects, made me aware of the possible tangibility of my own designs.

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The first work of Behr’s that I discovered was Avalanche, an encapsulating installation in which he used common materials to transform a Dortmund retail space into a tumbling tunnel, walled with a blizzard of triangles in stark contrasting blacks and whites. Of this work, Behr says, “The image of an avalanche was used to compare my installation and my way of working to the transformation of the surrounding environment.” I conducted the following interview with Behr to learn more of his style, process, and artistic intentions.

How would you describe your work to someone without being able to show it to them?

When somebody asks me what I do, and without being able to show pictures, I always say something like: I try to transform spaces or rooms with origami-like shapes adapting given shapes and colors, but mostly with the help of wood and cardboard.

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What kind of materials do you work with and how do you go about acquiring them?

Mostly I use paint, cardboard, tape and wood. Sometimes I pick it up in the street, sometimes I get them in stores. It always depends on the reason of use.

What artists have inspired your style, and how did you develop the style in which you now work?

The style developed more or less through a trial and error, DIY thing. Through the years I learned what works and what doesn’t, what works for the viewer and what not. The shapes are also mostly made through the technique of folding the cardboard. I have been mainly inspired by Kurt Schwitters, Marcel Duchamp and Gordon Matta Clark I would say.

[For a look into Behr’s methods, check out this video by Seize]

I read that you went to school for graphic design.  Did you primarily do your work digitally, or did you start out creating your designs from material objects?  

I mainly worked on the sculptural things beside my studies. They didnt really fit in there. So I had this separated, but in the end the process goes hand in hand. The sculptural process is always 100% analog. But of course the pictures and videos get edited digitally afterwards.

On something like Avalanche, do you work alone, or do others construct parts of your work according to your direction?

In this project I worked it out alone during 7 weeks. Everything gets created in the space itself with the given material and tools.

How much time does a project like that take?

It depends on the size of the space and on the plan I made for it. In general I work like 8 hours a day on such a project. Then the number of days can be between 1 day and seven weeks.

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Much of your work, particularly Avalanche, seems like a dreamlike whirlwind.  How much do you plan ahead of time for a piece like this. Is it meticulously planned out?  Or do you determine a specific style and feel, and then create the piece as you go along?

Yes, the piece creates itself within the process. There is an idea before of course—determining the colors, shapes and materials. But the actual composition gets more or less spontaneously made in the process. In such an abstract 360-degrees composition, it wouldn’t make much sense to plan every single part, and it would be impossible for me as well. You also have to walk through it so it is constantly changing. It all just has to be balanced out.

What is the theory behind Avalanche?

Avalanche is the image behind my degree project. A big distortion or transformation of space starts from one point in a place and then keeps growing and growing till the actual space can not be recognized anymore. The viewer during the expo is inside this moving, but frozen avalanche. Afterwards, it melts and the space returns to its former shape.

[Check out Behr’s film portrayal of this transformation.]

To see what it’s like to experience Avalanche, check out this video by Sandra Birkner.

>> See more of Clemens Behr’s work here,

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