The photographer and I meet Swiss artist Monica Ursina Jäger in her studio near Zurich, Switzerland. We are both used to going to museums and galleries to see final art works and exhibitions. So it’s quite a special experience for us to witness the entire evolution process behind a piece of art. Immersing ourselves into a totally new world, we enjoy seeing the actual handwork of creating sculptures. Sika provided the artist with 750 kg of SikaGrout-314, which she needed to produce the works for her next exhibition, about to open in Zurich. We are more than curious. The big question is how almost a ton of flowable, cement-based mortar can be used for sculptures?
What is your background in art?
I’ve been a practicing artist for ten years. I studied at art schools in Lucerne and
Singapore and received my Master in Fine Arts from Goldsmiths College, University of London. My work embraces drawings, sculptures and installations with a variety of artistic media such as Chinese ink, pigment transfers, concrete and wood.
Can you share with us the intention behind your art?
This particular installation is called “This is the day to shape the days upon” and is a reference to the “Cité des Etoiles” social housing estate designed by French architect Jean Renaudie (1925-1981) in Givor, France. The goal of Renaudie’s architecture was social exchange among the socially weak, which he valued much more than the pure functionalism favored by so many of his contemporaries. The concrete sculptures also evoke images of the “Bosco Verticale” towers in Milan, which are considered to be pioneering in terms of ecological sustainability.
“The plants in my concrete objects all have natural black leaves.”
The green chlorophyllin normally associated with nature will be painted on plasterboards leaning against the wall behind the concrete object. While the plants will grow, the light-sensitive pigment will slowly fade during the exhibition. The installation invites the viewer to reflect on historical and contemporary architectural languages and material, the relationship between the natural and the constructed environment, and our aspirations and longings for the future.
What influences your art the most?
Art is a tool and method to experience the world and to reflect on my surroundings. I’m mainly influenced by the natural, fabricated and constructed environment around me: landscape, architecture and nature as real social sites and historical and narrative spaces. “
I’m fascinated by the relationship between the physical environment and its mediated experience and the possibilities that occur with the dissolution of reality and fiction.”
A particular interest of mine is reading essays on urbanism, landscape development, environmental issues and the history of architecture.
Why did you decide to work with SikaGrout?
My recent projects reflect on social housing utopias from the 1960s. I wanted to
pay tribute to the material used in the original building. My intention was to create an architectural model, a planter and a traditional sculpture all in one. Since my sculpture has a very thin-walled, complex shape, I was looking for a
material that would suit these requirements. In collaboration with the Sika technical team we decided on SikaGrout, which turned out to be the perfect
“This is now my third sculpture with SikaGrout, the previous ones having been a great success.”
One of them is now located in a private art collector’s garden, the other is now part of the public art collection of the Canton of Zurich in Switzerland.
Which materials did you combine with SikaGrout in your recent project?
In this project, I combine materials with different temporalities: SikaGrout, living black-leaved plants and chlorophyllin. I hope that the solid grey, living black and delicate green of the different components interact in a playful and complementary way.
If you hadn’t become an artist, what would you have become instead?
The beautiful thing about being an artist is that I can choose to be whatever I
want. I can be a historian, a geologist, an architect, a model maker, an anthropologist or a storyteller. Or all of these at the same time. For me there is no other way of being in the world.
What projects do you have coming up?
The current work can be seen at Helmhaus Zurich until November 20, 2016. After this I’ll be involved in a sculpture biennale in Switzerland where my partner
Michael Zogg and I will create a large-scale outdoor sculpture. In London I’ll be
showing drawings from the “future.archaeologies” series, and in Stuttgart I’m
working on an exhibition that deals with new ideas of nature, the collective
and the social in the Age of the Anthropocene.
Are there still any dreams that you wish to fulfill?
I would love to own a larger artist studio where ideas can manifest on a bigger
scale. I’d love to visit Brazil and study the works of modernist architects such as Oscar Niemeyer, and I dream of a journey to Japan to discover its landscapes, cities and culture.
Monica Ursina Jäger is a Swiss artist living in London and Zurich. Her multidisciplinary approach engages with spatial experiences both within the natural and the constructed environment. Recent works address the uncertainties of geopolitics in terms of natural resources and man-made production. Interdisciplinary projects include urban planning, green infrastructures and narrative environments in public parks. Jäger studied in Singapore and London and gained her MA at Goldsmiths College London. She has exhibited widely nationally and internationally, e.g. Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum Thun, Helmhaus Zurich, Galeria Pilar São Paulo, Sammlung Essl Klosterneuburg/Vienna, Haus Konstruktiv Zurich, Kunsthalle Osnabrück, Kunstverein Pforzheim. Winner of the Swiss Art Award 2007.