Foreword by Marcela Villa, Interview by Angela Yungk
This story was originally published in Art Hive Magazine issue #30, Summer 2019
Innovation is a driver of creativity, and Ralf Gschwend, better known as Ralfonso, has shown just how far outside the box innovation can take you. He has taken his art expertise and shared it with the world, literally. He is a global man in every sense of the word, creating masterpieces that interact with the environment, moving and changing with the elements, and presenting them in public spaces around the world. From Geneva, Switzerland, to West Palm Beach, Florida, to Hong Kong, China, the world has been blessed with the eclectic talents of Ralfonso and his cosmopolitan view of an artist.
He studied in both Switzerland as well as in the U.S., and with a Master’s Degree from the Wharton School of Business, his background in business was concrete. It was with this business savviness that he was able to create the life that most dream of – a life with enough financial freedom to pursue one’s passions. His interests range from science, to design, to business and engineering; all these things combine to create Ralfonso, a man who was able to find the focal point of those passions and bring them into a beautifully aesthetic fruition.
Ralfonso takes many steps to create his pieces, and goes out of his way to bring meaning, technique, and new technology and design into each work. His desire to have cutting edge technology combine with nature and the elements to bring both art and function to society have led him to collaborate with multiple technical universities in Europe; these students have helped to bring sound and light sculptures, as well as shape shifting sculptures to a scientific reality. Ralfonso incorporates his passions into his life with precision, threading each new interest into his quilt of artistry. Nature is part of his routine; daily walks around his town and others add tinder to his fuel of creativity, inspiring new pieces, form and function. Mimicking nature’s movement and seamlessly intertwining his artwork into its environment are where Ralfonso truly shines, and with some help from advanced technology, materials, and some talented techies, the sky’s the limit for Ralfonso’s kinetic and interactive art. His passion for kinetic art led to his co-founding of the Kinetic Art Organization – KAO. He has figured out how to take the art, the passion, the beauty of nature, and make it into a unique reality that he can share with the world tenfold.
Angela: What made you decide that kinetic was the art form for you?
Ralfonso: It started fairly early at around eight years old. I started to take things apart—much to the dismay of my mother
because there were always parts left over when I put it back together. I had an early interest in mechanics and then some
years later, discovered my passion for design. I found kinetic art which is art that has a motion component to it. So from
then on, my path kind of was set; I didn’t look at any other art form. I enjoyed learning about kinetic art and mechanics and
the environment and forces and still to this day.
Angela: Where do you draw in your inspiration for creating these huge pieces of art and then how do you go through the
process of creating it?
Ralfonso: Very often it starts with mother nature; it’s something that I see, a motion in a forest, in a tree, the way a leaf
falls. Mother nature is still the best artist. I saw for the first time this amazing tropical plant called a Bird of Paradise and
loved it so much that I made a kinetic sculpture that has that shape, but moves gently in the wind. It starts with some
modeling, often with styrofoam initially, just to test whether the shapes that I have in mind are actually wind sensitive and
work the way I envision. Then it goes to 3D modeling, then from that data where you can see from all sides, much like an
architect, we then fabricate a test model, usually 10 feet tall and we test it in high winds and put them on the back of
trucks and drive very fast with it. It’s quite fun to have this rattling piece of art on the back and see what happens. When
that all goes well and we make our final adjustments, then we produce a large public sculpture.
Angela: You are one of the founding members of the Kinetic Art Organization. Can you tell me a little bit about how it
Ralfonso: It’s a fun story—the way KAO started was that an American kinetic artist, a German artist, and I met over the
internet and said let’s get together and have a bottle of wine and discuss kinetic art, ball bearings, and such things that
kinetic artists like to discuss. So out of that one bottle of wine, it turned out to be several bottles of wine and somehow we
decided it’s time we form an organization. We thought there might be 20 to 30 people around the world that love kinetic
art, and are passionate about it, but much to our amazement, in the last 20 years, that organization has grown to over
1000 members from over 60 countries. It has become quite a diverse group.
Angela: What continues to inspire you as you make new sculptures?
Ralfonso: I love the new ideas, new concepts. I work with universities, two in Switzerland with the graduate students to
discover what artificial intelligence can create in the kinetic art realm. Not only am I exploring what is beyond the rim of my
plate, my blind spot let’s say in terms of creativity, but it brings up interesting questions like, when there is a fabulous
sculpture designed by artificial intelligence software, in 3D, who is the owner of the copyright? Is it me who started this
and approached the universities? Is it the programmer that created the software? Is it the program itself since it created it?
I like working with student teams around the world via Skype to come up with new ways of augmented and virtual reality.
Sculptures that communicate around the globe with each other, where you can send audio messages as well as motion
messages from one sculpture at one university to the another sculpture at the other university. Trying to be more on the
bleeding edge than the cutting edge and coming up with things that haven’t been done before.
Angela: It seems like there is an immense amount of growth in kinetic art right now. What are you most excited about?
Ralfonso: There is! I feel like I’ve been given this amazing tool box. In the old days, the materials you could use were
limited and difficult to work with. Nowadays, you have such amazing materials, as well as electronics, as well as
mechanics, motors that are tiny, but can move tremendous weight. I have this amazing tool box now that we can enjoy
and try things out and collaborate via the internet on projects, whether it’s with students or with one another. It’s a
fabulous time to be a kinetic artist.
CONNECT WITH RALFONSO:
All Photos Courtesy of the Artist