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Five Minutes With: Installation Artist Collective FoldHaus

By Amanda Sheppard 14 March 2019
San Francisco-based art collective FoldHaus create visually striking installations that exist at the intersection between art, design, and engineering. Known for their large-scale installations at Burning Man, each project is created with the aim to bring people together, to create communities, and foster dialogues and discussions. Their latest exhibition, LUMENous GARDEN, which comes to Hong Kong's Pacific Place from March 19 to April 14, features two of the collective's signature kinetic installations, SHRUMEN LUMEN and BLUMEN LUMEN. We caught up with the co-leaders of FoldHaus, Joerg Student and Jesse Silver, ahead of the launch, to find out more.

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[caption id="attachment_139690" align="aligncenter" width="660"]foldhaus collective - hong kong art installation FoldHaus collective members[/caption]

How did you come to collaborate and form the collective?

Joerg and Jesse: When we created our first kinetic installation BLUMEN LUMEN in 2014, all of the FoldHaus core members were working at design firm IDEO in California. Our skills in various design and engineering disciplines were very complementary to each other and we were allowed to use IDEO’s sophisticated machine and model-making shop. We all shared a passion for building things and the desire to make art, so it was very natural to get together to work on the kinetic art installation for Burning Man; a yearly event that some of us had grown to love and wanted to contribute to in a deeper way.

What would you cite as your main influences? 

Joerg and Jesse: We are inspired by nature and origami and influenced by technology. With a number of designers and engineers contributing to each project, FoldHaus’ works are highly engineered and almost “product-like.” The goal, though, is always to create a sense of delight and wonder while bringing the community together.

In what ways has FoldHaus’ artistic style evolved?

Joerg and Jesse: Our volunteer crew has grown stronger and more diverse every year, and the available technologies have been getting less expensive and more sophisticated. In addition, with the experience and learning from our works so far, we are able to tackle new challenges such as building bigger and more complex sculptures, as with our 2018 RadiaLumia project.

Is there a common, underlying theme across your projects?

Joerg and Jesse: We leverage advances in technology, but the core element of our art is always an origami piece that combines motion, illumination, and design elegance into a cohesive work. [caption id="attachment_139691" align="aligncenter" width="660"]hong kong art installation BLUMEN LUMEN (2014) on display at Burning Man. Image courtesy of Bill Hornstein[/caption]

How does the LUMENous GARDEN art installation translate from its origins at Burning Man to Pacific Place?

Joerg and Jesse: Clearly, the context of Burning Man and Pacific Place couldn’t be more different. One is in the middle of the desert, you need to have a ticket to enter, and nothing is allowed to be bought or sold. The other one is a luxury shopping mall in one of the world’s most spectacular urban cities and anyone can come and see the art for free. The experience of Burning Man is largely one where things you never dreamed of appear out of the dust and you get to explore them and change the path of your day, even if only a little. We hope that we can bring some of that playful and experimental spirit of Burning Man to Pacific Place. We are excited to reach a wide range of audiences here. Also, for the first time, visitors will be able to see the art from above.

Does the interactive nature of your installations create a sense of community and togetherness? 

Joerg and Jesse: FoldHaus creates work that rewards visitors for their interaction and attention. The SHRUMEN LUMEN and BLUMEN LUMEN works presented at Pacific Place draw in the viewer with illuminated footpads and reward interaction by blooming and growing into different shapes.

How have people responded to the art in the past? Do you expect this to be the same at Pacific Place?

Joerg and Jesse: The movement is rather slow and seems unpredictable, which requires people to stay and wait until they can see the mushroom caps close or step on the footpad again. We have found that, no matter whether at Burning Man or in a museum, people start up conversations and engage with each other as they ponder the sculptures and try to figure out what activates them, or how they work. Catch LUMENous GARDEN at Pacific Place from March 19 to April 14.
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Amanda Sheppard

Senior editor

Following a brief and bitterly cold stint in Scotland, Amanda returned to Hong Kong—a place she’s called home for over 18 years—to begin her career as a writer. She can often be found getting lost somewhere very familiar, planning her next holiday, and enjoying a cup (or three) of good, strong coffee.