modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings

modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings

a tape recorder, a clock, a black box — objects of memory, ones that remember and ones that remind, become familiar fragments of time. ever-experimenting and re-evaluating the manner in which everyday objects are used, fabian oefner has ‘exploded’ sports cars, encased a coffee pot in the heavy resin pages of a book, and created iridescent ‘oil spills’ with water. his latest work, the heisenberg series, draws from the world of quantum mechanics. the six sculptures are based on werner heisenberg’s famous ‘uncertainty principle’, a theory which states that two separate parameters of a particle cannot be measured simultaneously. you can either determine one parameter and ignore the other or vice versa, but you can never know both at once. oefner adopted this idea from the world of physics and created an artistic equivalent of it.‘the more accurately we see one view, the less clearly we see the other,’ oefner tells designboom. ‘your interaction with the sculpture ultimately determines its appearance.’

fabian oefner
heisenberg object VI – cortez | 30 x 18 x 15 cm | leather, foam, resin | 2021
all images courtesy of fabian oefner | @fabianoefner

 

 

the sculptures are made of six different everyday objects: shoes, a clock, a tape recorder, a camera and a black box. fabian oefner filled these with resin and carefully sliced them into hundreds of individual parts, then rearranged the slices into a distorted new version of the object that lets you see its inner workings. through this transformation, the objects have a peculiar effect on their observer: when you look at them from a distance, you can easily identify the object. however, if you start to get closer to observe the inside, the shape of the object starts to get distorted and vanishes completely.

 

designboom spoke with fabian oefner about his interest in fragmentation, the production process of the pieces and the ‘modern archeology’ in revealing the inner workings of familiar objects.

fabian oefner
heisenberg object VI – cortez | 30 x 18 x 15 cm | leather, foam, resin | 2021

 

 

designboom (DB): what do you think draws you to the themes of dissection, disintegration and transformation? when did this interest in fragmentation begin?

 

fabian oefner (FO): it ultimately has to do with trying to understand the world around me. I remember when I was a little boy, together with my brother, we used dad’s hydraulic press to crush our toy cars, just to see how they come apart. I guess that fascination has stayed with me ever since, only that I disintegrate things in a more sophisticated way these days.

fabian oefner
heisenberg object VI – cortez | 30 x 18 x 15 cm | leather, foam, resin | 2021

 

 

DB: can you briefly introduce werner heisenberg’s ‘uncertainty principle’ and how these new pieces relate to the theory?

 

FO: this theory is one of the pillars in quantum mechanics. it states that you can not measure two separate parameters of a particle like its location and its speed simultaneously. you can either determine one parameter and ignore the other or vice versa, but you can never know both at once.

 

I applied this idea to these six sculptures. when you look at them from a distance, you can easily identify the object. however, if you start to get closer to observe the inside, the shape of the object starts to get distorted and vanishes completely. as an observer you are never able to look at the object as a whole and its inner workings simultaneously. the more accurately we see one view, the less clearly we see the other. your interaction with the sculpture ultimately determines its appearance.

fabian oefner
heisenberg object VI – cortez | 30 x 18 x 15 cm | leather, foam, resin | 2021

 

 

DB: how were the objects for the series selected, and what is their personal meaning to you?

 

FO: I selected these six objects, because they all have to do with memory. they all record something. with the camera, the tape recorder and the black box it’s obvious, they either record an image or a voice, a piece of music etc. the clock keeps track of time or you could also say it records it.

 

the one thing a little less obvious are the sneakers. but to me sneakers are like recording machines, that keep track of our motion. the shoes used are 1985 nike cortez. I often wonder about all the different places around the world they were walked to. so in a way, the series is not only about the uncertainty principle but also about the fragmentation of memory.

fabian oefner
heisenberg object II – tape recorder | 30 x 20 x 8 cm | plastics, metal, resin | 2021

 

 

DB: there’s undoubtedly a complex process behind arriving at the final result — what is the production process like, and what are the challenges in executing the pieces?

 

FO: the process is technically very demanding. the objects have to be cast in a suitable resin that is processed in vacuum and pressure chambers, they then get carefully sliced, sanded and polished and finally the slices are assembled into their final form. so it’s on one hand very challenging to create them, but there is nothing like creating something that hasn’t been there before. especially when it’s challenging to make…

modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings
heisenberg object II – tape recorder | 30 x 20 x 8 cm | plastics, metal, resin | 2021

 

 

DB: what do you find most beautiful about revealing the inner workings of objects? is there anything that has surprised you once you looked inside?

 

FO: I love the thought that I am the first one, in some cases after 40 or 50 years, to look at the inside of these objects. for example in the leica M6 camera, there was a note from the engineer written on the inside of one of the inner metal plates. it was in german, something about the precision of the shutter mechanism. I said to myself: ‘he or she probably never expected that this note ever will see daylight again. but here it is. 30 years after the camera was assembled.’ it’s a bit like modern archeology….

modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings
heisenberg object III – leica M6 | 20 x 15 x 5 cm | aluminium, glass, resin | 2021

 

 

DB: designboom has followed your work since 2012, beginning with your bursting soap bubbles — how would you describe the evolution of your work since then?

 

FO: I have certainly come a long way since the bubbles. it is an almost bowiesque evolution, from the scientific projects to the exploding cars on to the sliced sculptures. what connects all of them, despite their totally different appearance and form, is that they were all the result of trying to understand the world around me a bit better. from studying visible phenomena like iridescence in the bubbles to exploring the idea of time and reality through the car series and slice sculptures, I am always trying to figure out what that thing is we call ‘reality’.

modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings
heisenberg object III – leica M6 | 20 x 15 x 5 cm | aluminium, glass, resin | 2021

 

 

DB: which project has brought you the most satisfaction?

 

FO: the one I am currently working on — stopping time in three dimensions. to be released soon, stay tuned…

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heisenberg object I – seiko clock | 20 x 15 x 10 cm | plastics, metal, resin 2021

modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings
heisenberg object I – seiko clock | 20 x 15 x 10 cm | plastics, metal, resin | 2021

modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings
heisenberg object I – seiko clock | 20 x 15 x 10 cm | plastics, metal, resin | 2021

modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings
heisenberg object IV – flight recorder | 50 x 50 x 40 cm | plastics, metal, resin | 2021

modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings
heisenberg object IV – flight recorder | 50 x 50 x 40 cm | plastics, metal, resin | 2021

modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings
heisenberg object IV – flight recorder | 50 x 50 x 40 cm | plastics, metal, resin | 2021

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modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings
heisenberg object V – cortez | 30 x 18 x 15 cm | leather, foam, resin | 2021

modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings
heisenberg object V – cortez | 30 x 18 x 15 cm | leather, foam, resin | 2021

modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings
heisenberg object V – cortez | 30 x 18 x 15 cm | leather, foam, resin | 2021

modern archeology: fabian oefner fragments familiar objects of memory to unearth their inner workings
heisenberg object V and VI – cortez

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