Science and Art: Together with the young Addertal physicist Jan Niklas Kirchhoff, these two worlds merge in a project he co-founded with a friend.
Adderall – Probability is one of the life-like driving forces in science. Jan Niklas Kirchhoff, who hails from Edertal and lives in Berlin, uses this power in a special way. A wave, like a surfer, whose size he cannot determine, but on which he can ride, without knowing how far and where this ride will take him. Chance turns the 31-year-old researcher into a world that seems a great distance apart from science: the world of art.
Paradox: On the supposedly long journey, the scientist had to deal with the smallest dimensions. At the Laser Research Center in Aachen, he was studying laser calibration.
exactly to a trillionth of a meter
“To the layman, it can be described as a very complex form of calibration. For example, to develop measurement techniques that work fine for picometers,” he explains. It is a trillionth of a meter, that is, twelve zeros below the fractional line, or one to the power of twelve subtracted from the power of ten.
Kirchhoff also calibrated the laser for the purpose of cutting steel five millimeters thick. A beam of light with its mysterious, quantum physical powers – Jan Kirchhoff aimed it at metal plates on which the laser left lines and patterns. After evaluation of the experiment, the plates were moved to the trash. The young researcher picked up only a few and took them with him when he went to Berlin.
spirited trash on the wall
One day he was visited by a college friend from Aachen days: the architect of the same age, Max Schmidt-Alvarez, who also ended up in the capital. “Some metal plates that were processed with lasers were hanging on the wall in my apartment because I liked the look,” recalls Kirchhof, who built his Abitur at Wildanger GSG.
His friend was fascinated by the laser marks on the material. “I was excited about the aesthetics,” says the architect. That evening the two had lengthy conversations about technically generated lines and patterns, which completely gave way to their imaginations. “The next day we ordered a laser online,” says Jan, a laser from China. The device came as a kind of black box, “because there was no operating manual,” says Max Schmidt-Alvarez.
art experiments at random
He didn’t mind as the two friends initially experimented at random. He placed various metals in beams and other materials such as wood. He observed the visible colors and effects. “We experimented with software and layouts to engrave,” says Schmidt-Alvarez. “We do laser dances in varying strengths and speeds”, Kirchhoff describes the beginning of joint formation.
Coated metal plates became the most exciting materials on which the laser creates extraordinary colors in black and gray tones with effects of light absorption and reflection that create the impression of three-dimensionality.
Chance as a method with creative power
The two friends wrote algorithms for the device, but intentionally left a lot of space in these control programs to give them a chance to direct the bundled light beam onto the plate. “Make circles for me”, a specification for the machine, might be; The random number generator also works. The process has its cost. “50 percent of the resulting plates are scraps, we don’t like them,” says the physicist on the team.
Behind the abstract geometry of his portrait compositions, both deliberately and out of curiosity take his works to another level. “It’s about the question of how people use technology – and, conversely, how technology uses us in a certain way,” says Max Schmidt-Alvarez.
between fascination and shudder
“These technologies bring the most obvious changes to our lives,” says Jan Kirchhoff, who is developing in everyday life under the title of “artificial intelligence,” or “AI.” Will computers succeed, will programs ever take the leap towards true creativity? Do they even surpass people as artists? Possibilities that fascinate and frighten people. Kirchhoff and Schmidt-Alvarez are inspired by their art from this frontier between curiosity, tense expectation and shudder.
“The fundamental difference between what machines and humans create is the imperfection we create as humans,” says Schmidt-Alvarez. Machine-woven carpet has basically no flaws, the more valuable, hand-made carpet, yes. Your laser directs its lines with perfect precision. “It would be nice if the machine would at some point automatically incorporate errors like people do,” Jan Kirchhoff says. But even if future software uses lasers in a “creative” way like this – could it ever do what two friends do together?
Creativity grows with stress
A creative tension arises between them from the different perspectives and professional backgrounds of a physicist and an architect, who like to talk in their heads during the creative process and who as a pair refer to themselves as “Projekt_k40”. Or those who come up with the idea to equip metal plates with acid in the studio, equipped with chemical goggles, protective gloves, and a smock.
No – the path of “AI”s to real-life surfboards still seems reassuringly long. The art of Jan Kirchhoff and Max Schmidt-Alvarez is a science in itself, shaped by two personalities. For those who enjoy the sight of the picture and wonder: “How did they do that?”
It began with “Calibration”: so far represented in four exhibitions.
Jan Niklas Kirchhoff and Maximilian Schmidt-Alvarez-Garsilon have arranged four exhibitions since 2019, one in Paris and three in their adopted home Berlin. “Calibration” was the name of his first project, named after the origins of the research work of the Edertal-born physicist. His work created a sensation in the art scene. Due to the inherent randomness when using a laser, all its functions are unique. “Finally something pretty abstract again.”
Both get such reactions from the audience. Both were surprised by the interpretation of what the audience saw in the photographs: the universe, the moon and more. “We realized early on that our opinions didn’t matter,” says Max Schmidt-Alvarez. The architect and physicist often found themselves playing with the idea of earning a living from art, as they were already selling works in four-figure volumes, including to major contemporaries in Berlin. “If you don’t feel like being in the office at all, you think about it,” says Schmidt-Alvarez. But basically “we enjoy being free and doing what we want to do in the arts. It’s a nice luxury,” says Jan Kirchhoff.
How things will proceed with “Projekt_k40” is not clear at the moment for other reasons. The architect became the father. The Edertal-Velan physicist has applied to become an astronaut at ESA, as have 22,000 other applicants. More about the two artists www.projekt-k40.de Or on Instagram @projekt_k40. (Mathias Schult)
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