Interview with Tornquist

Painting and public works

Your art manifests itself in different types of artistic production. Do they influence each other or preserve their autonomy?

Painting and design of public works are not different things, are all research on the sense and see and have always had a political fund. For this reason I don’t perceive them as separate. They are different objects, it is true, and each requires a specific application, depending on what it has to communicate. But you can not separate the experiences. Ideas are born in the art and can later turn into visual objects within the urban or industrial environment, or it is possible that working on some projects new ideas for other jobs arise. For these reasons I prefer not to draw great distinctions about my experiences. The only difference actually existing is from the economic point of view: I don’t ask for apps the same wages I take in the world of art: if I asked higher pays I would risk not to work on these types of intervention anymore. Certainly, the different kinds of research I’ve done in my life had an influence on my experiments, but that’s another story. My first interest was the biology and the behavior of animals, particularly with regard to their reactions to external stimuli. But there wasn’t a job suitable for me in the field of biology, because I wasn’t interested neither in teaching nor in vivisection. So I decided to devote myself to architecture and there I have applied my studies. I didn’t begin as artist, I was discovered as an artist thanks to my works in architecture. At that point, I decided to charge as an artist in order to have the freedom to devote myself to what I was interested into. The most important thing for me, now as well as then, is to do what I’m fond of and live on it. For this reason I consider my work more research than art, with the advantage of being declared art. Things, therefore, affect each other, they are not separated. In the past I also had to work on bad structures, but today I do not accept anymore these works, because when a structure is poorly designed it maybe will improve, but it will never become beautiful. I decided to stop working on this type of architecture, because it happened that the responsibility for its ugliness in the end fell on me.

Analysis and Perspectives

In Italy you can find cases of virtuous city where you create, manage and protect the public aesthetics through, for example, the care of public parks, the city planning, the introduction of beautiful and functional street forniture. In other areas of the country, we witness to the administrative indifference towards the care of many places and to an alarming rude and barbaric use of the territory by the very same inhabitants. In Brescia, these two attitudes seem to coexist. Do you believe that the many experiences of concrete actions for the care and the implementation of urban aesthetics done up to this day have generated a binding path in this direction for the political administration and for citizens? Or do incivility and distance from the aesthetics of the public places may clear this path traced with difficulty over the years?

It is a bit difficult to answer, precisely because the city is composed of many elements. For example, Piazza Loggia: I do not understand why fake antique chandeliers were put ​​in the square instead of introducing something new that wouldn’t create confusion. Surely Brescia engaged, but has unfortunately created horrible areas, too: Brescia Due, in my opinion, is one of the worst situations in the world with regard to the bad taste. The Crystal Palace is pretty nice, but it was wrong to include the red line because it was designed to be placed on a higher building. That’s where the municipality hasn’t understood it would be a nice project if it had not been halved. The question that arises is directly related to people: sometimes someone understand the needs and possibilities that are available and this awareness gives rise to something. This path continues, but unfortunately there is always the risk, for those who are pursuing the project, to be replaced. Since the 70s Brescia has always been a city more interested than others in art. These situations happen ​​easier in peripheral cities — Genoa, for example — rather than in a city like Milan. Brescia is quite a rich city, and people are more open, at least in showing what they have. It is not arrogance but a simple need to get noticed.

From this point of view, a person who lives in Brescia is quite similar to one who lives in Milan, but realities of other provinces are different. It’s easier to work in such contexts. If, for instance, a collector bought a Fontana in Brescia, he showed it and so another collector bought a Fontana. These already happened when Fontana’s paintings had not great value and therefore were considered as something new. This dynamic came true more easily in the city. In the 70s this spirit was very much keen, unfortunately then it is gone. In most recent years the situation has again become quite lively, even from the galleries’ point of view. It’s a reality that has the potential to be lively, but everything depends on a good management. We need someone to coordinate, but unfortunately it is a cultural environment without substance and therefore it’s difficult to follow a coordinated approach. Today, unfortunately, is often a hunt for votes rather than the push of a social context in this direction. A major problem that Brescia has not solved is that of non-EC: efforts should be done to place them so that they become an element of enrichment, and not of degradation. For example, when I worked in Turin in the 70s, I believed that it was useless to continue using the colors of Piedmont in a city where Piedmonteses were very few and there was none in the municipality. The city must dress the part of those who live there, it cannot simply be the architect to decide the clothes. The story of a place represents another issue: people coming from other countries don’t know the history of the new city that welcomes them, they become Italian citizens entered into a place of which they don’t know the historical background. It should be retained, while new environments should be managed in a different way. In Brescia, but also in Bergamo, for example, I am struck by the use of almost fluorescent colors in historical context. Once the houses conveyed strength, now weightlessness, they no longer show the quality that characterized them before. This is a serious mistake that the City makes, allowing these choices. The inhabitants usually is convinced by a company to use these bright colors, but this stage should be managed by giving rules on what you can and what you cannot do. It’s obvious that the person who prohibits certain options, should also have a certain credibility in that field. In Italy there are very tight restrictions that prevent us from doing things as innovative as it is possible to do in Switzerland, for example, where you are free to include really new elements. The fact is that in Italy there is a cultural heritage really problematic to manage. In conclusion, with regard to this question, what is missing is a group of people from different cultural backgrounds (for example a critic, a philosopher, a painter) gathered around a round table to take these decisions.

Relationships with clients

You often work on commission. We can imagine the difficulties in combining artistic spirit and often impulsive requests of the customer. His signature is a unique experience in the global artistic world. Is this enough to hold the proud clients, makeshift creatives for the occasion?

The answer is very simple: in Austria we are accustomed to call our clients “patients”. This is because the client doesn’t know what he wants, he knows he wants something but doesn’t know exactly what. The designer’s duty is to guide the person and convince her to what he considers right to do. If you can’t, it’s better to leave the project in the hands of others, however so far I’ve always managed to lead customers on the road that I found more correct. I believe that the client is convinced in the end, because he knows he is not the expert. So far, I’ve always convinced the clients. The waste to energy plant in Brescia is an example of this type of work. There have also been situations in which I had to intervene to resolve problems caused by some designs. There are processes that sometimes last for years, but sometimes they are much faster. Plus, if it’s possible (and I often succeeded in this), we must do everything possible to reduce costs.

If I have a factory built with some design elements, this is not an industrial plant. In my opinion, the industrial plant should have the look of an industry. In some projects, where were provided nineteenth-century villa parks, the green areas were often not completed, probably because it was not consistent with the structure and nature of the plant. In this case the role of the designer is to bring the customer on the right track, or at least on what the designer considers to be right. However there are situations in which I don’t intervene today, for example when something is no longer salvable. As a young man I was obliged to accept every work that came, but today I can afford to reject certain things. The most difficult aspect is that usually you have to relate with people who have nothing to do with certain technical aspects and have no idea how the project will actually be once done. This is certainly a big problem today. For example it is what has happened to the new station in Berlin: the designers have created renderings which created a very bright atmosphere, but in practice the station is dark, dark and terrible. This is because rendering is convincing, but then the reality is different. Sometimes it also happens that the clients are not able to read the rendering. Look at what happened in Como with the wall that covers the lake.

(In Como the Municipality has built a wall that runs from one to another end of the lake, and that actually hides the view. It was realized to protect Piazza Cavour from flooding, rare and mild. The project was approved after the designers have shown renderings that ensured the success of the project. Almost the entire citizenry arose because, once built more than half of the wall, she realized that it obscured the view. Now the Municipality is proceeding with the lowering of the wall. N. d. c.).

Relationship with colors

Is there a color or combination of colors in which you recognize yourself, or that more than others is able to express your feelings?

Black. I like the reds, yellows, blues, anything that shoots, like the pictures, but in the environment something changes. The black to which I refer is understood as mystical, for example, the Black Square of Malevich. Indeed, I do not come from Constructivism, as everyone believes, but from the mysticism to which today I don’t really feel connected anymore. Chromatic preferences change, even daily, depending on the mood in which I wake up.

The secret wish…

Has Jorrit Tornquist a dream, maybe so enormous as to be considered impossible?

There are things I dream about doing and things that I dreamed as a young man that I failed to do: a power station and a dam, for example. I’d like to make a maze for children, 50cm wide, so as to prevent mothers from entering. Things like that, nothing special. Blow Brescia Due off. I speak negatively of Brescia Due because it is a showing-off. There are districts born in the 50s that are definitely worse, but they don’t have the pretension to be special. This is the downside. In Berlin, the city of architects, talented professionals were called for projects, each has his area and so it became a museum. Brescia Due is not a museum, is a museum of horrors, there would be two or three cases, not more, of something beautiful there. Then I’d like to put makeup on women, ban all anti-cellulite medicines, because I like cellulite, through it you create beautiful plays of light. I like the light as Rembrandt liked, a Rembrandt painting would not be possible without cellulite. I have never managed to do a Mediterranean garden: the whole of Italy is an area rich in vegetation but is increasingly being destroyed and degraded by importing several elements from outside.

Ban all the fences so that the land would be no longer owned by anyone, but the property of all. Everyone who grow plants in their own little piece of land should receive more funding. Now olive it’s fashionable, if one builds a new house he plants an olive tree. In the United States they fortunately begin to understand and appreciate the dry garden, made ​​from local plants, that don’t need to be watered when the water is lacking. The environment is subjected to alterations caused by plants that are not native, and doesn’t improve. I do not know how much we can still afford this “luxury”. The problem in Italy is that there isn’t a consciousness of the common good. In my opinion, the city belongs to the inhabitants of the city itself and people should be educated in this manner. I made a project for a kindergarten and I realized that children are not taught to be responsible for their environment. They feel everything is public as contrary to them, the windows are closed with grids, le protezioni dei vani scale sono più alte delle ante . The concept that links these elements is that of barriers. Because of this situation the child rebels and when he becomes an adult he continues to rise, destroying what he can. The child should feel the space as if it were his property, too. To achieve this awareness, people should be involved in the planning stage, so as to make them more responsible. This rarely happened, I could do it only in Austria: it was a very strict area, which had the advantage of cure the environment very well. The building was born of a speculative building and has to be reused per non fare esplodere le bombe. I suggested discussing with local people and so, at the end of work, everybody was very satisfied with the result. The owners of the land gave us two local trees because they didn’t want different species of plants in the area, and strangely was all respected, and the only postcard that exists of the village represents exactly that building. If there are the conditions I prefer to discuss with local people because I think that when you work, for example to an industrial plant, you should force people living around to take care for the environment, because it is important that positive attitudes affect each other, it’s a sort of key to manage the environment itself. Public interventions are never discussed. Certainly, in Italy we are not used to it, although as a matter of fact Italy is perhaps the only country to pursue chromatic projects on industrial plants. Something is done in Germany, Spain and France. In France, in the 60s, when the airport Charles De Gaulle was realized, some artists were invited to design through public art interventions a few miles of road that led to it. This would be impossible in Austria because they claim that this type of decorations is dangerous because they divert attention from driving. With regard to railway tunnels, I’ve always wanted to do portals as they were done once: old galleries had some great portals that are visible only by people driving. It costs nothing individualizzarli. If I arrive by train or by car to Milan, my first impression is not good, from the train I see all the dirt on the right and on left. If you arrive by train in a city in Japan there is no dirt anywhere, everything is clean, so you’re positively impressed. The business card of a city is its entry, not just the center. The Italian housewife cleans perfectly the interior of her house, but what is outside the house does not concern her at all. This disagreement is part of the idea that citizens must take ownership of the territory and even the city. In Turin the house painters have decided to join in, and under the table work has almost disappeared. They began to advise people and they add multi-color estimates to monochrome estimates without increasing the price, for the simple fact that they liked them. In my opinion they should become again painters and decorators, and advise people. In this way the city would remain as it is: if the city has no good taste it still doesn’t have it, but at least it can express itself. However, the decoration must be designed based on the home and the Municipality must provide guide-lines. In this way you can achieve a coordinated image of the city without excessive personal initiatives take over. A borderline case occurred in Merate, where the Municipality demanded that all the houses were painted in ocher. This decision was taken because many years ago, people were poor and the only way to paint their house was using the earth, and the result was walls painted ocher. Then the skyscrapers were born, the streets became more narrow and it was all ocher. For this reason, in summer the city became a sauna. As long as just some houses keep the color of old ones it’s a pleasant thing, but when the only color of houses in an entire town is ocher, the effect doesn’t work anymore. Who didn’t want his house painted ocher was forced to leave the plaster without painting, because in questo modo il Comune non poteva nulla. There are people working in municipalities that don’t have any culture, and just some of these people who play the role of municipal employees have so much power in making these decisions.