Paper Kite Artists in Residency: Anna Rubin

Panama Hotel, Seattle
Wednesday, January 1, 2003
Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Interview with Anna Rubin
Courtney de Rouen

DF: This is Anna Rubin from Vienna.

A: Well, actually, I used to be in Vienna, but now I live in southern Austria near Slovenia and Italy.

DF: Ok, Anna Rubin. So, when did you start to work with kites for the first time?

A: Well, I started in ’99. It was like this: I studied at the art academy and then chose kites for my thesis topic. And then I worked with them both theoretically and practically. That’s how it started.

DF: So, at the university.

A: Exactly.

DF: And why did you choose this topic? Had you flown kites as a child?

A: Yes, you must know that there where I’m living now in Kaernten, I grew up there, too. There is absolutely no good wind. I can remember we flew kites with our parents once or twice. We always ran, but the kites stayed on the ground. The wind was bad. But I chose the thesis topic because nobody in Vienna had handled it before.

DF: It was completely new.

A: A long time ago I had studied painting and textiles, and I had worked a lot with flying. I kept building objects that had to do with flying. For example, I built fairly large wings out of bamboo at the same time I was finishing my coursework to be an art teacher. So my thesis became not only about writing about the artistic work, but also how it was possible to use it in the classroom. And so I thought, “How can I connect flying with school? Or how could I give children the happy feeling that fills you when you’re flying?” And that’s when the idea of kites came to me. That’s how I actually came to kites. Before this I had never built kites. I had also never shown them to anyone. I just started small. I still remember the first kites were small squares. The tail was a long feather.

DF: And you enjoyed kites yourself. Flying interested you?

A: Yes, flying had always fascinated me. Somehow I noticed this as I searched for my thesis topic and looked through my previous work. I think I studied for nine years. In Austria you can study as long as you want and as I looked through my work I just saw that flying kept coming up as a theme. Then I thought I would like to do something with flying but tie the classroom into it as well. That’s why I thought, “OK, if I only talk about flying from an artistic standpoint it won’t fit in with teaching.” Then I thought about how I could connect these ideas about flying with the teaching and the school children. And that’s how I came to work with kites, because I had never worked with them before that.

DF: That’s interesting.

A: Yes, and actually even from the beginning I always worked with paper.

DF: So, after you wrote your thesis you traveled for the first time to kite festivals. Your interest in kites really began then?

A: Yes, it was very funny. It took me two years to write my thesis, so pretty long. At first I collected resources. There are many books, but those on kite building tend to be for building projects in kindergarten. I wasn’t just interested in building, though, but in creating a kite building experience, in which the artistic departure point stayed in the kites. In Vienna there is a kite club and a kite shop and I went there and told them that I was writing my thesis and asked them whether they knew someone who could somehow help me and who had a lot of books. For example, I couldn’t find any books about kites from China, or Asia, absolutely nothing. So, the man gave me a name and I made a few calls, but somehow it didn’t work out so well. Then I heard about a small kite festival near Vienna and I went there and talked to some man…that was so lucky! That is a man, who has been collecting kite books for ten or twenty years.

DF: Wow, you asked the right guy!

A: Yes.

DF: Really lucky!

A: So, we immediately hit it off and he invited me over and I was allowed to use his kite library for my thesis project. His name is Anton Firmhammer. And he took me to my first kite festival in Cervia. That’s where I met Robert. I had split bamboo before, of course, but I had only read about it and then tried it on my own…I had never really seen someone splitting bamboo professionally. So then Robert said, “Come here Anna!” and there was a tent where you could build, like a workshop tent. He gave me bamboo and paper and showed me how to split the bamboo well. And then I just watched how he made kites. He built a few, I can show you. It was like this, and like this (drawing 1). With these slices. And that was the horizontal piece. And somehow that was the kite that just ‘clicked’ for me. Because before I had always only made kites like this (drawing 2), with a feather on it. Because no one had showed me what else was possible. I had always been scared that if I changed the form too much it wouldn’t fly. But when I saw Robert’s I suddenly realized that you can actually build anything. As long as you are careful about the horizontal spar, it will still fly. It really ‘clicked’ for me at that moment. That’s where I made my first three original designs. And it was totally wonderful. After I returned home a man from the kite festival, another whom I had befriended, Jan Hautermann, called me and said, “Anna, you have to look in the Cerf-Volant Passion newspaper, there is an article about you!”. And sure enough, my pictures were there and I didn’t even know it. That was at the first kite festival. And somehow that’s how it all started.

DF: Famous from the start…

A: (Laughs) Well, it was totally great because it was such a surprise.

DF: And your first kites, they were built from paper. So, really it was your first material, wasn’t it? That’s what you started with.

A: Yes.

DF: And have you experimented with modern materials or do you prefer paper and bamboo?

A: Well, somehow I need the strong feeling, this tactile sensation. And bamboo and paper, I like to touch them so much. Simply that or also when you are splitting the bamboo, the sound it makes, this “zzzzzzzzt”. When you split a lot, the bamboo starts to get warm and then it starts to smell like fresh hay. Earlier I always worked with paper. Even before I started building kites I built many objects out of paper. I have also made my own paper. Somehow paper is a material that totally surrounds me.

DF: Yeah, it’s interesting because with some of the artists I have the feeling that they started with modern materials and are trying now to work a bit with paper, but with you it’s the other way around.

A: The funny thing is though…actually when you think about it, you should always be trying something new. Often if you only work with one material it’s like a boundary, or like your horizon is too small. But I don’t feel a bit hemmed in or limited by the material, not at all.

DF: Then you can go ahead and continue…

A: Yes, actually, I am a curious person, but still I am not at all interested in spinnaker, Tyvek, not at all.

DF: And what do you get from a workshop like this? What kind of impetus is it for you?

A: For me it was nice because I am working too much at school with my job. As a teacher there is hardly any time left over for the kites. That means that if I were in Austria right now, I wouldn’t have built any kites. And since I’ve been here I’ve had the time and the framework to build kites. That is something for me, and the other interesting thing is what happens amongst each other. I have never seen exactly how Frank and Christine work. I know Robert’s work already and Scott’s too, because we’ve done workshops together. And I know Kirsten and Anke well, but just to see Frank and Tina work and to look at their sketch books. That is very inspiring: how each person has a starting point, from which their kites are born. And also with Yoshizumi-san, which techniques he has, or even his tools. He has such nice paintbrushes: the hairs are held together between a piece of bamboo. It’s just beautiful. And he has the material. This susudake, the dark bamboo.

DF: Lastly, can you say a few words about your current work? What you started this week or what you have been thinking of lately?

A: Yes, with the one kite I started that earlier. I build a kite, not because of its form, but rather the form grows out of some kind of story. So, for instance, this kite with the circle there,

DF: The one with the lipstick?

A: No, the other one. The one you asked about (drawing 3).

DF: Oh, the one at the Drachen Foundation.

A: Yes, exactly. That is a story that happened to me and I tried to find a translation, in a form that represented it. That’s a fence in the circle from someone who is always resisting me. He wants to be left in peace. But we are good friends and inside the circle, this little orange, that’s me. I often have an orange hat on and so for me it’s simply the story of me trying to get through the fence of this person. Or this one, for example, is the story of a good friend of mine (drawing 4). This is like the other one—lately the circles symbolize people. That’s him and that is me, perhaps. And yes, that is in any case the story of two people. For me the form doesn’t stand in the foreground: rather, a story or an experience that I’ve had. Right now I am working on two series. That’s the one series, and the other is that I am somehow interested in materials that come from nature. For me nature plays a totally strong role. I think that’s why I use bamboo and paper. For example, once I made a kite only out of grass. So it was constructed with grass and even the paper was made from grass. I notice that nature plays or gets an ever more significant role in my work. And even now with the dollar plant (drawing 5), it reminds me of…I made a kite once that consisted only of branches (drawing 6). And where the branches forked – like this– I put pieces of paper, and it really flies. Can you imagine it? So, here are two branches and where they fork there is paper inside.

DF: And that flies?

A: Yes, it flies like this. And just now with the dollar plant, I had had it in my head for a long time but I had never found this plant.

DF: Because it is still winter where you live…

A: (laughs) Exactly. It’s true. But I tried to plant them last summer and they didn’t grow. I think it must have been the wrong place. I will try somewhere else.

DF: But you were able to find them here?

A: Yes.

DF: Really?

A: Yes, near the street on Aurora.

DF: Great!

A: That was a good find! I have several other ideas for nature kites. I’m not sure whether it works to say this in English but I call them the ‘growing kites’, kites that practically grow or have grown out of nature. So, those are the nature kites or ‘growing kites’ and then there are these story or experience kites. Those are actually the two components that I’m working on right now.

DF: That was it for me. Do you have anything else that you would like to say?

A: No.

DF: Thank you.

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