Paper Kite Artists in Residency: Christine Schwarting

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

Interview with Christine Schwarting

DF: You are from…?

C: From Cologne in Germany.

DF: When was the first time you saw a kite? Do you remember?

C: The first time was when I was a child. There was a company that sold coffee and once they gave away plastic eagles as a special offer.

DF: Eagles!

C: And mine flew super. I know lots of people my age who had these plastic kites when they were little.

DF: The same one?

C: Yes, and it flew superbly. We took it with us to Holland on the beach, and as a child it was totally fascinating. After that, though, my interest in kites came to a halt. I didn’t pursue it any further or anything. It didn’t come up again as a theme for me until much later.

DF: At the lecture night you mentioned that when you met Frank you started to get involved with kites again.

C: Right, so I met Frank in college and we studied the same subject area.

DF: Which subject area?

C: Frank studied object design and I did more graphic design and video design. Right before I graduated we got to know each other better and he kept talking to me over and over again about kites and I thought, yeah, yeah, whatever. But then at some point everything got more serious, also between us, and he invited me to come to a kite festival in Thailand. He asked me if I wanted to come. And I thought it over and finally was like, “Yeah, OK.” And that was the first time that I really saw all that was out there. And also the festival took place in this fantastic country, in Bangkok where the king’s palace was. It was all so amazing!! Like in a fable, it made a great big impression on me. That was when I first understood that a kite isn’t a toy. In Europe kites are considered mostly as toys for children, and nothing more. But cultures and sports and other things are hidden in them as well. At first I was very meek, at night, always standing at the edge of the field with big eyes. Then we started traveling together a lot in Europe, France, USA, and Canada.

DF: To different festivals?

C: To different festivals, exactly. And I always helped Frank with the flying. It was kind of stupid because I was always known as ‘Frank’s girlfriend.’ But somehow I made use of the time. It was definitely about five years where I just watched and helped. I also had a stressful job, where there wasn’t much time left over to do something on my own. That changed one-and-a-half, or two years ago. That’s when I very consciously said I want to have time for this and that’s when my work slowly started. That’s when I made paper and bamboo kites because it was easy: it was the material that I had right there. I don’t have a studio; I work at home. I have a tiny little apartment with a workspace and computer. The table is two meters wide, and half of it is computer. There is one meter of space left to build on. Therefore, my kites are around this size. When Frank, who up until that point had worked much more with material, and not as much with paper, saw what I had made he said, “That will never fly.” And I said, “We’ll see!”

DF: How did you come to using paper?

C: In kindergarten we simply learned how to use it. It’s the classic material for making kites. Anyone you ask will tell you this. “Have you ever built a kite?” “Yes, out of paper and wooden slats.” Also, I found very beautiful paper with fibers in it, similar to what we have here. I thought it was really great, also how it looked when the structure was lit from the back. And with the bamboo, I worked it totally wrong in the beginning. Frank gave me a few of his leftovers and said, “Try this. That’s fine.” But I processed everything completely wrong. Split it wrong and everything. Then Robert showed me at some point how to do it better.

DF: At a kite festival.

C: Yes, I think it was in Canada. It was his birthday and we were sitting together and he showed us how to use the knife and how you can simply lay the leather on your knee and pull it through the rod. And actually that was the beginning. Since August Frank has a bigger workshop and I have a place to work there. And there I don’t have to be considerate. If it gets filthy, no big deal, floor, everything. I can do much more now. I like to daub paint blots in different colors and inevitably it sprays all over… At home that’s not OK, but at Frank’s it’s OK. And the most recent thing we’ve done together is that he sewed me kites out of spinnaker nylon, because I can’t sew well, and then I painted them. It was really great. He made a few for me and now they keep getting bigger. But it’s so much fun. You can get out the paint brushes and put your momentum and strength into them. I like that.

DF: What does this workshop mean to you?

C: The workshop. First it’s great to see how the others work because we meet only rarely at festivals. At the festivals you see what others have made, but don’t know how they came about.

DF: Only the end product.

C: Exactly. You see a kite, and you can look at it and figure, he glued this onto this or knotted it this way, but you still don’t know how the idea for the kite developed. That’s what I think is nice to see here is how each person has their own rhythm. And also to see how one person focuses on a single piece consistently until the end, while another may make many different parallel pieces. That’s what’s nice and naturally it’s something special to be able to spend a whole week long working on a piece. Otherwise, because of work, it’s only possible to work now and then during the evenings or on the weekend.

DF: You get distracted over and over.

C: Yes, and here you can pursue the whole thing much more intensively.

DF: Could you say a few words about what you’ve done or started with here?

C: Well, that’s difficult. Normally, I don’t make any sketches beforehand.

DF: Really, no sketches?

C: Actually not. Rather I just start and see how the material behaves. A kite normally develops out of that. But here it took me a while to get into the work. And I did look at my sketchbook. I had made a logo for a friend, had drawn a person at some point, and looking at it I thought, “OK, it’s good as a little jumpstart.” That is the little black and white one with the eyes. But actually it’s unusual that I looked in my sketchbook and took something from it. The stuff I’m working on now is much freer and emerged on its own accord.

DF: Experiments…

C: Yes, and also very different from each other. With this one I made a little model beforehand, and then this emerged coincidently. And then I tried it a bit bigger. I actually never do that either. So, these are new methods for me, somehow.

DF: Rather than sketches, do you normally make a small model and then enlarge it?

C: No, actually not at all. I simply start. I notice that there are shapes or colors that I like that reappear over and over again in my work. These appear in sketches as well, but that’s more a sign that I’m occupied with that theme at the moment. So, I don’t draw a kite out exactly before I make it and lay it on the paper and then enlarge it. I don’t do that.

DF: Instead you let yourself be inspired by the material.

C: Yes, I also like… for example, Scotty always threw his leftover paper in the trashcan. And they were so nice that I borrowed the trash can and took them out and now I have two “trash kites”.

DF: So you can call them “trash kites.” I like that.

C: It’s the same concept we’ve used when we’ve done workshops with children. I always think it’s totally important to show them (and yourself) that kite building doesn’t just mean going to the store, buying a kit with everything already inside it and starting to build. Rather we can do something with what we have, what we might even consider trash.

DF: You can use it.

C: Exactly, you can even make something beautiful out of it. Leftovers are actually easier to work with than when I have expensive material lying on the table. It’s always like, “Oooohh so expensive!” Somehow it’s harder to get started on. But if you think, “Oh, leftovers, sure, no problem,” you can get started right away. It’s just easier.

DF: That’s the nice thing about paper, maybe.

C: Yes, with material, what Frank does, where he always has to finish the kites, I don’t get it: this step of converting raw material to kite. What he cuts away or doesn’t need, that’s something else, entirely.

DF: I think that’s it. Do you have anything else you’d like to say?

C: Maybe an interesting question. I remember that at some point, I think I was with Peter Lynn and Robert, we were sitting together and we were talking about why people thought it was so nice to fly kites. “What is so nice about that? Why do people keep doing it?” They shared such nice ideas. The great thing is that you sense the strength in the line. Sure you see something beautiful, something unusual, but the great thing or the fascinating thing is the strength of the wind that you don’t otherwise see. You can suddenly hold it in your hand. You can also control it to a certain extent. It’s like this: one force holds me on the ground and the other lifts me up a bit. I think their thoughts are very nice.

DF: Yes, this metaphor.

C: It’s not only the fantasy that when you see a kite flying you break away and hover in the sky. It’s also a very physical experience. You are standing there and …wupf! You become a little bit lighter.

DF: Great.

C: But that’s not from me. Peter thought of that.

DF: And you overheard it and stole it.

C: (Laughs) I wanted to say one more thing about why I like paper, bamboo and these streak or blot graphics. It’s always fascinated me that paper is actually very light. It is easily ruined. You handle it carefully. It’s not fragile, but still somehow a delicate material, and bamboo has always seemed that way to me too. You know, these thin rods that couldn’t endure much. That’s why I was fascinated when I saw how others handled the kites. I realized that they could endure a lot more than I expected. They’re incredibly strong. Although it’s delicate it can endure a lot of wear, including strong winds and even falling on the ground. That’s some of what I’d like to express with the graphics that I set on the paper: that it’s not a delicate piece, that has to stay pinned to the wall and not be touched, but rather it possesses a definite power. That’s it.

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