Paper Kite Artists in Residency: Frank Schwiemann

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

Interview with Frank Schwiemann
Drachen Foundation

DF: You’re from Köln?

F: Actually from Kaarst. It’s near Düsseldorf and Köln. They kind of make a triangle with the studio and apartment.

DF: Do you remember when you first got interested in kites?

F: I’m really not that old, but I can remember very well, when I was about twelve or thirteen, seeing kites on the Reihnen field, a big field in Düsseldorf where many people fly kites. Typically you go walking with your family and so we went for a walk on the Reihnen field and that’s when we saw it. There were kites of different forms and also these stunt kites, which were new for me.

DF: And that impressed you?

F: That inspired me and I started building rather quickly. Just from odds and ends and then I have to say, my parents, you’d almost use the English, “supported” me very well. My mother was always running to the library, bringing back stacks of kite books, which I then read through.

DF: Is that when you joined the kite club?

F: That wasn’t until much later. But that happened on the Reihnen field as well. I saw a kite festival and at some point a small flyer with “Kite Club” on it. I went by one time to check it out. That was a very good step. Because you get to know the others and you learn a lot. That was good. But the first ones didn’t fly very well and then I have to admit that it was my mother, who once again gave me a stunt kite. A very, cheap, small, practical one. That’s when things really got going.

DF: So, did kite flying also influence your choice of work?

F: I think it definitely did. I had always enjoyed doing artistic things. In school I was always interested in art. Liked to do it, liked making things with my hands. But in terms of my career choice, I studied design, which was definitely influenced by kite making. I also met a lot of people at the kite festivals—artists, designers, people who are kind of into these kite scenes. I think that was a big reason for going in this direction.

DF: When did you first go to a kite festival? As a teenager or much later?

F: No, as a teenager. I actually came to the group very early on. They called themselves, “The Düsseldorf Kite Friends.” It was a small kite club, not many people, 10 or 15 people and all older. I was far and away the youngest in this kite scene but it didn’t matter. They accepted me as a teenager just as if I had been an adult. They always dragged me around to the kite festivals. And I didn’t have a car or anything. I was so curious. I’m very thankful to these people for that. During the trips and at the kite festivals I was treated exactly as if I were an adult, even though I was actually the little squirt. To this day it’s nice: whenever I travel people still know me from when I was really little.

DF: So, you grew up with it.

F: I grew up with it, yeah. That’s right. My parents turned me over to these strange people and then we went to France. It was great!

DF: And what were the first materials you worked with? Or built kites with?

F: Since I started experimenting right away I made stuff out of saran wrap and some wooden rods. Anything that I could find. Because sure, when you start you have to try out a lot of things and as a 13 year old you don’t have much money, you know? I can remember getting 2 meter ripstop nylon as a present for Christmas, green. The quality wasn’t as good 15 years ago. It was very smooth and very stretchy and it was unbelievably difficult to sew, but it was very valuable to me. Because it was expensive, 2 meters. I built a small Cody box kite with a meter long wing span right away, because I thought if you have such precious material then you have to build a small, beautiful, precious kite out of it.

DF: And that was the beginning? And then you kept working with this material?

F: Yeah, I also worked with Tyvek, now and then, simply because it’s much cheaper. Easy to work with. And then I just kept going and at some point could also afford other materials. But it’s very interesting: fifteen years ago everything was more expensive than it is now, the kite materials, and also the carbon fiber rods. All of the connectors didn’t exist yet then. And the carbon fiber rods were incredibly expensive. And it was very valuable material. Let’s say now it costs about a fourth of what it did back then. So, you ended up planning much more and…

DF: It had to be a sure thing…

F: Yes, exactly. Not the time to experiment.

DF: When did you first work with paper? Or is that pretty new?

F: It’s not necessarily new, I just haven’t made many kites out of paper because I build relatively big kites and I wanted to be able to fly them outside in the wet. Yeah, it was just necessary, to do it like that. I started using paper during my studies. I studied design and one course was called “Object Design,” where many of the students had done some kind of training before. So there were many carpenters and piece workers, who were doing an artistic course of study after their apprenticeship. And that was like me, too. I was a kite builder when I started there. When you do free artistic work or experiments, you draw on your background a lot. So the carpenters worked with wood, of course, because that’s what they did best. The metal workers worked with metal and welded, and I couldn’t do either of those, but I could work with bamboo and paper. So I just built bamboo sculptures. Small stuff. And that was actually really good, because I always made things that the others didn’t make. I was sort of in my own world.

DF: And when was that?

F: That was seven or eight years ago.

DF: And what does this workshop mean to you?

F: First off, it’s a week where you can concentrate again. And work with paper.

DF: Yes, the time and space.

F: Exactly. I brought a few things with me, printed materials. I’ve actually had ideas to make something out of them and to work on this theme again for several years. But I’ve actually never had the peace and time to do it. I can’t work that well in my own studio. I’m always thinking of it as more like a “production.” It just has to keep going. Something has to happen quickly. Here, though, I can totally concentrate for once on my tiny little pieces of paper. I think that’s nice. It’s good.

DF: And working together, how’s that going?

F: It’s going fine. Actually it’s not “working together,” like working together on a product. Rather it’s working together in a room. And that is very nice, because it is actually very, very quiet, at least in the mornings, or for the first hours. The subject is paper and each person works on his own small, personal plans. I think that’s good. It’s great. So it’s not as if it’s a competition, like who is making the best idea for this theme or something, not at all. And of course it’s funny, sure. I think it’s good. Very relaxing, actually.

DF: Really? Good. I think that was it. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

F: No

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