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5 Questions: Tobias Zehntner

By Arts & Culture, SAIC

5 Questions profiles SAIC students and faculty at work, in the school and beyond. This month, F Newsmagazine spoke with Tobias Zehntner, a second-year MFA student in Art and Technology Studies.
 

Tobias Zehntner. Photograph, Copyright Max Leitner 2014.

Tobias Zehntner, Photograph, copyright Max Leitner.

What is your background?

I’m originally from Switzerland, where I grew up and stayed until I was 22. After an apprenticeship in architecture, I went to Denmark in 2005 to attend art photography foundation courses. From there I moved to London in 2008 to do my undergraduate degree in Art Practice at Goldsmiths College. I was in London for five years before coming to SAIC last summer. Since I moved away from home, my practice shifted from photography to video, and subsequently, to room installations.
 

Tobias Zehntner, Skyline, 2014. LEDs, aluminium, acrylic, microcontroller, transformer. 1x135”.

Tobias Zehntner, Skyline, 2014. LEDs, aluminium, acrylic, microcontroller, transformer. 1×135”.

What kinds of themes do you explore in your work?

Recurring themes are light, movement, space and time. I get my inspiration from everyday observations, which I explore in experience- and time-based installations. For example, in my recent work, Skyline, I transformed my observation of the downtown Chicago sky into a light installation. The narrow band of light represents the view of the sky, as I perceive it, when framed by towering buildings. It displays the changing color of the sky throughout one night and day, condensed to 24 minutes. Another piece, Untitled (two bulbs), looks at synchronicity and the human longing for harmony. Something else that keeps showing up in my work is the notion of waves, probably because my interests are bundled in its definition of being “a disturbance traveling through space and time.”
 

Tobias Zehntner, Untitled (two bulbs), 2013. Incandescent bulbs, cable, microcontroller. Size variable.

Tobias Zehntner, Untitled (two bulbs), 2013. Incandescent bulbs, cable, microcontroller. Size variable.

What are you working on right now?

I’m currently exploring the perception of changing light intensity. An example of this is in a theater, where you notice the lights dimming before you can actually see it happening. I’m interested in this threshold, where loss and gain of light is registered but not seen. I’m planning to incorporate this notion into an architectural intervention of a given space. I like subtle perceptual experiences that make you aware of your surroundings without much intervention. Also, I’m finding myself playing with moving light sources, in its simplest form, as a swinging light bulb. But it’s too early to tell where this will lead me.
 

Tobias Zehntner, Untitled (two panels), 2013. LEDs, microcontroller, wood, fabric, reflective fabric. 45"x48" each (2).

Tobias Zehntner, Untitled (two panels), 2013. LEDs, microcontroller, wood, fabric, reflective fabric. 45″x48″ each (2).

What do you enjoy most — or least — about SAIC?

I really enjoy my department, Art and Technology Studies. The faculty and students have an incredible amount of knowledge that they are very happy to share. All the elements that I use for my work today, such as electronics, microcontrollers and coding, I learned during the past year. It is a wonderful community, but I think the interdisciplinary part of SAIC could be practiced more across degrees. I would love to see more interaction between the MA and MFA courses, because, after all, we depend on each other when we leave school. Luckily, some students take it into their own hands and make an effort to reach across.

Where do you like to go in Chicago?

To be honest, I don’t have much time to explore the city and spend most time at school. But I’m always glad to be near water, so anywhere along the lakeshore.

View more of Tobias’ work on his website: tobiaszehntner.com

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