Altered Visions: Manuela Kagerbauer turns technical materials on their head
by Adele Orcajada
Widely recognized in the scientific and academic sectors for years, Goodfellow is a materials supplier with over 70,000 material types under its wing. These cover a range of categories–from metals to ceramics and glass, to polymers, and composites. Till now these materials have been mainly used for their technical abilities, but beyond these, they offer a wealth of extraordinary textures and sensory outputs that are turning the design industry on its head.
Manuela Kagerbauer is one of a growing number of artists that have experimented with Goodfellow's materials. Using them, she produced a powerful work of art, which was recently showcased at Espacio Gallery during this year’s London Design Festival. During this showcase, we had a chance to meet Manuela and see how she transformed a technical material from Goodfellow into a unique work of art.
Manuela shared that she has spent most of her professional life experimenting with materials, trying to find those that are capable of translating her vision and those which allow her to express herself and the ways she engages with the world. Her initial exploration began through jewellery making, mostly working with silver. Not only focused on pushing boundaries with the material, but she also found herself questioning form itself. She began to produce pieces that blurred the lines between jewellery, sculpture, and art.
Moving onto an MA in Jewellery Design at the University of Creative Arts in London, Manuela let her creativity run wild, discovering new materials and testing their capacities and limits. But it was with metal and glass, in particular, that she established a deep connection. The mouldability of metal and the fragility of glass drew her in; she became passionate about exploring possibilities within both materials and pushing the boundaries of what is technically achievable with them. There is also an additional focus to her work–Manuela strives to create interactive experiences with the viewer, playing with the sensory perceptions that she herself, is so highly receptive to.
When she began working on Altered Visions, her piece on display at Espacio Gallery, she became interested in Macular Degeneration–an impairment that distorts vision, particularly when viewing static straight lines. Closely affected by this, Manuela looked into ways of representing the early symptoms of this visual deformation using her knowledge of jewellery making, digital media, glass, and metal. Manuela took inspiration from British painter Bridget Riley's Op Art, and equally from patterns that are symptomatic of early stage Macular Degeneration. Her research for the artwork explored how the body compensates for functions that aren't working, such as vision, and compared it with the physical symptoms exhibited when a viewer engages with optical illusions. She discovered that there is a significant similarity in how the eyes vibrate and vision distorts in both cases.
Based on these outcomes, Manuela developed a body of work which can be used as a visual tool to stimulate and engage spectators, by inducing confusion and suggesting movement through her work. Her intention was to transform a two-dimensional surface into a three-dimensional effect and allow viewers to experience the alteration in vision that someone with Macular Deformation suffers. She experimented with various materials to achieve her desired results, finally choosing copper foil over a mesh. Manuela worked with a water jet cutter to carve out a pattern of octagons into 5 meters sheets of the material. The result is unique–the roll of copper foil is hung from high up, suspended from the gallery’s ceiling, and it ends in large coils of metal on the floor. Rigid enough to hang straight, yet delicate enough to move as someone walks by, the cut octagons, that are slightly pushed out of the foil, create an optical illusion that plays with sight and sensorial perceptions. Finally, Manuela’s mix of metallic colours for the artwork is rich and engaging, a combination of glossy burnt orange copper and black, more oxidized copper.
In addition to her work with metal seen at the Espacio Gallery, Manuela has also worked with glass. Cutting and fusing glass into patterns of triangles and lines, her final results include tiles that are full of movement and which confuse the eye with their optical illusions.
Manuela continues to be fascinated with patterns and the sensorial interaction they can establish with viewers. She plans to continue her experimentation with patterns and materials and has begun to explore this with the properties and capacities of carbon fiber for her next body of work.
Readers, if you would like to learn more about Manuela’s work, follow the link to her website here. If you are interested in technical and advanced materials like the Copper Foil seen here, follow the link to Goodfellow Limited.