What does trace value mean in art

When the media once again talks about the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in Amsterdam - as recently in connection with a Covid-19 vaccine for young people - a cheerfully curved pipe is usually shown, which is in front of the EMA building stands. The work of art by Dutch artist Gijs Assmann has become a symbol of science's fight against the pandemic. But what does it actually say? A conversation with the artist.

SZ: Mr. Assmann, we have been constantly looking at your sculpture for more than a year. On TV, in the newspapers, whenever they talk about vaccines. Does that make you proud?

Gijs Assmann: Of course I'm happy! It's nice for an artist when he gets such a lot of attention. Even if the reporting is mostly about vaccination, of course.

When your 54-meter pipe was set up in front of the EMA building, in March 2020, the pandemic really got going.

The topic was already big back then! But I think that my sculpture gives the viewer hope. Despite its nine meters height and weight of 9000 kilograms, it has something incredibly light, don't you think?

I don't know if it reminds me of a mushroom, a thread, or a DNA.

Mushroom, that's not bad at all! You know, on the one hand my work of art is supposed to show the structure of things that are important for the work of the European Medicines Agency: enzymes, proteins and molecules. The EMA stands for high-tech research as well as the testing and approval of drugs for the European market. On the other hand, the authority shows us how European cooperation can work: with dynamism, transparency and flexibility. I have also tried to depict this in my work of art.

And why do you call it "Pendulum"?

The pendulum of a clock also stands for movement and speed. Isn't it great how the surroundings and the sky are reflected in your stainless steel?

Mr. Assmann, your first name is actually Johannes Carolus Alphonsus Maria. That sounds like a very Christian family.

You noticed that well! I grew up in a Catholic family in a Calvinist environment. Both of these shape me to this day. I am creative and hardworking.

How did you get this job?

The Dutch government invited me, as well as several other artists, to the presentation of our work. Maybe in the end I was chosen because I had the idea to involve as many EMA employees as possible in the design process.

Do pharmacists understand art?

I wanted to make the creation process as democratic as possible. So I traveled several times to London, where the EMA was still based before Brexit. I conducted 25 interviews there in three days.

And out came an enzyme.

After the discussions, I worked out a total of 18 different proposals. It was about creating something easy for me. Something that stands out in the Amsterdam office district, but at the same time doesn't attract too much attention. The funny reflections that appear on the tube, surely reminds you of the distorting mirrors at the fair, doesn't it?

Nice. But other sculptures that you can see in public places in the Netherlands look very different. Somehow more specific.

The objects and living beings that appear in most of my works of art are familiar from everyday life. I'm just arranging them differently. For example, when I let a person dance with a deer or have him piggyback a donkey on his back. I like this game of balance and instability.

Tell me, Mr. Assmann, could it be that when you see your bent tube again in ten or 20 years, you say: "Spare me! That thing reminds me of Covid-19"?

That can be very good! Art has to be reinterpreted over and over again. You see: I drew this figure and was often there when it was made from brushed stainless steel in a Saxon manufactory ...

In Saxony? You already know that Saxony is one of the hotspots of vaccination opponents and lateral thinkers in Germany?

Oh, I was thinking in purely practical terms. The factory in Pirna is the only one in Europe that can do something like this in such a short time. And it was a great feeling when my sculpture finally stood in front of the building. So elegant, so bright, so happy!

Your work of art now stands for the few sculptures in the world where almost everyone knows the context. Something like the pistol with the knotted barrel by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd in front of the UN building in New York ...

What a nice comparison!

... or the "Large Ball Caryatid" by Fritz König, which once stood in front of the World Trade Center.

I am proud that you say that. My art is all about optimism. You know, when I was critically ill a few years ago, I swore to myself in the hospital that from now on I would never complain again. Neither in life nor in art. And now that everyone is getting vaccinated, things are definitely looking up again.

Is it true that you make a little work of art for your partner every day?

Yes, I would recommend this to everyone! So we both remind each other that there is something very special that we have each other.