Light and Space with
Photo: Matthew Schreiber
A Brooklyn-based light and space artist, Matthew Schreiber has been working at his craft for 30 years. His bold, entrancing light sculptures are a brilliant amalgamation of performance, design, space, technology, science and innovation. In May 2016, Audi commissioned Schreiber to create a custom, immersive LED-powered light installation for an event celebrating the partnership between Audi and the CORE: club’s “Bold Notion: Art of Innovation” series in the lobby of the members-only club in New York City. Art direction for the installation was provided by Ryan Jordan. An edited version of an interview with Audi Magazine follows.
AM: How would you describe what you do?
MS: I make light art. I guess I’m part of the history of [this] kind of light art. I use holograms, lasers, LED, all kinds of light to make sculpture and installations. Lasers and holograms are my specialty, my weirdness.
AM: Do you dabble in other media or materials?
MS: I’m working on a piece now that has sound, optics, lasers and performers. I still do drawing and painting. I started as a painter—my degree is in painting—and then I started studying physics because I wanted to know how eyes work.
AM: What made you interested in making the switch from painting?
MS: In art school, I took a class in physics. The teacher was experimenting with holograms, and [during this time] I was starting to mix drawing and installation—like a room you’d walk into with drawings hanging all over the place. I started thinking about holograms and light for those installations. And that’s when [my style] started changing.
AM: Paint a picture of the average day in the life of your work.
MS: I get up, eat with my family—my son and my wife—walk to the studio that’s about a six-minute walk from where I live in Brooklyn, and get to work. Then I just work all day. And I do that every day, including most weekends. Then when it gets intense— which is what’s happening now—it starts turning into a more 24/7.
AM: How do science and technology inspire your work?
MS: Technology is really important in our lives. When I was a kid, that’s what I was thinking about. [And now] as an artist, you don’t want to hide from that. It’s really important to engage in that.
Physically inside my studio, there is literally a lab, with really high-tech physics equipment. The guys, my assistants, are in there right now working on some [new] holograms. I’m always reading about science and the new physics that’s happening now—for sort of a hobby.
AM: How does LED technology specifically change or enhance your pieces?
MS: Mostly it’s compact, so there’s a lot of control that you can have over it with computers. Most of the new stuff is LED-based lasers, diode lasers they’re called. And that’s made them cheap. The kind of work I do would have been totally impossible, say, 15 years ago. It would be too expensive. And they’re always getting better, and smaller, and more colors and all this stuff that is just awesome. You can do things I never thought you can do.
I got to drive an Audi for the project at CORE: club. I wanted to take apart part of the car to look at [the LED light pattern]—these lines inside the interiors that were so thin and crazy. I know how they are made, but it would be cool to go to the factory and see how they are really made.
AM: Which car did you get to drive?
MS: The [2017 Audi] Q7. I took it with my family to West Virginia. It was pretty weird driving around the hills of West Virginia in this cool car, but it was fun.
AM: What personal interests do you have outside of your work that influence it?
MS: Mountain biking, nature. My family and I go to the Alps and spend a week [every year]. We do this thing called Hut to Hut, and it’s basically outside the whole time. I love the space, and the peace of that totally brings a lot to my work. And music, all day every day. I can’t do things without that.
AM: How many lights, on average, go into one of your installations or sculptures?
MS: About 200... something like that for a normal, typical piece. I’m doing a show for Frost Science—the new science museum in Miami—that will be completely crazy with these massive laser projectors and sound and hundreds of lasers, and that will be the next-level thing. It will be there for about eight months.
AM: Audi has “innovation” as part of its core. What does “innovation” mean to you?
MS: Taking anything—it doesn’t necessarily have to be technology—and using it in a way that people haven’t seen. Technology helps that, but it can also be a crutch to just say, “OK, I have this new technology, so that’s innovation.” You can take a chunk of wood and be super innovative with that. It’s what you do with it.
AM: If you could collaborate with any artist living or dead, who would it be and why?
MS: I’m trying to do it right now: Bruce Nauman. He’s a great artist. Why? Because he is incredibly innovative with anything: video, plaster, light technology, drawing, any material. He does anything with everything—or rather everything with anything.
At the European facilities that produce Audi leather interiors, thousands of years of leather craft have culminated in one of the most advanced, artistic leather manufacturing systems in the world. The scion of one of the earliest human innovations, the Fine Nappa and Valcona leathers that make Audi interiors so unmistakable start as the highest-quality hides—not much different than the rawhides used by early humans bracing themselves for the savage cold of the Ice Age. But before a hide can become Audi leather, first it must be tanned.
Simply put, tanning converts the rawhide into leather by way of a low pH solution that coats the fibers of the hide, making them impervious to bacteria and water damage. According to Christoph Keimel, a tanner for Audi leather collaborator Boxmark, “The rawhide is a natural product and therefore perishable … The tanning process causes the hide to be irreversibly stable, it is then decay- and heat-resistant.”
Long before humans understood the science of leather, the earliest tanning of leather probably happened by accident when a piece of hide was left in a puddle with tree bark or other tannins (“tannin” comes from the German word for fir trees, Tanne), and the material became leather by accident. Using a combination of vegetable and synthetic tanning agents, Audi leather represents the culmination of thousands of years of craft and iteration. Today, many Audi interiors even feature Thermocool® technology, which uses special reflective dyes to keep the material cool in the sun.
Once the material has been tanned, it is technically a leather “crust,” meaning the material has been tanned but not finished. These crusts are dried and finished with an extremely thin and even layer of pigment, as with the exterior paint job of a vehicle. After an intensive quality inspection, the new leather is ready to be cut and stitched into everything from seats to steering wheel coverings, armrests and consoles.
The front driver’s seat, for example, is assembled by hand from 150 sections with different qualities of leather, such as smooth, embossed, sun-treated and perforated leathers for different pieces. According to Veronika Goricanec, the Head of Sewing Operations at Boxmark, the 500 seamstresses use about 250 miles of thread each day in the meticulous production of so-called leather “sets” for 900 vehicles each day. After many hours of treatment and testing, alteration and assembly, an acclaimed Audi interior is born.
At Audi, leather is much more than a simple material. Whereas leather bags once held water to liberate our ancestors from the springs and leather tents kept them warm on their migrant hunts, it now holds our credit cards, expresses our identity through clothes, and even supports us in the seats of our Audi vehicles. A hallmark of our very short history of civilization, leather is one of the principal components that makes Audi vehicles so luxurious. And while we may not be as connected with the creative process as we once were, our seat in history is assured by our careful advancement of one of the oldest manmade materials.
The soul of Audi vehicles is indubitably in our advanced technologies and precision engineering. But what made your heart skip a beat when you saw an Audi vehicle probably was not its inner components—but its striking looks.
Bold exterior styling has been at the heart of our brand since its inception, with each generation of vehicles exhibiting a clear evolution from its predecessors. A few years ago, under the direction of Marc Lichte—the then-newly appointed Head of Design—Audi made one of its most daring sculptural statements yet: the Audi Prologue. “The foundation for this new design was a very simple and coherent design strategy,” Lichte said. “An Audi has to be sporty. An Audi has to be progressive and also sophisticated.”
This dynamic new look will set the tone for all-new production vehicles, starting with the 2018 Audi A5. This sharper new language shows a bolder shape, more aggressive body lines, a stronger Singleframe® grille, and rugged geometric elements peppered across the body. With designs that require such intense precision and fabrication of materials, the methods of producing this new wave of vehicles needed to begin evolving, too.
Audi has been at the forefront of engineering vehicles with a smart marriage of materials—resulting in benefits such as weight savings and greater performance. The visible metals Audi vehicles are built from today are mostly steel and aluminum that have been treated in varying methods to provide strength, rigidity and/or flexibility in key areas. (The Audi R8 is the first Audi model to add high-performance carbon fiber elements). Other metals, such as copper, are utilized in mechanical elements of the vehicle.
In order to further increase efficiencies and bridge the gap between creation and production, Audi has started using 3D printing capabilities for metals in the Ingolstadt factory. At this time, printed components are reserved for the prototyping phase, as this technology is not fast or refined enough for high-volume production. In the conception phase, however, this capability opens greater possibilities for designers, who have the ability to play with more complex shapes that would have been impossible to execute with pressing and cutting sheet metal. Three-dimensional printing reduces the guesswork of success in a design and eliminates wasteful metal scraps.
The new generation of Audi design demands the highest level of exact execution. While the 3D printing capability is still in its infancy, Audi Toolmaking has explored and developed many intelligent tools that are able to press, cut and form metal parts to measurements within 1/100 of a millimeter. This is crucial when implementing details like visually invisible body seams.
Audi will always push progressive designs forward by using an innovative mix of materials and smarter production methods. We know that once you get more acquainted with all of the incredible capabilities an Audi has to offer, you’ll develop a stronger attachment. But we never want you to forget the thing that inspired you to take a closer look in the first place: its sheet metal.
There’s no arguing: The Audi R8 engine sounds enticing beyond words. As fortune would have it, the Coupe lets us easily see the reason for those beautiful notes—the naturally aspirated V10. And that technological feat sits just below a large, curved rear window that embodies innovation through the ages.
While nature is the original creator of glass—in the form of obsidian, through volcanic activity—humans likely began creating glass in Egypt in the 16th century B.C. Glassmaking’s basic materials include sand, soda and lime heated to very high temperatures—1700°C (3090°F)—and rapidly cooled. The amorphous solid results from the soda drawing down the sand’s melting point and then the lime preventing the soda-sand mixture from disintegrating in water.
Glass began in human history as a form of art. Ancient beads and containers featured colors and patterns, and colorless glass debuted in 9th century B.C. in the Middle East. That development created the foundation for the industrial use of glass much much later, particularly the “float glass” process developed in the 1950s and used to create windows and windshields.
Today’s windshields feature two pieces of float glass with a laminate layer between them. On impact, the laminate layer resists penetration, prevents the glass from shattering and offers noise reduction. In the Audi R8, the rear window contains dual-pane acoustic glass with a soundproofing film—although why a driver would want to muffle that glorious sound eludes me.
So while man-made glass started out as a luxury item, it has evolved through the centuries to encompass so much more, even in Audi vehicles. Experimentation with and refinements in its components have resulted in a remarkable element that lets Audi R8 designers provide a window to our soul.