There Must be Beauty
By Pernille Bramming, Journalist at Weekendavisen
In the first two months of 2011 Ramboll employees in Aarhus followed a fascinating project: Maria Dubin made her painting, The Wall, in the atrium at Ramboll, which is the heart of the new building. Prior to the two months of work in performing the work, Maria Dubin had spent nine months preparing. Alter numerous tests she found the right ink and the right brushes, with which she could create exactly the look she sought, and on the material the wall is clad with, namely white, special soundabsorbing ecophon plates. She had painted hundreds of sketches on paper and ecophon plates; and she had been working and studying in Paris and Madagascar to find inspiration to refine her motifs from the plant kingdom.
All of this we will return to, and we will also return to the employees' experience of Maria Dubin's work and not least the period when she worked on the wall, and they could see new plants and flowers grow day-by-day on the 1000 square-metre surface. But first, we follow Maria Dubin further back in time and seek answers to why she is literally botanizing when she must find motifs for her art, and how ane becomes so adept an artist that ane can paint directly on a wall, as she does. Many other artists first paint a separate model, which they then paint up on a larger scale. The answer to this question is the mixture of daring and skill that Maria Dubin has.
She has painted ink drawings for 25 years and thai has meant thai she was ready to undertake the great task of The Wall.
As an artist Maria Dubin is not one who will shy away from challenges. She has lived abroad most of her adult life, namely until 2003, when she again settled in Den mark. She began her education by drawing at The Glyptotek in Copenhagen, and was a student of the painter and sculptor Erling Frederiksen, who was a professor at the Art Academy in Copenhagen, and subsequently she studied under the painter and sculptor Christian Magle. Both these teachers were engaged with nature, where they picked up same of their inspiration. As long as she can remember, Maria has harboured a deep fascination with the plant and animal kingdoms, which for Der is like an inexhaustible treasure trave of inspiration and motifs. "I am a closet biologis!," she says, and she has over time acquired an extensive knowledge in this field. Time alter time she has as a researcher conducted extremely thorough and systematic preliminary studies.
For example she worked three months as a zookeeper with the elephants at Copenhagen Zoo, which led her to start actual artistic work to depict elephants.
As a 20-year-old, Maria Dubin went to Paris to study at 'l'Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-arts' In Paris, the National Museum of French Natural History quickly became one of her favourite places, and here she could sit day alter day. The museum has held several different collections and exhibitions, and Maria Dubin was especially busy sketching and painting skeletons and bones in the beautifully named Galerie de Paleontologie et Anatomie Comparee', located in the 'Jardin des Plantes'. In the main building was a large collection of stuffed animals lined up like a parade. It would later become an important inspiration for her wmk 'Noah's Ark', which is now hanging at Medicinerhuset at Aalborg Hospital in Denmark.
Alter some years of study in Paris her teacher said to her, "Maria, you know what you must do. Go out and paint!" Ever since thai day she has made a living by her work as an artist. During the firs! ten years she painted her way through Paris. Then she rolled her 15 best canvases together, stuck them under her arm, and travelied to New York where she lived for the next four years. But America was not completely alien to her. She had spent the first 10 years of her life in the US, as her mother, actress Mimi Heinrich, had married an American man. The family had lived in Hollywood.
In New York she gat her very firs! major decorating commission, and for several reasons it was a rather big challenge: She had to paint the Manhattan skyline on the back wall of the firs! foreign bar in Sofia, 'Radio City New York'. The year is 1990, the Berlin wall has just collapsed, though the Bulgarian capital is still dominated by the Communist era, and there are many things you simply can't get Maria Dubin has to bring the paint with her, and it is a lask in itself to gel the canvas.
Actually, she first has to find a textile factory and arder the canvas from them. It is also a problem to obtain glue to prepare the canvas with. Finally, she ends up buying bone meal from a factory and makes the glue herself. Her studio is in a building that formerly served as stables for the Tsar. The Bulgarian Academy of Arts has arranged a workshop for students who are studying to be sculptors, and so out in the yard they stand and cut in stone. There is one good reason why the former stables are idle: TMere are very low ceilings there and Maria Dubin has to put her canvas at a skewed angle, since it measures 3 by 5 metres in dimension.
The work is successful, and since Radio City New York immediately becomes a popular bar, especially among artists, everyone in the Bulgarian art scene knows Maria Oubin's skyline, and they also have an opinion about it.
It will be tater on in the Bulgarian capital thai Maria Oubin gets her firs! complete assignment, which is to decorate all of the headquarters of 'Lindner lmmobilien Bulgaria' in the then newly-built Business Park Sofia. She completes te project using the theme "The International Alphabet and the Sea", which involves using a whole rafl of different materials. Besides paintings and glasswork, she creates a patio with natura! stone and a fountain in oxidised copper. It is during the year it takes to complete !his work thai Maria Oubin gathers enough experience to be able to take on decorating !asks for a number of other companies.
In her own words "I go to the sile, while still working on the building, talking with the architects and gel an insight into their ideas and visions. I also speak with the developer and builders, and I thoroughly familiarize myself with the building needs thai have to be mel. I strive to be very attenlive, and it is important thai I do not step on anyone's toes. So I plot a course for my work and find the story I want to tel1. I think uppermost of the aesthetics of the physical surroundings; the decoration is to play with. Users must have a good experience every day. I try to imagine how it would feel like to be in the rooms, it matters to me thai it feels good and rewarding, and thai it will continue to feel good and rewarding. It should hold, there must be beauty."
For the International Alphabet and the patio, there are things to sug gest thai it has succeeded • As late as last year, 10 years alter Maria Dubin left Sofia, she received emails from people telling her of what pleasure it is to be in thai room.
There are, however, almost seven years between the two decorative projects in Sofia, and !his leads not least her curiosity to work with new materials from Bruges, Paris, Tunis and Marseilles. It begins with a Belgian art collector and industrialist who, alter seeing her Manhattan Skyline at the bar in Sofia, commissions the artist to make the Bruges skyline, and he is so pleased thai he also orders it as relief. And alter having created a 25 meter lang relief in ceramics with Bulgarian potters, Maria Dubin is sold She'II learn to master the ceramic crafts, and in Paris she looks for expertise by, among other things, turning to 'L'lnstitut du Mande Arabe'. She will find a master who can pass on an unbroken tradition of pottery. It succeeds, and she subsequently spends some months with "the most amazing potter", she says, just outside Tunis. With her on the way back to Belgium, Maria Dubin has 60 jars thai are up to four leet high, decorated with bas-relief, burned in old clay oven and then glazed and fired again.
She exhibits them in Bruges, and here a patron of the arts gets so excited for Maria's work thai she offers to sponsor Maria Dubin for two years in Tunis. Then she will come down once a month and choose a work. The two years in Tunis turns into live, and during this time Maria Dubin throws herself into creating mosaics and tapestries, as well as weaving and more glasswork.
The time on the other side of the Mediterranean culminates when the T unisian Ministry of Culture offers to finance a retrospective exhibition of the five years of her work at the Maison des Arts de Belvedere in Tunis and a Scandinavian museum. Here the choice is on The History Museum in Stockholm.
In 2003 Maria Dubin begins a new chapter of her life, !his time in Denmark, where she finds a house in the scenic 'HjortekJaer', a stone's throw from the animal park north of Copenhagen, and she even gives herself new artistic challenges: She begins to paint in front of an audience. It is not exactly planned but it comes about due to her lifelong love for the world's zoological museums. By now, she has started working on a series of ink drawings of bones at the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen, and here she is, as she tells it, "quite wildly into drawing the whales." So she is authorized to create a studio in the great hall, where the 8-9 metre long skeleton
is exhibited. She is excited at the time when she got her two carvases set up - they are each in 2 by 5 metres
- and she is about to paint the firs! stroke, the hall was filled with school classes thai expectantly have lined up to watch. Maria Dubin gets nervous, and she can't really gel started with the painting. A child !oses patience and yells, "Aren't you getting started soon?"
"Yes," Maria replies, "so I just painted freely," as she recalls. Ever since she has only had positive experiences painting in front ol an audience. While she paints whale paintings, some ol the guests start coming back every other day to see her work as it progresses. This process repeats itself in other places where she works in front ol an audience, and while she works on The Wall in the atrium at Ramboll, it is not only the house staf! that are interested and follow the project The project was featured in a series ol articles in the Weekendavisen, and this exposure gets curious art lovers visiting Ramboll to have a look. This kind ol interest is one of the things that especially makes her happy. As she explains
"I have never experienced being disturbed, on the contrary, I am driven by the energy people give me. I get in touch with the people who see my work and I see how my works affects them. By standing there, visible to all, l'm reaching out, and I can enter into dialogue with the world through my paintings."
From !hen on, it will be one of Maria Dubin's unique artistic grip to set studios up out of museum spaces and work buildings, and !his gets her about: from the restaurant The Paul in Tivoli to The Elephant House at Copenhagen Zoo, from Novozymes' headquarters in Copenhagen and the company's branches in countries including China and Brazil to the CCA Andratx Art Centre in Mallorca, the Natural History Museum in Belgrade and the Museum of Modern Art Aalborg in Denmark.
In 2009, as Maria Dubin presents her proposal on how the wall of the atrium should be decorated, it is not only the idea of painting the flower and plant motifs in black ink which Ramboll's directors, Ole Bech Jensen and Jacob Storch, like. It is also her working process and the prospect thai she will come and perform the decoration while all employees have Just moved in, thai appeals to the directors. By this, Maria Dubin contributes to the creattion of a special spirit thai must permeate the work environment in the building. And this is a spirit which guests must also take notice of. But there is an unknown, as the directors must take a chance: It is not a finish ed model thai Maria Dubin presents. It is a holistic vision and given the way she works, there is no one, including herself, who knows the outcome befare it's all done. The work is created while she paints it. And if it turned out thai the work was not satisfactory, Ram bol I would have to replace the 1000 square-metre surface.
Not least for this reason she will spend nine months to prepare. She must include a vast number of designs by drawing sketch alter sketch, so that she eventually so to speak, can memorise them and dream about them at night. Two of the nine months she spends in her studio in Paris, and there is a month's trip to Madagascar, every botanists 'Mecca'. Since the island has been isolated from the mainland hundreds of years, its flora and fauna is unique and zoologists aften describe Madagascar as "the eighth continent" Of the 10,000 different plants identified so far, 9,000 are unique and only grow there.
This faet comes to Maria Dubin's knowledge because she initiates the Ramboll project sketch work in the greenhouses of the Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen. Here it turns again and again thai the plants she gets caught up with, and gets the urge to draw, originale from Madagascar. And then out comes the 'closet biologis!' in her, and she contacts professionals and quickly realises thai Madagascar's flora is like a vein of gold for an artist in search of plant and flower motifs. Alter consultation with Henrik Herold, director of Randers Rainforest, who has been on an expedition to Madagascar, Maria Dubin rents a hut on stills in the heart of the rainforest in northern Madagascar and spends part of her stay there. Here she can almost bathe in motifs, and four weeks befare she put the first stroke on The Wall in the atrium, she returns home full of inspiration, glow and zest and completely ready to begin.
Befare traveling to Madagascar, she has also gained control of the brushes, the ink and the ecophon plates. In Paris, Ecophon's French parent company, Saint-Gobain, delivered 180 sheets of 0.6 by 24 metres to her studio, and on those she has drawn sketches. It turns out thai the plates are almost ideal to paintink on. They are made of glass wool, and the texture is like coarse canvas but sufficiently smooth thai the surface is lit as if it were silk paintings. And the ink does not inhibit the sound-absorbing lunetions of the plates. For !his reason, Ecophon were also excited about the new aesthetic possibilities.
There is also another reason why it is simply brilliant to choose ink for the job: Ink is the only material thai is 100 per cent light-resistant from the hand of nature and therefore will not fade because of all the light thai will gush down through the atrium's glass roof. But ink is not just ink. Ink is made from soot alter the process of combustion. From the wood you burn, the soot ultimately lends the ink a brownish tinge, which depends on the wood's characteristics. lf you use a large quantity ol ink, such as Maria Dubin did, there can be a good risk that the tint is not uniform. li you burn gas this will cause soot ink to have a bluish tinge, and in this case is completely uniform.
The Danish paint expert, Thor Grabow, has all ol this in complete control. It is from his company thai Maria Dubin usually buys her oil-based paints, and he has agreed to develop a special ink for The Wall One thai must have the bluish glow and a texture so it does not run, either as pitch black or when Maria Dubin dilutes it to the various shades of grey she will use. It should be completely blank, and must not be alcohol-based, as it will not be tolerable to work with for eight hours a day. Thor Grabow has found thai he can use shell lacquer as a binder, which has among others the advantage that it smells good.
Alter a series ol experiments, Maria Dubin and Thor Grabow, however, abandon the proJect. The ink thai Thor Grabow succeeds in producing is not as shiny and does not give as many shades ol grey as the German ink thai Maria Dubin ends up choosing. She does so not due to the German manufacturer recommendation, but due to explanation by none other than Monsieur Sennelier, holder ol one ol Paris's most venerable colour shops ol the same name. The shop was founded in 1887 by chemist Gustave Sennelier, and ever since the company's professionals have worked to refine Sennelier ink, and the ink Thor Grabow creates has difficulties to match it In a friendly manner and not without self-consciousness, Monsieur Sennelier points this out, and so directs Maria Dubin decision to include him as part ol her search for an ink with the right properties.
The very large brushes Maria Dubin ends up deciding to use are sourced in Damascus. They are firm and yet elastic such that they can be used for the large, soft strokes she uses. At the same time they cut sufficiently sharp thai she can paint the details with them.
lt's a very light, masculine architecture thai characterises Ramboll's new building, and it is in many respects a difficult space, aesthetically speaking, because The Wall is in an assembly space. The original E-shaped building has two sorts ol fronts. There is a long, three-storey high building with a long facade of black glass. From that building stems off three buildings positioned like the letter E's three legs, these are two-three storeys high and with facades clad with rectangular, shiny, light blue-green glass plates. Via walkways in clear glass from the E's three legs is the old building, which is Joined together with one, 64 metre lang, 16-20 metres high, new length which extends parallel to the black lang E's back. The length's facade is covered with white ecophon plates and asymmetrical placed windows of various dimensions. They are framed in slender, black-painted wood frames. A glass roof sits high above and brings the whole building together, creang an atrium. The new and the old facades are not only made of different materials, they also have completely different proportions and lines, although all lines are straight. lt's Maria Dubin's lask to tie it all together.
Thai day in early January 2011 when Maria Dubin arrives to begin the work, one can al most feel the task she faces. It is as if there is a geometric cacophony in the atrium, and the room is still very raw, it is devoid of sentiment - the building's residents have not had time to make their mark. But everyone will see a most fascinating metamorphosis in the atrium.
Alter just two hours, a kala, a leaf, and a parrot flower, give the room an entirely different life. The voluptuous, very feminine shapes silcks in gaze and becomes an assembly point for not just the eye, but also brings calm to the soul. And as there are more and more plants and flowers thai arrive, the mirror effect in the light blue green or black glass facades becomes clearer: No matter where in the building you are staying, be it in the atrium or inside one of the offices thai has a window onto the atrium, you see the decoration.
On the same day alter lunch, ane of the directors says thai they feel vindicated in thai they made the right choice when they selected Maria Dubin. Both the architects' vision to integrate the artistic decoration of the building's architecture and the owners' courage to believe in the project proves to be the right thing.
For Ramboll's management, it's not just about aesthetics. There is another very important dimension, which is even more demanding: The human factor. People from three different companies are to be brought together in the new building. The whole purpose of the space is to make room to mave various departments of Ramboll under one roof, thus creating fertile ground for collaboration and knowledge-sharing. It concerns Ramboll Management, including the educational division Attractor and the consulting engineers from Ramboll Denmark ..
The atrium is built to create a space that everyone can meet in. But as an experience, it takes more than a fancy ltalian coffee maker and designer furniture to ensure cooperation and knowledge-sharing. However, it is crucial for Ramboll's future to be successful, for there to be an exchange of knowledge and greater cooperation between different professionals in each and every project It belongs to the past only to offer engineering; today is about being able to execute holistic solutions.
It requires a spirit in the company and building that makes you feel like a part of a community thai wants to talk to each other across the length and breadth of the department, across gender, age and various other differences, and in which all are keen on hel ping each other. It is with this in mind that th.e management looks forward to Maria Dubin coming to paint "The Wall" at the atrium for two to three months. The hope is that employees will meet at "The Wall" as they exchange remarks about her work, thus getting a common experience.
Maria Dubin meets this expectation. She organises an introductory meeting on her firs! day in the building, and all employees present are invited. Here she presents herself and tells about the project. Befare she goes up in the lift and lets herself be taken up to 15 metres in the air to paint the firs! stroke, she urges anyone who wants to come with a flower or a plant and put it on ane ol the two tables she has set up in the middle ol the atrium. Then she might paint it. And actually it does not take much more than hall an hour befare an employee comes with a parrot flower in a smal I vase, and says thai she has just been in Gran Canaria and has had a whole box of parrot flowers at home. "l've had it in my office, but I can just take a new ane with me tomorrow, so I want you to have it," she says.
A few hours later, Maria Dubin painted a giant parrot flower, and the story goes around from mouth-to-mouth. Over the next two months comes a lang line of other people also with flowers or plants, and the stories grow and grow, as it emerges thai Maria Dubin is not stingy with her time. She likes chatting with the employees, and tells a story about a motif and in such a way to contribute to build the necessary foundations for a strong sense of community: Common stories. But that's not enough, as she also helps to create a second and equally important sense, namely, pride. Employees are simply proud to work for a company thai offers so much art inside.
The day in May 2011 when Ram bol I holds the inauguration celebration in the new building, there is another dimension to the wall thai is revealed. Many of the motifs are dramatic, as applies for example to the underside of the Amazon water lily with lang spikes you wouldn't want to gel poked by. Some flowers are greedily erotic. But also deleted is a strange silence from The Wall. Plants and flowers stand erect and silen! and in movement like the bottom of a lake with the cleares! water. Even on a day when over 500 people have taken to the atrium with wine glasses and plates and with goodies in hand, you feel quite clearly the calmness from looking at "The Wall", and there is a quietness thai actually reverberates throughout the room. It is the ecophon plates at work. Their function is precisely to absorb sound, and thus greatly reduce the noise level in the atrium. This means thai all the architectural and aesthetic dimensions are emtiedded in The Wall, and Maria Dubin's most important claim to its artistic decoration works, namely thai it should feel good and rewarding to be in the room with them, is also honoured. As one of the engineers who specialises in power plants and industrial building says about the wall: "lt's something you can keep going to and enjoy and marvel at" ■
Pernille Bramming followed for a year Maria Dubin and her work as she created The Wall.