All bodies, whether they are created artistically or not, relate to space in some way.

This is especially true of sculptural works, of course.  Klaus Illi’s sculptures communicate with space as a function of their specific corporeality.  His sculptures’ bodies represent a synthesis of interior and exterior because their materiality concentrates completely on a covering, skin or membrane that articulates a boundary between the interior space and the exterior of the sculptures.


            In the pneumatic installations body, space and time are combined to form a continuum. The body as substance recedes increasingly and air becomes the central sculptural material.  A dynamic system produces cyclical processes similar to nature, in which the rhythms of the apparently breathing objects evoke associations with elemental life-events.  The kinetic-acoustic installation is interactive, it reacts when the viewer approaches.  For a certain period the system is in repose, a stillness that occurs in cycles, and this is just as important an element of the installation as its movement.  Beginning and end create an awareness of time and finiteness.


            Industrial technology is an exposed and central element of the system:  thus the link between technology and nature, and with it our concept of civilization and progress, is addressed as a problem.  A transformation process (change of pradigm) that may well be starting to develop in Western industrial societies is suggested in the Utopia of a symbiotic relationship.


            “First of all, in a quite direct and spontaneous manner there is the shock of the first encounter with the rhythmically breathing objects.  This cancels a merely aesthetic mode of seeing and almost imperatively introduces one’s own corporeality as an element of perception and understanding:  the fact that I breathe myself and exist only as a breathing person involuntarily makes me part of the installation.

            Nothing allows me to experience my isolation and involvement, the fact that I am bound to something external, more clearly than my breathing.  I can be all the more frighteningly aware of the existential dimension of this contradictory link at moments when I observe myself as a breathing person only in exceptional situations, in a comparable way:  I can observe my sensual perceptions, seeing, feeling, etc., i.e.  I can distance them from myself and reflect about them.  As a breathing person I am at the same time thrown back upon myself, and a social being.  The same is true as a speaking person.  Breathing, that is living silence, the disposition to speak is concealed within breathing...

            Finally I experienced the installation overall as a model of a social "body", as a kind of fate- community:  none of the breath objects is like another, each is subject to its own rhythm and yet they are the same in their relationship to the space, in their dependence on space as a substance and on their ‘breathing’ mechanism.” 


Dr. Renate Wiehager, Villa Merkel Esslingen, 1993


In:        "Kommunikation mit dem Raum. Zu den Sculptural Objects von Klaus Illi"

            ("Communication with Space. About the Sculptural Objects of Klaus Illi")

            Katalog Klaus Illi, Ostfildern 1993 (Catalogue Klaus Illi)





“... a wiping, a groping also, and a scratching that produces lines. Leading away or to something? When objects draw, this question is not easy to answer. The Klaus-Illi-adoption speaks of “processual voids” and simultaneously refers to the new occupation of surfaces and rooms by Illi’s objects. Each blurring is also a trace, the principle of counterplay, of the countermovement which is typical for Illi’s pneumatic objects, and becomes concrete in the conflict of suppressing and wanting to know, of dusting and effacing, of provoking emptiness and achieved fullness. Furthermore, Illi reveals his means: tool and object are often enough identical. Art not as an assertion, but as a perception claiming perception in turn, not so much of a result but of the action itself. Mere interest or concern is not demanded, however, the object must remain identifiable as such. Consistently, Illi’s works are not trying to immerse in a situation, but seem to emerge from it...”


from: Nikolai Forstbauer „Neue Arbeit“ ("New Work“), text in catalogue for installation „NEU“ ("NEW“) in the historical context of the former millstone factory J.G. Dettinger, Plochingen, Germany, 2001




The art of breathing

Pneumatic drives arouse the senses


A machine arouses the senses – with a breathing installation by Klaus Illi, it is possible to experience pneumatics in the true sense of the word. Apparently breathing objects, reminiscent of the elementary sensory functions, interactively involve the observer. Be it through hearing, seeing or feeling – his art is to bring together man and machine.


“The act of breathing has a dual purpose: To inhale air and to exhale it. The one oppresses, the other refreshes, that’s how wonderfully mixed life is.” Goethe‘s amusing words describe none other than the perception of air in one’s body. Despite its continual presence, man does not become aware of this element until different pressures create an exchange of air, be it in the human body, in the atmosphere or in a technical installation.


The fact that air can be heard, seen and at the same time felt is illustrated by the works of Klaus Illi. He explores this in unusual ways by means of pneumatic  constructions and artistic displays. The focal point of his work is the interaction of art, technology and the environment. Illi makes the observer into an active component part of his exhibits and as such creates an interface where man and machine meet and enter into a stimulating relationship. It is not his objects which are an expression of art, but rather the system of interaction between man and machine. The artist offers a wide range of possibilities of interaction. It is precisely this multidimensionality, which fascinates visitors and enables them to develop their own individual approach to his work.

By entering the exhibition rooms, sensors are activated, which trigger the breathing or, better still, the breathing process of objects. With their movements, visitors determine the often alarming start of breathing as well as the rhythm of the act of breathing. The closer a visitor moves to a display, the more animated and agitated this can get. There is a whole range of different types of breathing, from short, shallow breathing to deep, slow abdominal breathing. As a result of the visitor’s movements in the rooms, breathing noises overlap, alternately shifting from and into foreground and background noise thereby generating a type of ‚breathing concert‘. Rhythmic switching noises interrupt the continually recurring inhaling and exhaling of air, providing a stimulating, even industrious atmosphere and as such highlighting the technical regenerating of breathing noises. From time to time, the sounds stop and all is quiet. Illi puts man in the centre of his work by making him an essential part of the event. His aim is to appeal to the visitor spiritually and physically by offering as many means of association as possible. By using visual and acoustic means of observing objects and the sense of touch, visitors experience the interaction of art and technology. Hearing, seeing and feeling blend into one cognitive process.


Sculptures of air


The works of art have been created in the form of floor or wall mounted objects and are mostly of a simple round form, generally made of wood. Each object is covered by a rubber or silicone membrane. When air pressure is produced, this expands and takes on a convex form. However, when suction is created, it assumes a concave shape, thereby creating a perceptible reciprocal relation. The membranes act as lenses or mirrors, which reflect the lights and the surrounding room. When concave, some reveal a look at a photo inside, others coincidentally breathe into an instrument. The objects are arranged individually, in pairs or in groups. Whereas some membranes move independently of one another, other demonstrate combined forms of movement and artificially respirate one another or lift or tilt an object such as a glass plate in different directions. However, these actions never occur synchronously, but rather as a reflection of the spot where the visitor is at that moment.


Together with the cables and tubing which lead to the central controller and to the compressor, these objects form a coherent system. This overall creation facilitates the authentic, rhythmic process of breathing. The control centre of this electropneumatic organism is a Festo PLC, which is supplied with information about the actions of visitors via light barriers, acoustic sensors and movement sensors. The PLC controls the pneumatic valves on the "breathing organs". These art works are therefore neither exclusively or randomly preprogrammed. An important component part of this work is the technology, which is housed in a separate room, and which is also an exhibit.


“I breathe, therefore I am”


Breath is life. This existentialist reference is omnipresent in the case of the breathing installations by the artist Klaus Illi. The technical construction of the objects as well as their coverings make the process of breathing visible, audible and tangible. The rhythm of these apparently breathing objects evokes thoughts about the elementary process of life in the observer. He becomes aware of his one, normally unconscious intake of oxygen. Just like the membrane, human skin tightens when breathing in or relaxes when breathing out. With his installation, Klaus Illi has succeeded in reminding the visitor of these existential processes and – at least for a brief moment – to reflect on the important things of life.  


© Text: Pneumatic World, Festo AG & Co. KG, 2000