Robot Arms, Found Forms, and the Joy of Making: Studio Visit with Designer, Matthias Gschwendtner.
By Ewan Waddell

Robot Arms, Found Forms, and the Joy of Making: Studio Visit with Designer, Matthias Gschwendtner.

Recently we took a trip to the Dong Xuan Center in Lichtenberg. Not for Vietnamese cuisine though, but because, nestled within the maze of industrial warehouses behind the center is the workshop of a fascinating designer. Matthias Gschwendtner's practice is defined by experimentation — whether it be through the materials, the processes or the forms.

We enjoy his work also because of how responsive it is to his surroundings. As he breathes life into discarded or overlooked materials, he showcases the potential beauty of all objects and prompts us to reconsider our perceptions of the world around us. We talked about his fascination with found objects, how he fixed a €2000 industrial robot from ebay kleinanzeigen, and what's been influencing him recently. 

(Fun fact: In a fitting moment of serendipity, as I admired the architecture of the building housing Matthias' workshop, he enlightened me to the fact that it was renovated by Arno Brandlhuber's firm — the very same who designed Lobe Block, where our studio is located.



I first wondered how Matthias might describe his practice in his own words.

"I never thought about putting it in a category, it's more like the joy of making. I think experimentation is a big part of my work. To start work without having an idea of what it turns into."
"I'm just curious to make things. And it's not like I just want to do a chair because it's nice to design a chair — it's more about the process behind it. I'm interested in developing processes to work with found forms [and] I think it's much more fun because it's always something else and always more of a challenge than starting with nothing."


Matthias then told me the journey of developing his robotic arm project.

"It just developed in this open process, starting with an experiment. In the beginning of my second [Masters] semester, Covid came and the university shut down so everything was super limited. I wanted to use the tools we had in the [university] workshop but I didn't have access — so I searched for a way to have tools just for myself."

"I was researching a lot on eBay kleinanzeigen and bought an old industrial robot — you know these robotic arms which are used in car manufacturing? And I just bought this broken machine for two-thousand euros and I asked my parents if I can have their garage for half a year and then I set up this robotic workshop at their house in the middle of the woods in Bavaria."



"My grandfather was a woodworker with a workshop and I spent a lot of time there during my childhood, so I wanted to work with the wood — but not in this classical way. Much more experimental. I always saw branches laying around and thought they could be a nice source of material, because they're all unique and have much more character than already cut wood. So I 3D scanned them and then developed algorithms that can automatically assembly the 3D scanned data into an object."

"And furthermore, the algorithm can program this robotic arm to produce the final piece in the end. You have this precise digital model and you can tell the machine 'this is branch #5', and the machine automatically knows where to cut it."

"I was working mostly from the garden with an open garage door, which was a really nice time in nature, and it was funny because sometimes in the night people from the pub were walking by and looking inside of the garage like 'What are you doing?'.



I wondered what the process of initially fixing the robotic arm was like.

"The machine is twenty years old, like there's no YouTube tutorial. I spent countless hours in forums trying to figure out how to repair it. I disassembled the computer circuit boards and replaced and changed some parts in the code and at some point I could just use it with my MacBook connected and I could tell the machine what to do."

I was curious why he was so interested in using waste or found materials.

"I like to find something which nobody likes or which everybody thinks is ugly and then change their perception and turn it into something nice… I like when things are a bit weird, and beautiful in another way than how they were produced. And I think it's important for everybody to be aware of resources and materials and to not waste resources."



"Nobody cares about these branches. They're chopped down and then burned or pressed into chipboard — but with this kind of technology, you can just use it as a regular material to produce domestic objects. It can be a chair, it can be a stool, it can be anything. Or [the process] could be upscaled to an architectural scale."



"I want to continue this research of using wooden leftovers. Since quite a while I've collected old furniture parts, like table legs, every weird form that's in the trash. When I walk around, sometimes I take a chair, sometimes I take a table. And at the moment I'm 3D scanning all of these weird different parts and forms and I want to make new objects out of them which are like collages of these found objects."



As a parting question, I wondered what had been influencing Matthias recently.

"Next to my private work I'm working for this artist which is a big influence because I was trained in Industrial Design and this is really rational. You have to solve a problem. And now with this job there's no problem solving at all — it's just making art. It's working on a conceptual level. And this is, I think, a big influence on my work at the moment. Because it's really nice to work so free and not have a problem that needs to be solved."

Thank you to Matthias. You can find his links below.

Instagram -- Website

Words and portraits by Ewan Waddell.


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