1 pixel gif
Jupp Gauchel

Why keep a human in the loop
Laminate boards

Kunstverein Rastatt 2010
Deutsches Architekturmuseum 2006
Gallery Herter Volz Windte 1986



© Jupp Gauchel. All rights reserved.
High Pressure Laminate
Laminate of the type High Pressure Laminate / HPL, how it is used especially for furniture, flooring and wall covering, is a sturdy, easy care, and if requested, decorative surface material to be veneered on substrate materials that do not have these surface qualities at all – for example, particle board. The basic manufacturing materials are several special papers, normally one overlay paper that consists mainly of melamine resin, one thin décor paper that can be solid coloured or printed and may have melamine resin also and three, four coarse-fibrous substrate papers that are soaked in phenol resin. The papers, the overlay and the décor paper on top, go into big hot press machines. At 130° C temperature and 70 bar pressure both resins coalesce and harden permanently, baking together / laminating the papers into one material. In this process the overlay gets transparent, the décor visible and the substrate papers provide a material thickness of about 0.7 mm. By the way, HPL is not plastic, as it solely consists of cellulose and organic resins and is not synthetically produced either.

Beside laminate for veneer purposes, accounting for the major part of the HPL production, there is also full laminate. For this, instead of a three, four substrate papers that suffice for veneering, many substrate papers are pressed together to produce boards that are (close to) dimensionally stable – for example, breakfast boards. In principle, the number of papers resp. the thickness of the boards can be chosen at will, according to size and use. The boards interact with humidity similar to wood-based products.
Why keep a human in the loop
"Why keep a human in the loop" is originally a chapter heading in a book on the state of the art of Artificial Intelligence programming methods / AI in the mid-1980´s. Hardly to understand by laymen, it basically means: “Why not eliminate human experts, replacing them with expert systems.” Thus, it expresses the central idea of expert systems, i.e. encoding expert knowledge into software intended to execute as many tasks as possible without experts – in the art context, something like art without artists. This idea and the cryptic, to me poetic-sounding words made this chapter heading the title of the work.

I intended to create a simple, technoid, figurative set of characters – my Africa – and to work solely with visual elements that had an actual, personal daily life background. Thus, the original of the two-tone grid against which all figures / signs are set is the design of a paper in which, in packages of 500 sheets, the copy paper was wrapped that was used at the university chair temporarily. It has the same proportions and colours and slightly enlarged dimensions. The figures are based on stamp-sized drawings of inoperable branching pipes that I did in great numbers at that time. The white circular areas represent cross-sections of pipes, but have to do with white self adhesive circles too. The connections of the circular areas represent pipes. The colour brown is from the paint a friend used for his silkscreen work.

Furthermore, creating the figures should be led by operating-principles of AI algorithms and one simple rule only, saying that all circular areas, intersections and connection points specifying a figure had to be exactly centred on grid points. By this rule, I intended to make more than sixteen figures / boards, eventually a full alphabet. However, in combination with the chosen visual elements and the relatively few grid points, it turned out to be so unwieldy that I did not get beyond sixteen satisfying ones.
Since I knew practically nothing about manufacturing HPL in the beginning and since the experts that I asked had problems with providing good advice, I simply started trying, working out that way that it would be better to implement my work as décor paper inlays than to apply it on décor paper in any way. I used three different décor papers for the inlays: One with the white of the circular areas, a second one with the brown of the connections and a third one with the background grid. The last two were specially silkscreened. For each board, the three papers were placed on top of each other and the respective figure was cut through all three of them. Then the unwanted cut-outs were removed, so that the intended cut-outs were lying without spacing on one level as inlays. The cutting tends to demand machine accuracy, since even smallest, hardly avoidable inaccuracies turned out to be unacceptable flaws when pressed.
Computer Images
Laminate boards HPL
In 1990 I started working with computer programs for interactive presentations that were still new at that time – programs to combine simple vector graphics, images and text into documents and presenting them via projectors. From the beginning, my documents looked different from others. Apparently, because I did not use any prefabricated layouts, backgrounds, clip art, animations etc., doing everything on my own, generally from scratch, with great care. But fundamentally it was because this work was a substitute for painting to me. The more this became clear to me, the idea started growing of making art with these programs. Not the least because it promised perfect working conditions anywhere, and anytime, without having to organize and regularly visit a separate world outside of my profession. Missing completely in the beginning, however, was a resilient approach to content, for which the simple functions of the programs would suffice, and working with the computer would be helpful. This approach slowly took shape. It took me a long time to trust it. I am in the habit of drawing during meetings or while on the phone. The results usually end up in paper bins, quickly forgotten. However, some simple, rather conceptual drawings, all done on grid paper, were able to stick in my head, some for decades. I understand these drawings as motifs, in which I try to completely exhaust by means of variation.

I am doing this in PowerPoint, which is today's most popular presentation program, certainly not program of choice for graphic pros, since it offers so few design possibilities. Accordingly small the set of my tools: a few elementary graphic functions, six or seven pre-determined plane colours and textures and a virtual grid paper as work surface. I apply the functions in changing sequences to the respective drawing, using grid points as snap points. At some point I bring the colours / textures into play. I am doing this, as well as possible, systematically and without any preset objectives, often creating entire series of unintentional images that way – unintentional with regard to form and thus also
to the associations they evoke in myself and others. It is always surprising to me that the images never look coincidental or calculated and that the restriction to just a few tools hardly seems to limit the number of possibilities.

The images can be realized in different ways. From all alternatives that make sense to me, I always favoured them as wall-mounted pictures. For a long time I did not know exactly how to do it, up until the end of 2006, when two large laminate boards that I did in 1986 were shown in the exhibition entitled "Original Resopal" at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt. This event led to contacts with people from the HPL industry that finally made it obvious to me that I should produce them as laminate boards too. The images that I select to be produced depend on my estimation only as to whether they can stand for their own. I am not interested in thematizing the generative process of their creation. Since it shapes my work, it will communicate itself to the observer anyway, although perhaps only to some extent.

According to the state of the art and that’s why different from the boards I did in 1986, the chosen images are realized as digital prints on décor paper and, like in 1986, as full laminates. In principle, the dimensions of the boards can be chosen at will as they have no scale (vector graphics), in practice, however, only within the scale of the formats of the hot press machines. They only allow boards with a maximum height / width of about 130 cm, which tends to be a limitation. The boards are displayed or hung without framing. Many images can be realized in large scale by placing several boards side by side.

What appears essential is that the boards are no neutral substrate material, but enclose the respective art work as an integral part, as their regular front view, and preserving much of the character of industrial, semi-finished products. That makes them very special objects – to a high degree unexpected
and self-referential, and may be, not only there to be watched.