The people’s smile

The art installation ”Universalis” in Groningen consists of over 2,000 DURAN® borosilicate glass tubes.
People arriving in the northern Dutch city of Groningen are now greeted by a big smile. It is composed of approximately 2,000 colored glass tubes that form the relief of a giant face. The artwork is called ”Groninger Universalis” and was completed in the city’s new municipal building of Social Affairs and Welfare at the beginning of 2014. Universalis is visible to anyone. And at night it becomes brightly illuminated and remains an eye-catcher even then.
Artwork ”Groninger Universalis

100 portraits combined to generate the face

The project’s goal was to give a face to all the different people the municipality’s administration is working for: ”The old-fashioned concept of having a number for every citizen is outdated,” explains artist Lambert Kamps, who created the piece together with his colleague, Tjeerd Veenhoven. To start off the project, the duo spent a day in downtown Groningen taking pictures of the city’s inhabitants. 100 portraits were then combined to generate the face of the average Groninger – the ”Groninger Universalis.” ”We deliberately chose many different types of people to achieve a universal result,” says Veenhoven. Afterwards the picture was divided into dots, and then each dot had to be ”translated” into a glass cylinder with a unique color.

Artwork ”Groninger Universalis

The artwork complements the design of the train station opposite the municipal building: people stopping at the train station can look straight through and onto the smiling face.

Close-up of the artwork "Groninger Universalis"

Close-up of the artwork "Groninger Universalis".

”We picked glass because it is a nice material, it’s easy to clean and it has a nice surface,” says Kamps. For each dot, the artists painted a glass tube of DURAN® borosilicate glass. They used seven different shades of warm gray paint and coated the tubes on the inside. The process wasn’t an easy task: ”We had to come up with a way to circulate the air inside the tubes so the special two-component paint could properly bond to the glass,” explains Kamps. Another tricky part of the project was producing the tubes in the first place. They had to have a consistently round bottom without contaminations. This was the responsibility of the laboratory glass specialists at LGS B.V. On the basis of the requested length of the tubes, LGS’s manager Klaas Jan Nijboer advised to use borosilicate glass 3.3: ”99 percent of our borosilicate glass comes from SCHOTT. We are very pleased with the high quality and with the excellent services of SCHOTT Benelux.”

After the first few samples had arrived, the artists were convinced. In their workshop in Ubbena, LGS’ expert glass blowers carefully customized the DURAN® tubes to suit the artists’ needs. ”Each tube had to be carefully pulled and shaped in order to produce the smooth and beautifully rounded bottom,” explains Nijboer. Having been matched to a pixel of the original picture, the painted nine to 47 centimeter long tubes were then inserted fixed to a backlit support wall. Now, the four by five meter relief not only greets, but also shines a light onto every visitor of Groningen and the city’s new municipal building.

DURAN® is a registered trademark of the DWK Life Sciences GmbH.

March 20th, 2020

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