Interview with Andrea Mancini and Natascha Kuhlmann

Minerals: A symbiosis between art and science

Italian-Luxembourg artist Andrea Mancini is about to premiere his new project Minerals at Multiplica, initiated a year ago and which has gone through different phases of research, including a 2-week residency at Rotondes in September 2022.

Andrea explores the fascinating world of minerals and geology using visuals generated from scientific images mixed with organic sound recordings, creating a gentle symbiosis between organic and digital. To guide him through the field of geology, he has enlisted the help of several scientists, including that of Natascha Kuhlmann, a postdoc geology researcher and teacher at the University of Luxembourg.

Andrea and Natascha walk us through the different phases of their collaboration.

Andrea, can you take us back to the beginning of the project? What was the starting point?

Andrea: Ever since I was a child, I’ve been interested in stones and crystals, geology, and archaeology. Minerals are closely linked to human existence. They’re used everywhere: construction, medicine, energy production, manufacturing, agriculture, technology… Geology is not always seen as a popular field of study, even though it is key to examining and understanding the history and the future of the Earth and also of our local environments. This project was a good opportunity for me to try to combine abstract artistic multidisciplinary creation with actual scientific matter.

Moreover, I’m Italian and Luxembourgish so there’s this strong connection with Luxembourg’s history, going back to the time when Italians migrated to this unknown country to work in the mines, those unfamiliar and dark places inside our planet.

In some parts of this project, I also treat the subject of the mutual attraction and cohabitation between minerals and humans. Questions that drove me towards this matter still remain: Was life created thanks to asteroid impacts that brought minerals to this planet? How far will humans go in exploiting our planet’s resources? How far will we go outside our planet to satisfy our needs and desires?

Why did it make sense to you to work with scientific data and to collaborate with scientists?

Andrea: In arts school, we’re taught not to just use typical “art tools” but also to explore unknown fields, to get out of our comfort zones and try new things. Science has a lot of artistically interesting material and data to offer and these last 20 years, there’s been so much more of it available thanks to the internet. You can just go to Google Scholar or any other online scientific library to get it. However, I wanted to work with scientists because I was sure I could gain more knowledge this way and they would also give me access to real geological material and of course, to mines and geological sites that I couldn’t have visited without them. At least, that’s true of Natascha and of Jean Thein, a Luxembourgish Professor of Geology working at the University of Bonn.

We had a lot of discussions and interviews, I went on field trips with them, to see, feel and record what they do. This approach led to new ideas. Natascha lent me twenty different stones that I was allowed to bring to my studio to study, and I used the collected visual, textural matter in my artistic research.

Natascha, why did you agree to take part in the project?

Natascha: I’ve been working in Luxembourg for over 10 years, for two years as a postdoc researcher and teacher here at the University of Luxembourg because my work focuses on a catastrophic event (Triassic / Jurassic extinction) in earths’ history whose causes (asteroid impacts, earthquakes, large volcanism) and consequences are still discussed.

This event is excellently documented in Luxembourg and plays a key role for its understanding. But I’m the only geologist at the University of Luxembourg, which says something about the lack of popularity of the field… Few people realise how much geology is part of our daily life (electrics, cars, buildings, etc..) − just think of your laptop or your mobile phone! So, I like to share my passion any time I can, and when Jens Kreisel (then vice rector, now rector of the university) recommended me for this project, I was immediately enthusiastic. Also, I have to say that generally speaking, geologists are very curious people!

I understand that you’ve taken Andrea to different places?

Natascha: Geology is an outdoor science. We cannot bring a volcano or a mountain to the university. We have to go out, study them in their natural environment, collect rocks which we bring back to the laboratory for analysis, using different methods. This is what we wanted to show to Andrea. We went to a mine in Walferdange to see gypsum, to a slate mine in Martelange and of course, we went to the Minett, famous for its iron ore. Tomorrow we’ll go to the laboratory of the Service géologique de l’État where there’s a huge hall with drill cores where all the important rocks of Luxembourg are archived. It’s paradise!

Andrea, how did these field trips influence your project, sonically or otherwise?

Andrea: Going down these mines, especially abandoned mines, felt like going inside of the sacred belly of earth. These places had been touched, exploited, and transformed by humans but it still felt like there was mysticism there and it also made me feel so small in the face of such huge masses. The sound designs that I made for this project try to recreate that feeling, that atmosphere, also using some sound recordings I did in these geological sites.

Do you think you’ve influenced one another from collaborating for so long?

Natascha: Since I’ve started working with Andrea, I don’t see rocks just as raw material anymore, I also see them from an artistic point of view.

Andrea: Well, we share the same fascination of rocks, I think. My work is often very intuitive, it was nice to be confronted with very methodological, scientific approaches to the subject. I think the frictions between an organic, wild nature and more mechanical and technological processes can be one of the many leitmotifs here and can also be found in both fields.

Natascha: There is some room for intuition in my research but not to the same extent as Andrea. Once I have an idea, I look at what kind of method I can use to get an answer. Mostly, I use multidisciplinary research, like sedimentology, geochemistry, mineralogy, palaeontology… But I would say that working with Andrea has opened my mind.

Andrea: Our multidisciplinary approach is another thing that we have in common.

Natascha: That’s why we’re such a good fit! It’s been a real pleasure to work with him because I like to work with people as motivated and enthusiastic as me. Did you know that I take my hammer everywhere I go? (laughs)

Andrea, you’ll premiere the performance and the installation at Multiplica. What can you tell us about them? Will the project continue after the festival?

Andrea: It’s basically telling a story of creation, exploitation, migration, and constant attraction. Using actual recordings of scientific objects (stones, places, text, photographs) and modifying them through my techniques and through technology into an organic and digital symbiosis. The piece is very intimate and not flamboyant. It has two stages. There’s a performative stage which is also based on diverse gestures with technology and organic matter. And there’s a video installation stage, which is a different approach to the same media, a bit more organic, contemplative.

After this hybrid installation-performance stage comes a video and a booklet that will document the project in different ways. That’s for later this year.