Michael Batz and his light art project Blue Port are well known to an international audience. Hamburg.de invited the light artist for an interview and asked him about working late at night, the estrangement effect and of course, Blue as a colour.
Which are the highlights at Blue Port 2014?
"This year we are going to illuminate 120 Euro Gate Van Carriers. Van Carriers are vehicles that look like giant spiders, they can each transport one container at a time. Getting the permission to include them into the project wasn't easy, the carriers are constantly in use, transporting goods worth millions of Euros. As much of a hassle as it may be, the result is stunning: a chain of blue lights, slowly moving through the harbour."
How do the harbour workers react to Blue Port?
"It makes them proud of their every day work space. They take pictures and collect news paper articles about the project, which they hang up on the walls of their terminals, garages and factories. There's one company who's main factory is in South Africa and in the entrance hall of the Johannesburg office there are pictures of Blue Port, which were taken by the people who work here in Hamburg. The people who come to the harbour to work every day suddenly start seeing it from a different angle. This makes me very proud."
"Blue Port” is an art project that enables people to participate. How so?
The HHLA for example has come up with the idea of installing a blue glowing, twelve metre tall double ‘H’ to their quay at the Unikai terminal. ArcelorMittal is producing old fashioned sea marks, that used to guide the way through the harbour and that have now become redundant due to the use of GPS. I find them very beautiful, although they weigh a couple of tons each and are a few metres tall, but there is still something figuresque about them.
What's going on behind the scenes of "Blue Port"?
The fact that we have only very little time when it comes to intruding into ongoing harbour business is exciting as well as exhausting. When we illuminate the whole Köhlbrandbrücke for example, the bridge will be partly closed for us, but only for four hours and only on one lane. This means that we cross the bridge with a lorry full of lamps and a van with a team to help. People on the truck drop the lamps, seconds later those from the van tie them to the bridge. Most of the jobs have to be done at night and very quickly, so that we interfere with the workers and the traffic in the harbour as less as possible.
„It is nature's most precious colour, at least when it comes to minerals and stones. Before it was possible to produce it artificially, blue was a very expensive colour. Back in the days painters had to pay a lot for it and there is still something very royal about it. Both the sky and the sea are blue, so it stands for everything maritime. It is also the colour that dominated art of the 20th century, from Yves Klein to Picasso to "Blauer Reiter". There are also practical reasons to use blue within the harbour: It is the only way to compete with white and yellow, the harbour's two main operating colours. Red and green are off limits obviously. Depending on its intensity it is a very bold, but still soothing colour.
Do the people in Hamburg see their harbour differently thanks to "Blue Port"?
"The city one lives in, is the city one often turns blind on. A little change of perspective can create awareness, people start recognising what has become so familiar to them they didn't use to see it anymore. Of course I can only trash things with an axe once, but if I act more subtly - by a change of light for instance -, regular change can lead to people realising how beautiful the city around them is.