When art and cleaning meet

4th of June 2021
When art and cleaning meet

From Germany, Katja Scholz on a special art project being supported by cleaning professionals.

When an artist and experts in all things to do with contract cleaning cooperate with a common purpose, something exceptional can happen. In a current project in Germany’s capital city Berlin, this has a name: MaHalla – the work of an artist, supported by the technical expertise of cleaning professionals.

The setting is a listed industrial building in Berlin-Oberschöneweide, formerly one of the most important urban manufacturing districts in Germany. The artist is Ralf Schmerberg, who intends to create a space for art, culture and innovation.

And this is where cleaning comes in. The interior brick façade of the turbine hall has so far never been professionally cleaned and was covered with decades-old layers of paint and varnish, dating back in parts to 1895 when the hall was built. In cooperation with a restorer and the Regional Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments, a gentle yet effective method was agreed for removing the dirt while at the same time preserving the original material. The company commissioned for this protective technique was Kärcher, the Winnenden-based cleaning expert.

“Ralf Schmerberg approached us and we developed the project within the framework of our cultural sponsorship programme”, explained Sebastian Wein, Kärcher’s press officer. But the company is not only cleaning MaHalla – it is also supporting the creation of a new artwork in the turbine hall.

The hot water high pressure process was used to clean the walls of the hall: hot water hits the surface at a pressure of up to four bar. A large portion of the layers of paint and varnish had already been carefully removed in this way – until the original, yellow glazed klinker bricks were visible. The green metal supports in the turbine hall, on the other hand, were cleaned using the dry ice blasting process. This technique involves blasting the dirty surface with dry ice pellets.

At the moment of impact, the dry ice changes from a solid to a gaseous state (sublimation), penetrates the dirt and detaches it from the surface through the increase in volume in the course of sublimation, without causing any damage to the wall itself. At the same time, the difference in temperature and the velocity of impact combine to loosen the dirt. “Even particularly stubborn patches of dirt still clinging to the walls were successfully treated using this technique,” explains Sebastian Wein. Once all the walls and metal supports in the entire turbine hall were shining like new, it was then time for the artistic part of the “Kärcher for Art” cooperation.

On one wall of the hall, Ralf Schmerberg has created  “reverse graffiti” – whereby pictures and motifs appear while patches of dirt are being systematically removed.  Ralf Schmerberg chose the typeface for his reverse graffiti and created the appropriate stencils himself. The wall surrounding the stencils was then cleaned using hot water high-pressure cleaners. Through the contrasting effect of light and dark between the cleaned and the dirty surfaces emerged the words: “The world is full of pain”.

After just under three weeks’ activity under the slogan “Cleaning and Art”, the final task of cleaning the floors with a sweeper was completed.


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