Judith Roeder: The material carries the content

Judith Roeder is one of the participating artists in the first edition of //RESPONSIVE International Light Art Project Halifax. His work is on display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

//For more than fifteen years, glass and its physical, esthetical, and metaphorical assets have been the material and the qualities of choice for the artistic research of Judith Roeder. She focuses on the differentiation between the translucent properties of glass in opposition to its reflection and refraction properties when filtering light. She renders visible its permeability and non-permeability which lies beneath the glossy skin. “Focusing on just one material requires restraint and consequence, but it also gives freedom to explore the multiple possibilities it presents. The artist, however, does not attempt to create new qualities, but rather uncover the existing ones, thus in her realizations she often uses industrial or recovered glass. Its properties, hitherto hidden from the eye and mind, are isolated and set in motion in her conceptual works. Thanks to this transition, the energy of the body at rest become the energy of action.” [Zofia Reznik: Alternative States of Matter].

For part of her works, she scratches the glass surface to destroy the transparency. Engraving glass is as old as glassmaking itself, dating well before glassblowing was invented. The British artist Simon Whistler [1940-2005] described engraving glass as drawing with light: “My own analogy of glass is to imagine that it is actually made of light; light trapped between two polished skins. Scratch the surface and light is released at that place. The engraver’s task is to find and release the light in the way that best expresses his ideas.” Judith Roeder is interested in the transition of light through glass to explore the optical properties that lay beneath the translucent surface. Her works encompass single or multiple layers of glass sheets as reliefs or as sculptures, and she uses a range of light sources from daylight to UV-light to the digital projection for her installations – depending on the phenomenological and esthetical aspects she wants to refer to.

The appearance of all her works depends on the light situation they are placed in and space is the third building material, that Judith Roeder uses for the composition of her works. In her compositions, the geometry of light intersects with the geometries of shape and space, and governs the interplay of position, environment, and viewpoint.

With the projection of still and moving images onto glass objects, her works reflect on the culminating distortion of images by the lenses of the camera, the image projector, and the human eye as the perceiving visual system. Her focus is on the esthetic experience as a moment of contemplation and research and her imagery fathoms its translation on transit through material and media. Obviously, the dynamics of interdependencies are the focus of her artistic research and give grounds to her conceptual ideas.

Kelly Mark: Being at work

Kelly Mark is one of the participating artists in the first edition of //RESPONSIVE International Light Art Project Halifax. During //RESPONSIVE her work is on display at 1472 Hollis St.

//To get an idea of how Kelly Mark is working, here a small collection of selected quotes by curators who worked with her from 1995 when she left NSCAD to date.

“Kelly Mark’s participation in local exhibitions over the past years has already established her as a contributor to the renewal of critically motivated sculpture in Halifax … The phrase “critically motivated“ denotes ways of working that bring the sculptural object into problematic relationships with its own processes, past art practices, and current modes of experiencing the world … The associated themes of commodity and context, replication and simulation give impetus to figurative and appropriative strategies in their art making. Kelly Mark participates in these agendas while positioning herself independently in the milieu.

Before her arrival to Halifax, Mark’s experience has been shaped by studies and experiences that took place beyond the ideological force field of NSCAD. When she entered the college, she decided to develop her sculptural language by studying painters, avoiding the sculpture studio. Often organized in gridded pictorial fields, her production unites a handyman’s sensibility with resolutely low-skill, low-technology assemblage techniques. The commitment to basic procedures amounts to an ethic. …

With their minimal alterations of found objects and simple representation strategies, the individual works look provisional. Yet, because the “present” ready-made objects and materials, the works are also specific. There can be no mistaking what they are in the factual sense … For informed viewers, the evocation of moments in the history of twentieth-century art – Duchamp’s assisted ready-mades, Minimalism’s seriality, Eva Hesse’s variation-within-repetition, Jackie Winsor’s mutilated boxes – seems equally unambiguous.

What sustains viewer engagement with Kelly Mark’s work is the quality of ambivalence that haunts it at other levels. Several apparently contradictory connotations ae held in suspension by a “both/an” logic. … Mark’s selection of culturally charged artefacts … builds the question of signification into her project. Thus, when the sameness of the mass-produced units and the regularity of interval threatens to drive significance out of the act of placing forms, Mark counters this eventually. …

Mark’s allegiance to artistic strategies of the 1960s and 70s lets her inhabit her work without risking the personal disclosures that some contemporary artists insist on. With its imaginative revision of modernism’s official story, the integrity of Kelly Mark’s work is revelation enough for the attentive viewer.

[Excerpts from: Ingrid Jenkner, Kelly Mark Works. Catalogue of an exhibition held at The Art Gallery of Mount Vincent University, 15 July to 3 September 1995. Mount Vincent University Halifax 1995.]

In 1999, Kelly Mark took part in the exhibition titled “Centrifugal” at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. The following excerpt is from the catalogue accompanying the exhibition. “The exhibition “Centrifugal” is a public art project that seriously addresses the environmental impact and function of a busy urban environment on the individual. Curated specially for the city of Hamilton and installed in parking lots, the works in the exhibition offer strategic connections with the rapid movement of traffic in and out of the city. [Shirley Madill, Senior Curator] … “Free Parking was very Kelly Mark. It was a smart play: a combination of the artist’s quick and incisive wit, and a sense of place and economy. Mark thought of the exhibition as an offering to the public and made a work that explicitly realized that. Based loosely on the board game Monopoly, she offered free parking to various people each day of the exhibition – a gesture, an invitation, an outstretched hand to the community – calibrated by her total project budget. The lot was the board, the public were the players, the Art Gallery of Hamilton was the bank. Mark identified the piece simply and subtly, with a small sign fixed to a giant wall [painted with the familiar free parking symbol from the board game]. The attendant in the booth used his own judgment and whimsy to decide who, each day, would receive the small but unexpected gift of free parking. The chosen ones walked away with a stamped stub showing the artist’s signature and that familiar free parking retro car. Most people were delighted.

[Excerpts from: Eileen Sommermann: Walk This Way. Art Gallery of Hamilton: Foreword on “Centrifugal”, 2nd November to 14th November 1999. Catalogue, AGH Hamilton 1999.]

For the catalogue accompanying the exhibition “Oh, Canada – Contemporary Art from North North America” at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology” Boston from May 26, 2012 to April 1, 2013, Kelly Mark answered the question “What was your least challenging job?”: “The artist lecture performance entitled “All in a Day’s Work” I did for the DHC in Montreal 2009. I’ve dealt with time and labor in my work since the beginning. I framed the lecture into a standard eight-hour workday from 9 am to 5 pm. I thought that this enduring performance would be strain both physically and mentally, but after a couple of hours, I realized it was quite easy. I had no problem talking about myself all day … LOL.”

[Excerpts from: Denise Markonish: Oh Canada – Contemporary Art from North North America. MIT Press Cambridge 2012]

In 2011, Kelly Mark was invited to an exhibition project titled “head-to-head” with Micah Lexier at the Art Gallery of St. Mary’s University Halifax. The curator Robin Metcalfe edited a catalog to accompany the exhibition from August 27 to October 9, 2011. “Mark, particularly in her time-based work, directly addresses entropy, deliberately going as far as she can go in the direction of repetition, absurdity, exhaustion. … [f. ex.] Mark stared at a video camera until her eyes become exhausted. Her own physical failure became the content of the piece. Mark’s procedures often have the character of a dare to herself: irrational behavior undertaken for the hell of it, but with absolute conviction.”

[Excerpts from: Robin Melcalfe: Micah Lexier & Kelly Mark: head to head. Catalogue of the exhibition held at St. Mary’s University Art Gallery Halifax 2011 and The Robert McLaughlin Gallery Ottawa 2012. St. Mary’s University Halifax 2012.]

//Continue to the next info …

Duane Linklater: Who was here before?

Duane Linklater is one of the participating artists in the first edition of //RESPONSIVE International Light Art Project Halifax. After winning the Sobey Art Award in 2013, one of the five parts of the work “Tautology” stayed in the collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and will be shown for the first time since then during //RESPONSIVE at the Anna Leonowens Gallery.

//Duane Linklater is concerned with qualities of representation, collective memory, and distribution of power. As an artist, curator and activist, he is committed to the interference of the political-cultural development of Canadian society and the attitude and engagement with First Nation’s people, their representation and participation in contemporary society.

Working in installation, film and other media as well as performative, Linklater reflects on the encoded mindsets in gestures, habits, and rules in the present culture and addresses ongoing issues of the indigenous cultures, the colonial heritage and the present frameworks of reflection and recognition. His collaborative projects bring critical awareness to the issues of author- and ownership, to strategies of documentation and systems of archiving.

In commenting on Linklater’s achievement, the Curatorial Panel of the Sobey Art Award 2013 said: “Linklater has the distinct ability to articulate new measurements for authorship and histories. His positive and generous approach to art-making creates space for collaboration and audience engagement. Linklater actively investigates the authority of language and pushes its boundaries. His practice simultaneously engages with wild, rural, urban, and digital realms, offering refreshing positions on contemporary life. This allows for new perspectives within Indigenous cultural production, yet it is Linklater’s broad relevance to contemporary national and international art that is of great value here.”

Frequently Duane Linklater seeks artistic co-operation to explore the dynamics of dialogue. Following the same idea, he scrutinizes the interplay of work and context. “This is the overarching character of his practice: with the works he wishes to generate conversations with viewers, other artists and curators, all with the goal of productive dialogue and value granted to different voices.” [Melissa Bennett, 2013]

Through numerous gallery exhibits, video and film screenings, magazine profiles, artist residencies, curatorial interventions and community engagements, Linklater has become a leading voice in Canada’s contemporary arts. His approach to art-making enables collaboration and facilitates audience engagement. In 2011, he initiated “Wood Land School”, a project that seeks to center Indigenous forms and ideas in the institutional spaces that it inhabits. In 2017 “Wood Land School” inhabits the SBC Gallery in Montreal and it has been part of the Documenta 14 [2017] in Athens [gr] and Kassel [de].

[Text: Bettina Pelz]

Cuppetelli | Mendoza: The Art of Interference

Cuppetelli | Mendoza is one of the participating artists’ teams in the first edition of //RESPONSIVE International Light Art Project Halifax. Their work can be seen at Anna Leonowens Gallery.

Cuppetelli | Mendoza further what has been called Op-art since the 1960s. Op-art – the abbreviation for optical art – is based on illusions that occur in the interplay of geometry, optics and perception. Their characteristics are drawings, paintings or reliefs that engender the impression of movement, of flashing or vibrating, of swelling or warping although they are static. “Pictures that attack the eye” was the explaining headline of a feature on Op-art in the Time Magazine published on October 23, 1964. “Preying and playing on the fallibility in vision is the new movement of “optical art” that has sprung up across the Western world. No less a break from abstract expressionism than pop art, op art is made tantalizing, eye-teasing, even eye-smarting by visual researchers using all the ingredients…” were the opening lines and in fact, Op-art compositions create a sort of visual tension in the viewer’s mind that evoke the illusion of space and movement.

Yaacov Agam, Bridget Riley, Jesús Rafael Soto and Viktor Vasarely are among the internationally known artists for their Op-art works. They became infatuated with physics, mathematics and graphic studies, and experimented with textural effects, shadow, light and perspective. With their artistic research, they aimed to blur the borders between painting, sculpture and performance. In their footsteps, Cuppetelli | Mendoza explore the dynamics of the interaction of graphic pattern, spatial structures, space and movement in their works. They play with the overlay of the analog and the digital sphere to explore the way and the variety of shapes and forms engendered by each of their settings. Their works are objects, installations and performances at the same time.

In 1965, the Museum of Modern Art in New York celebrated Op-art with the exhibition “The Responsive Eye” artists such as Josef Albers, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, and Agnes Martin were featured. It focused on the perceptual aspects of art that result from the illusion of movement and the interaction of color and form. It caught major public attention and Op-art became influential for architecture, design, fashion and music. Vasarely credited the invention of Op-art with the experience of studying the way the intense light in southern France that affected his vision. Carlos Cruz-Díez, Julio Le Parc, Heinz Mack and Guenther Uecker are among those who deepened their work with optical phenomena by working on the interplay of light and perception. Expanding their approach, Cuppetelli | Mendoza work with interaction of the properties of light as the primary medium of the visual sphere and as the medium of display of the digital sphere. In their works, they refer to light as the medium that governs the visual experience.

In the 21st Century, computer programs reproduce optical patterns with ease that had been done by hand and over time by the artists of the 20th century. To date, the artistic research that encompasses the geometrical, optical and perceptional aspects can be found in the field of “projection mappings”. Here optical effects are used to alter surfaces of 3d objects or of architecture by projection. Artists use it to and advertisers to add dimensions or and notions of movement onto static objects. Projection mapping has been used for vj’ing and for gaming, it has been set on stage by dance, theater and entertainment and is has been used by fine artists like Refik Anadol, Klaus Obermaier and Quayola among others. Due to its stunning effects, it has been widely used in advertisement and event. Due to its non-invasive qualities, it has been used in historic, culture-historic and art-historic contexts as a method of research as well as of mediation.

Projection mapping dates to the 1960’s as well. Filmed head-shots of singers projected onto busts of the singers became – as the “‘Grim Grinning Ghosts” – part of the “Haunted Mansion”-ride in Disneyland in 1969. The same technic was used by the American artist Tony Oursler for his signature works of animated and projected faces onto arranged soft cloths or found objects from the 1990s. In the viewer’s perception, the motion of the digital image is transferred to the static object which is the projection ground. To date, the interplay of tracking physical objects to superimpose digital imagery is constantly refined.

Cuppetelli | Mendoza explore these mapping techniques in abstract forms. They work with geometric forms and patterns only. When they started to experiment with the interplay of textile objects and digital projections, they encountered a series of interference patterns known from analog drawing, painting and printing. The moiré pattern caught their interest. For it to appear, two or more geometric patterns must be close but not be completely identical and positioned slightly shifted, rotated or displaced. Annica Cuppetelli and Cristobal Mendoza combined their knowledge on fibers and textiles – her background – and the expertise on digital technologies and projections – his background – and started to explore the interchange of their two realms working on interference patterns.

Patterns, repetition and interaction are aspects relevant to both textile processing and computer programming. They took their commonalities to create works that reflect on the intersection of these two spheres. Until today, their focus is on installations based on textile structures fused with graphical digital animation.

By not only mapping the object but by mapping the viewer as well, Cuppetelli | Mendoza realize works that are responsive to their audience. The full range of properties of their body of work shows when visitors not only view but also move and interact in front of the installation. The installations respond to their viewers with change. They translate the viewer’s movement into their setting and allow a playful exploration to unfold. In projection mapping, the development of the responsive circle is great motivation for all the developers and constantly new tools and interfaces pop up to improve the interaction.

With their conceptual approach, Cuppetelli | Mendoza are part of the artistic development titled “Departure from the Image”. At a glance back into art history, we understood with Vincent van Gogh in the 19th Century that color is not bound to an object. Not much later, Kazimir Malevich exiled the object from the picture. In 1921, Alexander Rodchenko introduced the “Death of the Paintings”. Around the same time, in 1913, Marcel Duchamp designated his first “ready-made” and coined the term. Seeking an alternative to representing objects in paint, Duchamp began presenting objects themselves as art. After World War II, movements like Fluxus, Happening and Performance Art, as well as Land Art, Kinetic Art and Light Art were part of the ongoing artistic research pursuing the idea of withdrawing from the image. With the advances of media technologies, the development of Media Art brought TV experiments, closed circuit video installations and responsive computer installations. They introduced the potential to include the spectator as a participating user. At the same time, the “Light and Space” movement with works of Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Marian Zazeela among others referred to the experience of seeing as essential. Subjectivity, as a priori of perception, became emphasized and consequently, the model of an objectively describable and static artwork was discarded. Due to the exploration of perception the ratio of subjectivity and objectivity in the 20th Century, the status of the viewer became an active one. Artists have a share in these discourses with a growing plurality of responsive, interactive and participative concepts. Cuppetelli | Mendoza are one of them. They started their cooperation with a series of works called “Nervous Structure”: “Nervous Structure is a series of site-specific, interactive installations consisting of string and fabric structures illuminated with interactive computer graphics that react to the presence and motion of viewers. The piece consists of three planes that intersect: the physical plane [the structure], the virtual plane [the projection] and the perceptual plane [the viewer and his/her interaction]. It is in these various points of intersection that the piece works, and our interest lies in the perceptual problems that arise within these intersections.”

Their installations include reliefs and objects as center pieces of the responsive environments and their site-specific interventions make use of architectural features to build reactive works. In the tradition of the Op-art movement, their first environments were done in black and white, and since 2015, they include color phenomena in their works. Both started their independent careers after finishing their studies and started their joint artistic research in 2010. Sharing his studio for a while, they discussed the options of intertwining their realms and started to explore the idea. By now, they received several awards, including the Detroit-based Kresge Art Award of $ 25.000 in 2015: “The Kresge gives us a push into the next stage of our careers, to make more challenging work, to experiment and do things we’ve wanted to do, but haven’t had the time or resources,” said Mendoza.

[Citation: Artists’ website, Nervous Structure 5, 2011. Detroit Free Press: Kresge awards $25.000 grants to 18 writers and visual artists. June 25, 2015. Text: Bettina Pelz]

joeressen+kessner: Semantic Mapping

joeressen+kessner is one of the participating artists’ teams in the first edition of //RESPONSIVE International Light Art Project Halifax. Their work can be seen at Halifax City Hall.

//joeressen+kessner engender site-specific interventions that allow to perceive, to understand and to categorize a site in a new quality. Preferred, they work with historically charged sites to which they respond with transmedia interventions. Their works are digitals systems that interfere with the analog status quo via image and sound applications. They generate data systems that control audiovisual projections which are applied in real-time to a chosen environment. Their transmedia compositions are based on dialogic principles ranging from between the two artists, between to two spheres “audio” and “visual”, between analog and digital architecture, between light and sound waves, between the material and immaterial dimension.

In their research on a site, they cover architectural concepts and structures, emblematic qualities and acoustic patterns. They ponder on function and use, history and memory, experiences and associations as well as culture-historical, scientific or theoretical aspects. The process of exploring and developing constantly shifts between concrete and universal, specific and fundamental, practice and theory. They collect and sort, reflect and experiment with their finding to develop a semantic map that serves as the foundation of their compositions.

In the development process, joeressen+kessner focus on the transition of how coding content leads to a character, on how the hosting medium influences the appearance and on how space and time alter a digital figuration – in general as well as on the site in particular. They consider a character an abstract unit where a formative framework and associated meaning, significance and representation are in constant, reciprocal negotiation. They develop set of characters as an artistic system of that allow expression, that can be read as a language, and that allow hosting knowledge in a new way. Their works come as digital character sets that drive image and sound projections that interfere with the appearance of the space. Their encodings instruct self-organizing processes, and these develop as autonomous patterns in which the intentional and the non-intentional engender a performative play. This leads to rhizome of influences that are too complex to be fully analyzed and which can only be understood by extended observation of the interaction. The unpredictable part of this approach links to them to artistic approaches based on generative processing but to ensure their artistic autonomy, joeressen+kessner work without pre-programmed standards as well as without any form of presets and plug-ins.

They form a network of interconnected paths and tracks which overlap each other and branch out repeatedly as a real-time environment. Unlike image systems as known from film, video, and animation which are generated separately, illuminated, reckoned, reworked and cut before they are broadcasted, real-time processing is a high performative system in which rendering and display coincide and which reinvent itself while performing. By coding open systems, a continuous change between analysis, instruction, and expression takes place. The traditional separation between development, production, and performance is abolished and notation, recording and display are modulated in real time. Complexity, incomprehensibility, and incompleteness are part of this kind of artistic research. The formatting of these processes is the composition process of joeressen+kessner.

The implementation of the digital dimension in an analog space via projection allows to disintegrate found settings and limitations and permits a redesign of references, reference sets, and reference qualities. The physical space with its architectural, spatial and temporal ratios turns into a media system. Light as primary media of the analog sphere and as the media of display of the digital sphere serves as the interface and permits the linkage.

With their transmedia interventions, joeressen+kessner further a development that altered the canon of fine arts in the middle of the 20th century. The first electronic-spatial environment that combines architecture, film, light, and music into a fusion of space and time is the Philips-Pavilion, that was realized 1958 in Brussels. The artistic direction was at Le Corbusier in co-operation with Iannis Xenakis and Edgard Varèse. Compositions of acoustic space and architecture, light behavior and image generation, aesthetic qualities and perception properties and digital technologies led to new synthesis. Golo Föllmer describes the Philips Pavilion: “Two tape compositions were created for this: “Poème électronique” by Edgard Varèse which aimed at an intensive fusion of space and sound experience. The used synthetic and concrete sounds were shown to Le Corbusier ‘s film or light projection with the help of elaborate loudspeaker technology as lines and volumes in the space.” In the 21st century, the transmedia interplay was expanded by generative data systems by artists like joeressen+kessner.

Since 2001, Eva-Maria Joeressen and Klaus Kessner have been working together developing transmedia compositions as spatial interventions. Both are professional artists since the 1980s and both are active teachers: Klaus Kessner has been visiting lecturer at University of Applied Sciences Duesseldorf and the Peter-Behrens-School of Arts and Eva-Maria Joeressen holds a professorship at the Peter-Behrens-School of Arts in Duesseldorf. In addition, she is involved in the German “Light in Fine Arts [LIFA]” – network to strengthen research and discourse on light in fine arts in higher educations.

[Text: Bettina Pelz]

Ursula Handleigh: Always shifting

Ursula Handleigh is one of the participating artists in the first edition of //RESPONSIVE International Light Art Project Halifax. Her work is on display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

//Ursula Handleigh grew up in an intercultural family, her parents came from England and from the Philippines to live in Canada. The disconnection from the cultural heritage of her parents has become a driving force in Handleigh’s artistic research. Her families’ archive is an inspiration for her artistic inquiries and articulation. “I look at the images of my parents’ families and I find myself unattached – because I cannot link it to any memory or sense of place and many of the narratives are still foreign to me. I found myself in front of this wall of missing experience and missing emotion as a kind of tentative being in the world.” These images and narratives from unknown realms that sharpened the radar for all kinds of reflections on post memory, collective memory and identity.

Handleigh’s artistic research is directed to observation, exercises and studies that give space to subconscious activity. It is rooted in the understanding of the subconscious as the archive of memories, beliefs, habits, preferences and drives. By longhand writing, relaxed to the point of illegible suggestion, with streams of consciousness, she develops her materials. With traces of writings, presumed truths, and the residue of photographs, she is mapping her findings, sorted in rows, sections and grids.

“… I think I adopted my way of working from my father. He was very experimental. His way of cooking was as unusual as his solutions as an electrician. Today, I still like to use my hands when working on an art work. I choose a material to accompany my thoughts and I start a kind of dialogue, I initiate an action and the material responds, and I start to build from there. I enjoy this state of being attentive and like to watch the process develop. I don’t plan a work – what I produce is more like the recording of a situation. These recordings cannot usually be heard or read by an audience, but they are alluded to. They are more like traces that I provide to spark associations. Nothing is only one thing… I am constantly challenging my beliefs.”

Throughout her studies of photography at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Ursula Handleigh reflected on the role of the photograph as object. She experimented with the interplay of light and lenses, cameraless photography and the presence of absence. Experimentation is her main studio strategy, persistence a strong working quality. For her series of works “I can feel you forgetting”, she worked with physical and chemical materials alone, without any referential imagery. When divested of the idea of carrying visual content, a photograph is a filtered throw of light upon a lens or a paper. “I am very interested in the aesthetics of the accidental building processes. I work with ephemeral processes, the changing and shifting and all the surprises. I conceptually work through an issue without predetermining the results.”

She avoids priming the audience for a specific understanding “… with my works I like to create atmospheres that are open to the unsaid, unseen and unthought. I offer my finding to an audience not to convey my findings or to share any content or meaning. It’s simply an existing line or a form. But I am very happy when the viewers start to associate from their own archives and realms. That is a kind of abstract communication that has its own poetics.”

[All citations: Ursula Handleigh. Summary of interview on September 29, 2017: Bettina Pelz]

Houda Ghorbel and Wadi Mhiri: Witnessing the Present

Houda Ghorbel and Wadi Mhiri is one of the participating artists’ teams in the first edition of //RESPONSIVE International Light Art Project Halifax. Their work can be seen at Anna Leonowens Gallery.

//Houda Ghorbel and Wadi Mhiri are working as an artistic tandem of different backgrounds encompassing professional practice in fine art, design, architecture and community work. They are dedicated to sociocultural and political, religious and philosophical issues. Collective memory and identity, societal coherence and civic engagement, democratic culture and freedom of expression are reoccurring subjects of their artistic research and articulation. They engage themselves in civic society and employ their artistic practice to address critical issues. With their recent intervention “Circle Vicieux” at the “Porte Espagnole” at the La Goulette harbor close to Tunis, they created a strong symbol for all the refugees that lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. To develop iconic imagery, is one of their fortes.

Their works profit from their profound knowledge of traditional crafts for example like weaving, tailoring and pottery. In 2016, they developed an exhibition program titled “Ward et Cartouches” [en: “District and Bullets”] compiling a series of works with mixed materials with a distinct focus on ceramics. “With our imagery we address our themes, with the choice of materials we link it to long-standing traditions of craftmanship in our culture.” “Ward et Cartouches” include works like “Pensées Canalisées”, a pipe system that lead to a series of distorted faces. Another one is “Les Cinq Moments de la Journée” referring to the five prayer times a day in the Islamic culture. It is an installation of five identical objects made of ceramics and covered with a shiny white glaze. Their shape is a mix of a missile or a bullet and a penis. They are directed towards the viewer from above eyelevel with a threating impetus. “We want to speak up against the false missionaries, those turn our prayers into useless acts like we do it as well with “Allongez-Vous”. That is an installation where the viewer has to lie down on a white bed to find him/herself under a multitude of hanging bullets in clusters forming the word “Jihad al-Nikah”. “Jihad al-Nikah” [en: “Sex Jihad”] addresses the ongoing practice that Tunisian women travel to Syria to have extramarital sexual relations with multiple partners to comfort Jihadist fighters. “We are living in a very demanding time and we care about the world. In a way, our works are like testimonials. We want to give an image to what shapes the face of our times.”

For the Segou Art Biennial 2016, they developed a large-scale work called “Contenants pour un Continent” made of 600 calabashes painted white, mounted in the shape of the African continent and set to swim ín a river: “Our floating installation is composed of white painted calabashes linked by iron wire. … The calabash is a dried fruit. It is an integral part of several African civilizations and it is used as a multifunctional tool, it serves as a plate or a container, as a watering and as a musical instrument – just to name some. Transmitted from a generation to another, used, repaired, the calabash is a sacred companion for Africans. … Africa formed by calabashes is thought to be a symbol for unity and belonging, a call for love and peace against all the actual scourges gnawing on the African continent, such as the terrorism and civil wars. For us, these calabashes represent the dream of a unified Africa, without any border, enriched by its civilizations and cultural mixture. It is given to the flow of the river as an invocation of the sky for a better tomorrow.”

In 2014, they realized their first mutual work using uv-light. “We discovered light as a material that creates focus. In the interplay with white surfaces, these start to glow, and all the other interior of the space fades. We experimented with various materials, worked on shapes and forms. At one point we started to work with dark bluish space as a sculpturing material. We have drawn on walls and we built with white threads across the space … exploring the grammar of light and reflection, color and space. Light makes a space a glowing volume and the reflection of glowing white is a strong impulse to the human eye. We like the minimalism of the material, the minimal invasiveness of the uv-light, the low energy consumption and the extremely interesting esthetical output.” In the recent years, they have become one of the outstanding positions of the reflected use of light in artistic articulation on the African continent.

In their light-based works, they work with a unique mix of figurative and abstract aspects to create symbolic values and metaphorical imagery. “So many things that happen in our world confront us with a demanding complexity of intertwined developments and constant dynamics. When we work with light, we create paintings with a spatial and a temporal dimension. They are like three- or four-dimensional metaphors that express our attitude and offer an esthetical experience to our visitors. We are hoping to spark an echo in their hearts and minds.”

The mutual works of Houda Ghorbel and Wadi Mhiri include objects, mixed-media installations and context-specific interventions. Since 2012, they work regularly as a team, as a couple, they have been living together for the past 23 years. Houda Ghorbel studied Fine Arts, holds a Ph.D. in Sciences and Artistic Techniques and teaches at the Tunis Art Academy. Since 2004, Wadi Mhiri ’s focus is on photography, earlier he studied Fashion Design in Paris. Both exhibit regularly throughout the Mediterranean and the African Continent. They engage in cooperative and educative environments like the ART MATTERS Collective, an international group of artists and curators that develops new opportunities for context-related art projects in Africa and Europe.

[Citations by Houda Ghorbel and Wadi Mhiri. Summary of the interview on October 3, 2017 by Bettina Pelz]

Mischa Kuball: Based on conversation

Mischa Kuball is one of the participating artists in the first edition of //RESPONSIVE International Light Art Project Halifax. His work is on display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

//Kuball ’s works encompass objects, installations and interventions that reflect on visual organization, its impact on consciousness and on outlook onto the world. His works can be found in white cubes and black boxes, in all kinds of exhibitions spaces as well as in public spaces; they can be temporary as well as permanent. With an interdisciplinary approach joining artistic, scientific, social and political aspects, his works respond to the complex dynamics of societal, ethical and esthetical organization. One of his referential features is the quoting and recontextualization of cultural icons. Another is, that many of his interventions are conditioned on the participation of the audience to interact with the artistic setting. He furthers the idea that Robert Irwin coined as “Conditional Art”: The idea is not for work for a place or a context, but of making it itself the material and the object of artistic processing.

Kuball’s works in public space interfere with the co-constitutional process of public scope, public values and public practice. They are statements contributing to the ongoing negotiations between public space, political culture and civic responsibility. Unlike László Moholy-Nagy who was fascinated by the scale of lighting fixtures and translated his proposals for stage into urban environment and unlike Nikolas Schoeffer who experimented with “lumino-dynamic” systems in public space, point of departure for Kuball is a conceptual idea. One of the reoccurring parameters of his artistic settings is the reflected impact of light.

He has been working with light as a building, as a drawing [like photo- and videography] and as a performative material. His artistic research is geared to the relevance of light in contemporary visual codes and their implications. He refers to signature qualities of light like non-locality and time flow, intermediality and perception-responsiveness. Since the beginning of the 20th Century, worldwide a growing number of artists works on light as the medium governing the visual sphere. Instead of working with materials like marble, canvas or bronze, the medium hosting the artwork advanced to the center of artistic interest. Due to his extended oeuvre and the continuous, long-term international display, Mischa Kuball has become a leading voice in Europe. He holds a professorship at the University of Media Arts in Cologne, he is engaged in the development of the “Center for International Light Art” in Unna/Ruhr and, along with Otto Piene and Brigitte Kowanz, he is one of the awardees of the “German Light Art Award” by the Art Museum Celle.

[Text: Bettina Pelz]

molitor & kuzmin: Art is about attending the world

molitor & kuzmin is one of the participating artists’ teams in the first edition of //RESPONSIVE International Light Art Project Halifax. Their work can be seen at Dalhousie School of Architecture.

//Ursula Molitor and Vladimir Kuzmin are renowned for their light and space works since the late 1990s. They shape environments through their use of light in each given site. With an unerring eye for architecture and design, they add to the art of light and space. “We are working with mass-produced materials, and for us it is like a tool to compose, not on a canvas, but in the spatial sphere”. From 1996 on, light became the main material of their artistic articulation. “We didn’t get into the technical details, when we started to experiment with physical light. Our point of departure was the esthetical phenomenon. We were excited that we found a material that seeks the dialogue with the spatial dimension.”

Fluorescent tubes are used as a kind of drawing material to structure their luminous spheres. In the artistic compositions of molitor & kuzmin, they can hang freely in a space as singled objects or they can come in bulk. They can be organized in a geometric order like in an explosion drawing or they can be framed by transport materials such as pallets, lorries or boxes that contain a dense, disordered number of fixtures. “Fluorescent light is such a re­strictive medium and overtime, we developed a particular appreciation that drives us to continue to work with it. These tubes have their own poetics. The gas at the inside is set to a high vacuum state to cause a discharge phenomenon similar to the origin of the universe. May-be we sense that when we look at them…”.

molitor & kuzmin encompass the open dynamics of presence and absence, visibility and materiality, perception and representation that are present in all fugitive media. Their radiant works immediately captivate the attention as the centerpiece of an immersive environment. They take the visual lead in a space due to the natural ocular response to navigate to the brightest part of an environment. “To date, we are still fascinated by the pure, bright, white light of the fluorescent tubes. It alters a space and everything in it.” The bodies of light come as a raster on a wall, as an object in an environment or as a structure in a space. molitor & kuzmin don’t alter or manipulate neither form, nor color, nor do they hide the electrical cables. Everything that is used is shown as well. The technical transparency is part of the esthetical approach that doesn’t aim to represent anything else than itself. “We are very concrete in our way of working”.

They address the intertwinement of the architectural space with light and perception and treat them as inter-fluctuating ones. ”Space is never empty, it is always “informed”, it is loaded with information and usually this information changes over time. In our research, we detect part of this information and we recode it by interfering with the luminous sphere. If it is right, it looks as if it belongs, as if it has always been there and as if it shouldn’t be removed ever.”

When a site turns into an artistic material and at the same time becomes its objective, then the US-American artist Robert Irwin calls it “Conditional Art”. Conditional Art, according to Irwin, is responsive to its environment, and its objective is to enhance a viewer’s perception of a space. Irwin considers his light interventions to be tools with which he examines “the quality of a particular space in terms of its weight, its temperature, its tactileness, its density, its feel”. Irwin is part of the artistic movement that started in the 1960s, mainly in the USA and Europe. Referring to natural and to artificial light, artists created immersive environments and experimented with ocular responses, visual perception and optical illusions. They composed with the interplay of light, time, space and included explorations of the limits of human perception.

molitor & kuzmin are the next generation of artists perpetuating the artistic research of the “Light and Space Movement”. “Really looking at the properties and qualities of a space, its use, its materials and including the processes of its development and the decisions that have been taking, make them part of our artistic composite. For this kind of artistic research, you start from scratch knowing that you don’t know. … our development process in situ is a constant crosscheck between our ideas and how they appear. And for each of our works, we develop its own guidelines. When we arrive at a new space, we just spend a lot of time … observing, sensing, associating … We open our radars and we see, feel and touch. It’s important not to rush and to use our eyes, our knowledge and our experience to explore and understand it. At the beginning, we don’t know what we are looking for and we should wait until we can overcome all what we have seen before. From there, we start to share and to discuss until our ideas start to synchronize.”

In a perfect balance of joy and critical judgment, they develop their works. “We appreciate being two and in the fragile moments of artistic development, we sense how much we trust each other. Through our joint projects, we have found that we are a good addition to each other …”. In 1991, in the same year the Soviet Union collapsed and Europe was no longer divided by the Iron Curtain, east-west co-operations became easier and German-born Ursula Molitor and Russian-born Vladimir Kuzmin started to work together. At that time, both were artists with focus on painting. Vladimir grew up in Zaporozhe in Ukraine and studied architecture in Moscow. After his studies, from 1983 on, he exhibited not only in Moscow, but also in Europe and the USA. At about the same time, Ursula began exhibiting, mainly in Germany. Backed with her studies as a graphic designer, her artistic portfolio included drawings, paintings and objects. In the first years of the joint work, they worked on abstract color compositions in painting. “At one point, around 1995/1996, we were no longer satisfied by colors on canvas. We wanted to include the surrounding space and we were excited to work with physical light as an open volume.”

[Interview on September 10, 2017. All citations by molitor & kuzmin. Text: Bettina Pelz]

Hartung | Trenz: Understanding coding

Hartung | Trenz is one of the participating artists’ teams in the first edition of //RESPONSIVE International Light Art Project Halifax. Their works can be seen at Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and at the Memorial Library of Halifax.

//We are interested in sites and contexts that are charged with history and where visual traces are limited or missing. We like to learn and to understand what shaped a site and what didn’t leave a touch. And we are looking for both, the parts that are visible as well as the parts that are neglected, ignored or forgotten. We enjoy this discovery mode and we back it up with research, with reading and with talking to people that link to the site or the context.

When approaching a new project, we start to ask a lot of questions and in the same way and the same time, we explore the interplay of the site and the possibilities of projection. And the better both work, the more information and associations surface and the more questions dive up. Usually the midst of this entanglement becomes our working ground. From there, where we are not sure to understand anything, we start to develop our works. Therefore, they are a moment of observation, an invitation to see and to discuss rather than a judgmental statement.

Making art is articulating a subjective position and part of the research is to understand ourselves. What are we looking for? Why are we interested? How do we refer to? What do we choose? What can we see? Can esthetics and poetics help to see more? In our case, we are always two and we are working together for almost 20 years. Exchange, discussion and synchronization are essential for our work. This means that we are well trained to be in dialogue, with each other as well as with a site or a context. We should come to an agreement, otherwise there is no work. This is a demanding and stimulating process, not always easy and fun, but very good for our attitudes and for our works. And very giving for our personal and artistic development.

Throughout our researches, we learned to be open to information. We never treat a volume of information as a final one, but as a temporary only. We are aware of all the limitations of time, of accessibility, of interest and the difficulties that raise from that. We learned to live with open amounts of data and with the risk of overlooking certain aspects. It corresponds with our interest in language in spoken and written form. All languages have their own gaps – there are parts of what can be addressed and then there are all other ones that cannot. Typography tries to reflect that in shaping letters and letter-spacing. In our esthetic research, we try to build porous surfaces that leave space to include unseen, unsaid and unwritten aspects.

Working with projection allows us to experiment with typographic properties at any site. The interplay of a landscape or an urban environment and the architecture of typography is an esthetical exciting process and often has an ethical impact. In our works, we share our interest and process with a context or a site. We open our dialogue and we follow the development of the process and the encounter. That is what we call artistic research. And at one point of this process, we start to respond to what we see, what we learn and what we experience.

Our works are mainly temporary interventions, they are just a moment in time, but very concentrated ones. All sites of our works became part of us, of our experiences, of our memory and of our rhizome of emotions. And we hope to share that with our hosts – the curators and producers – as well as with our visitors.

[Summary of interview from September 9, 2017: Bettina Pelz]

With support from the German Center of International Light…

The Center of International Light Art Unna [de] is sharing an exhibition copy of one of the seventeen permanent works in their collection.

//When I was asked how I felt about showing Mischa Kuball’s installation “Space, Speech, Speed” during RESPONSIVE in Halifax, I immediately said yes! I believe it is important that as many people as possible get acquainted with light art and its specific place within contemporary art, which is why we, the Center for International Light Art in Unna, Germany, wish to work together with institutions and cities all over the world.

The original of “Space, Speech, Speed” can be seen in our museum, which happens to be the only light art museum worldwide, that is fully dedicated to light art. Mischa installed his light art sculpture in the museum right at the beginning in 2001, and up till now it evokes a very enthusiastic response. You will notice during RESPONSIVE that light art has this special quality, that it responds to all our senses.

What is special about our museum is that every artist picked his or her own exhibition space, and then made a site-specific installation for the 12 meters underground spaces, where once beer was stored and cooled, at the time the museum still was a brewery. Mischa installed his work in one of the former ice cellars! Besides our permanent collection, we also host temporary exhibitions, like ¡BRIGHT!, which will open on next November 24th.

In 2015, the museum initiated the International Light Art Award, ILAA, a biennial competition, where artists can hand in their concepts for light art installations, that show how the future of light art, given all the rapid technological developments, might look like. Last September, we ended the second edition of ILAA and its accompanying exhibition, for which we received almost 300 concepts from artists from 41 countries. Keith Sonnier [look him up!] was the jury’s chairman. ILAA is a means for us to emphasize the importance of light art, and to give a chance to emerging artists, that want to work with light as their prime material.

As a competence center for light art, we think it is important to collaborate with universities, museums, light expertise centers, and of course artists that work with light worldwide. That is also why it is important to be visible in Halifax as well, with Mischa’s wonderful and triggering installation.

I wish Halifax and all visitors to RESPONSIVE a truly enlightening experience.

Cordial greetings,
John Jaspers [Director]
Center for International Light Art Unna [de]


Halifax [Nova Soctia] | 18 to 21 Octoer 2017

Anna Leonowens Gallery [NSCAD University]
1891 Granville St, Halifax [NS]
+1 902-494-8223
// Cuppetelli | Mendoza
// Ghorbel | Mhiri
// Duane Linklater

Halifax City Hall
1841 Argyle St, Halifax [NS]
// joeressen+kessner

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
1723 Hollis St, Halifax [NS]
+1 902-424-5280
// Ursula Handleigh
// Hartung | Trenz
// Mischa Kuball
// Judith Roeder

St. David’s Church
1544 Grafton Street, Halifax [NS]
+ 1 902-423-1944
// Theinert | Pearse

Memorial Library
5381 Spring Garden Rd, corner of Spring Garden Road and Grafton Street, Halifax [NS]
// Hartung | Trenz

School of Architecture
5410 Spring Garden Road, Halifax [NS]
+1 902-494-3971
// molitor & kuzmin

Black-Binney House
1472 Hollis St
// Kelly Mark


Art Bar +Projects [Info/Desk]
1873 Granville St, Halifax [NS]
// RESPONSIVE Lounge: Nightly from 7.00 pm to Midnight
// RESPONSIVE Guided Tours: Nightly at 8.00 pm

Presenting Partners

From October 18 to 21, 2017

Anna Leonowens Gallery, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and Dalhousie Art Gallery are pleased to present the first iteration of //RESPONSIVE: International Light Art Project Halifax, exhibiting this year in Halifax, Nova Scotia from October 18 to 21, 2017. National and international artists have been invited to participate with projects that link indoor and outdoor spaces in the city’s centre.

This 4 night public circuit will stretch from the Anna Leonowens Gallery in Granville Court to Dalhousie School of Architecture with stops at Halifax City Hall, the Church of St. David, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Old Spring Garden Road Memorial Library and the Public Gardens. All art works will use light as material or medium and darkness as their canvas. The exhibition runs nightly from 7.00 pm to midnight at all sites, indoor and outdoor.

The Anna Leonowens Gallery will showcase an interactive mapping by Cuppetelli + Mendoza, a UV-light site-specific intervention by Ghorbel + Mhiri and a neon-based work by Duane Linklater from the collection of the AGNS. All of these works address the line as an element of artistic reflection. At City Hall in Grand Parade Square, the artists’ collective joeressen+kessner have developed a site-specific multi-media intervention. The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia will present a large-scale work by Mischa Kuball and an interactive work by Hartung + Trenz, both working with projected text. As well Judith Roeder and Ursula Handleigh will have works on display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, both based on the interplay of light and optic materials.

St. David’s Presbyterian Church will host the performances of Kurt Laurenz Theinert who will improvise on a visual piano in a 360° projection environment. For the former Spring Garden Road Memorial Library, the artists’ collective Hartung + Trenz mount a site-specific architectural projection. Across the street the Dalhousie School of Architecture will display a space-intervention by molitor + kuzmin who use fluorescent tubes as their main building material. On the edge of Public Gardens, Kelly Mark will use TV-screens to transform the empty Power House.

The unique exhibition project was initiated by art historian and gallerist Ralf Seippel [DE] and entrepreneur and art enthusiast Juergen Probst [DE/CAN]. Together they paved the way for the international initiative that led to this first edition of //RESPONSIVE. They not only had the idea but also the means to spark this collaboration. They discussed with possible partners until they found the perfect team with outstanding motivation in Halifax. For a proper start, the Probst family provided a substantial budget. Backing innovative projects and taking responsibility for ideas is their shared passion and //RESPONSIVE is their largest undertaking across the Atlantic.

Ralf Seippel formed the curatorial collective with Melanie Colosimo [Director of Anna Leonowens Gallery at NSCAD University], Sarah Fillmore [Chief Curator of Art Gallery of Nova Scotia], and Peter Dykhuis [Director of Dalhousie Art Gallery at Dalhousie University] and Bettina Pelz [Curator with focus on light in fine arts] as its artistic director. In a mutual effort, they discussed concept, strategies and organization of the innovative format. //RESPONSIVE is the first result of the fruitful cooperation and it is the first part of a series of four exhibition projects, two in Halifax [2017/2019] and two in Cologne, Germany [2018/2020] named COLLUMINA.

A New Art Project in Halifax

//RESPONSIVE is a new art in public space format, that first took place in Halifax from October 18 to 21, 2017. A series of artworks were installed, scattered around the downtown core. Located both inside and outside, the works was free to the public – after sunset – from 7.00 pm to midnight.

About this project, Artistic Director Bettina Pelz states: “Temporary exhibition formats in public space have a longstanding tradition in the arts. They respond to a world in constant change and have become an essential rendezvous point to display and to discuss contemporary art. Temporary interventions experiment with given situations, existing architectures, sensory perception and allegorical associations. In projects, biennials and festivals with focus on light, they show how architectural ensembles, urban spaces and known sites can become part of an artwork.”

RESPONSIVE is dedicated to the reflected use of light in fine arts. All of the selected artworks use physical light as material, medium or metaphor. In contemporary artistic practices, physical light is used for drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, intervention, and performance. In their research, artists reflect on the interplay of materials and the connotations of their appearances, form and colour, light and shadow, space and time, and all types of phenomenological aspects and their semantic implications. These types of artworks are designed to be dynamic systems of interdependence. They explore the interchange between material aspects and optical properties, the conditions of human perception, and codes of content.

Peter Dykhuis, Director/ Curator of the Dalhousie Art Gallery at Dalhousie University, and Melanie Colosimo, Director/ Curator of the Anna Leonowens Gallery Systems at NSCAD University, are the founding Halifax partners and will work closely with Bettina Pelz and Dr. Ralf Seippel, their curatorial counterparts from Cologne, Germany. Ralf Seippel, the initiator and architect of this initiative, has been developing sustainable art and art mediation projects around the world. Bettina Pelz, in the role of Artistic Director, is a curator with focus on light in fine arts and has founded several international light art projects and has fostered a global research network on light in fine arts. In addition to Peter Dykhuis and Melanie Colosimo, Sarah Fillmore, Chief Curator of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, has joined the curatorial team along with assistance of Jamie MacLellan, Public Art Facilitator for the Halifax Regional Municipality and Christine Macy, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at Dalhousie University, as consultants. The Halifax partners gratefully acknowledge the financial support of RESPONSIVE in 2017 and 2019 by Probst & Partner Investments Ltd of Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

error: Please respect that text and image contents are protected by the authors!