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Brigitte Kowanz - Now I See

Category: Portrait 22. June 2010

In the exhibition Now I See, the MUMOK in Vienna shows yet another retrospective of an internationally renowned Austrian artist. On display there is an overview of Brigitte Kowanz’ oeuvre, with a focus on recent years. This podcast was realised with the kind support of UNIQUA ArtCercles.

„We are in a constant process of translation“ ascertains Kowanz. “Perception is translation. Language is translation.” Kowanz concerns herself with phenomena eluding conscious perception. In this respect she was influenced by Paul Virilio, who dealt with The Aesthetics of Disappearance of “stable” images.

Internet and television enable us to be at several locations simultaneously. Virilio describes “picture-tube and display screen where shadows move, representing the phantoms of a society in dissolution” and declares that the simulation of reality replaces the immediate perception of reality. Jean Baudrillard also refers to the mediated reality of the world. In his theory of simulation he argues that reality is created artificially from the outset, so there could be no reference to a relation between a subject and the world. In fact, reality is a priori supposed to be the product of a determined ideology.

The media and writing constitute the coordinates of our information society. Yet cognition is more than vision. In the works of Kowanz, processes of perception become processes of cognition. The function of light corresponds to the function of language; they both serve as filters through which things are perceived. At the same time, light as well as language are basic prerequisites for perception and render it possible in the first place.

The exhibition displays interventions in architectural space from 1984 until today. Light as basic principle of all being is the medium and the subject of the artists’ earlier oeuvre as well. Only later the question of semantics becomes the focus of her attention. With the involvement of language, the artist now produces works full of poetry as well as analytically precise definitions.

The titles, among them Lumen and Lux, already refer to light by themselves. In the neon light works, light itself generates the words and sentences. Form and content coincide, the utterance undergoing a tautological reduplication, such as in Volumen and Outshine. Morse code signs are also used to form words and phrases dealing with light as a phenomenon - Light Is What We See. In contrast there are light installations to be seen which emulate the artist’s handwriting, and where legibility is eclipsed by the calligraphic effect.

For Kowanz, the mirror is another instrument of reflection about phenomena like perception or observation, as well as the subject-object problem. Reflecting foils spread the Morse code message over the entire space (Point of View), while language is condensed into networks in the tridimensional mirror cubes, and barely legible. The highlight of the show is a hall of mirrors that requires a conscience of the perception process from the viewer, and assigns him the task of questioning his self perception.

By means of light it becomes possible to visualize the experience of space as well as the experience of time (Lichtgeschwindigkeit SEK/4M). Besides verbal pronouncements, architecture is also a carrier of the general discourse, and is as such semantically determined from the outset. Kowanz, who is most notably known for her projects in public space internationally, transforms spaces by means of light, thus referring to their structure which is contingent but always immanent to their significance.

The current exhibition also includes two interventions of the artist in public space. While the façade of the MUMOK is being measured and the results displayed on the exterior of the building, the second work on the UNIQA tower, Now I see, deals with the fugacity of language and light. (bl/ca)

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