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Alexander Tolnay

Light and Perception
On Gunda Förster's Installations

Artists are inventors of places. They create spaces that never existed or were never imagined before. The spaces created by Gunda Förster for reciprocal exhibitions in Chicago and Berlin came into being through a discourse with that most immaterial medium, light. In both instances, she works with the alternation and interplay of bright and dark, open and closed. In > WHITE NOISE in Chicago, this change takes place abruptly and unexpectedly, while in the Charité project, the light's intensity ebbs and flows gradually, changing only slowly. The Chicago installation reminds us of Icarus, the Greek mythological figure who ascends towards the glistening light of the sun and, approaching it, falls into the blackest abyss as the wax on his wings melts. In Berlin, we are reminded of the orderly laws of the cosmos and the consistent recurrence of its cycles of day and night.

By alternating blindingly bright and midnight black spaces, places of perception are created where seeing becomes an elementary experience. In Förster's space installations the primary concern is light and perception. Her art consists not of objects for aesthetic observation but rather, as Daniel Birnbaum formulated it in another context, »they play with the conditions of our perception. This kind of art is free of everything to do with objects. It's not about what’s in front of our eyes but rather behind them, the preconditions for seeing.«

In his investigations into the psychology of art, Rudolf Arnheim pointed out that the most important instrument for the comprehension of art is perception itself and not any kind of mysterious cognitive or emotional ability that could be measured using any static standard, such as form, size or color. Rather, it is »the channeled tensions that are conveyed by precisely these stimuli. « This comprehensive kind of perception that emphasizes »channeled tensions« is the foundation for all aesthetic experience, he maintained. Anyone entering Gunda Förster's spaces, or even observing them from the outside, will be confronted by such tensions. The artist herself describes that »confrontation« like this: »The simultaneously limited and delimited immateriality of light becomes perceptible in its relation to the environment.« Communication ensues between the space and its viewers, who are shifted to a position where »they can perceive themselves in relation to their environment.«

translation: Janice Becker

Catalogue text
Vedanta Gallery, Chicago, 2001
Charité, Berlin, 2001