Keith Sonnier

Galerie Rolf Ricke

For more than twenty years now, glass, aluminum, and neon tubes have been the main components of Keith Sonnier’s oeuvre. In his latest pieces, these materials have been joined by antennas or antennalike constructions. Using associative, pictorial, and concrete references, these elements link up with systems that exist outside the works. Sonnier’s works also hint at autonomous structures, but such a formalist interpretation, dictating a value through self-referentiality, is constantly disrupted. Thus, the transformers or the cables of the neon tubes are elements designating the interface between the pure language of forms and the conveyors of (content) expression: this is where the actual functions are redefined.

This is even more applicable to the antennas. With his choice of material, Sonnier builds a referential bridge to his works of the ’70s, those video and media pieces based on communication processes. One instance is the outdoor sculpture Aesthesipol, 1982; employing a public telephone and a television set, the artist redefines the transmitter/receiver system, declaring an immediate exchange to be impossible on a technological level. This condition of communication is also important to Sonnier’s latest works. Here, too, he selects the individual components both for their functions and for their sensual qualities, which leads to a redefinition of their functions. This redefining survives only in the viewer’s memory, like the receiver system of the antenna. The antennas are merely carriers, both in the material sense (as clamping fixtures for the neon tubes) and in the imaginary sense (the viewer’s previous knowledge about antennas).

The process of exchange that constitutes communication in Sonnier’s pieces is thus initiated through various reciprocal effects: between architecture and light (as power charge and exhibition space), between light and viewer, and between the optical laws of the individual parts and the redefined functions—especially between the poles of functionality and sensuality.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.