Mischa Kuball

In early Christian painting light stood for revelation; what it revealed, however, was not the world but something transcending physical reality. Light was the source of a vision, and the world became truly visible only in the light of this vision. The light in such paintings followed the principles of this vision and was not subject to the laws of physical reality. Thus the saints, as the source of spiritual revelation, of vision, glowed with light, and this light flowed over into the ordinary world.

After the Renaissance, light increasingly lost its visionary significance. It no longer radiated spirit but came to be a purely physical element that made the world visible—until the world itself became, as in Impressionist painting, the source of light and light alone, nothing but a natural phenomenon. Since the turn of the century there has been another change: light was rediscovered as an element that could transcend the limits of physical reality. Naum Gabo was one of the first artists to take up the cause of light in art again, and today James Turrell’s work also asserts that light transcends the limits of physical reality.

The young Düsseldorf artist Mischa Kuball has been working with light for a number of years. His first projects took place in public spaces in cities around Europe, one of which was the “Megasign” event staged in Düsseldorf. For a period of several days, the Mannesmann building, one of the city’s tallest, was lit up at night. In this project Kuball confronted the functional sobriety of the building’s architecture with the almost magical effect of light.

In Kuball’s first gallery show, light is again the focus of his work. Two projectors on pedestals project not photographic images but light on the gallery wall. Yet by manipulating the slides, Kuball has given the light form. It may be a circle or a square, then an oval or a triangle. A kind of painting is created on the wall, in which light is used as the form-giving material. These circles and squares, rectangles and ovals, sometimes next to one another, sometimes overlapping, are strict geometric forms, deliberate references to the rationalist tradition. Kuball consciously and specifically refers to geometric models from the rationalist, functionalist tradition of the Bauhaus. Within such a system of functionalist rationality, there are no phenomena that transcend nature. Even light is nothing more than a physical quantity to be treated in purely functional and formal ways.

It is the validity of this position that Kuball questions and explores. He uses light to create these strictly geometric forms. The forms are revealed through light and, by inversion, the light is revealed solely through forms. In this combination they constitute a kind of sculpture that is more than just an accumulation of physical elements. It is a revelation.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.