Brigitte Kowanz

Galerie Cora Hölzl

More than fifteen years ago the Austrian artist Brigitte Kowanz began a series of works called “Durchleuchtungen,” 1985-93—a title based on the verb “to shine through” but meaning “investigations” or even “X-ray examinations.” In them she placed different kinds of glass directly in front of a halogen bulb. The light does more than illuminate the contours of its object; it creates a diffuse, painterly play of colors that seems to emanate from the interior of the glass. The respective characteristics of glass and light become visible in their collision—the refraction of the light itself is seen through the refraction of its projection. Several years later Kowanz began her series “Licht ist was man sieht” (Light is what we see), 1994, in which she integrated Morse code signals into her light objects. With this coded language system she added a verbalization of light to the actual light electrically produced—a tautological game in which the visibility of the light and the naming of this visibility become one and the same. The medium of light is affirmed by the medium of language, a doubling that produces a transparent border between equally transparent meanings.

For her new works (all 2000) Kowanz created fascinating images out of fluorescent light, acrylic panels, fluorescent paint, and steel. Here again, light appears as both theme and material, the two poles of a mutually determining alternation. While in the “Investigations” a fixed light source was installed to produce the play of colors in,the glass or in projections on the wall, Kowanz is now using a traditional, two-dimensional picture surface. This step is interesting in view of the tautological method Kowanz has pursued over the last few years—for instance, in “Speed of Light sec/Im,” 1993, neon tubes on which were printed a long sequence of numbers referring to the time in nanoseconds required by light to cover the distance from one end of the tube to the other. In those works, perception was thematized by means of nonvisual languages. Kowanz's new images, on the other hand, engage in a nonverbal realm, visual yet poetic, which goes beyond a strict format and leaves perception to its own uncontrolled course. The way paint is applied accounts only for a fraction of the painting. The picture changes as natural light changes: As daylight fades and night approaches, the fluorescent paint glows ever brighter. Thus the image is not static, but rather becomes the substrate for a continual sequence of different color-states. In the process, Kowanz also takes the theme of transparency to a higher level. The idea of addressing the method of their creation in the works themselves, of applying materials in such a way that they describe themselves and thus illuminate the work's components as well as the ideas they convey, is transformed into a nearly transcendent transparency: At the end of the day, the conceptual thought construct is transformed into a magical play of light that overflows the picture's boundaries and floods the gallery with rays of color.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.