spaces. He engages aspects of architecture, the built environment and cultural
memory, as memory informs knowing‘ and our need to manage and explore the
unknowable. The interconnectedness is aptly demonstrated in a multipart project
Bauhaus-Block, done at the Dessau Bauhaus in 1992. Kuball employed the simplest
of means - slide projectors set up throughout the building and exterior - and the
most transparent of ‘outcomes‘, projecting white light forms onto the architecture,
as a doubling of structure and geometry. The intervention generated a meditation (a
mediation) on the building as history, the architectural monument (to modernism),
and its creative spirit and legacy in present time.
Kuball‘s vehement penetration of the structural and work processes of the
contemporary Bauhaus ... in no way disturbed, but rather counteracted ...
thereby achieving a productive provocation.
Rolf Kuhn, Foreword to Bauhaus-Block 1992
It is difficult to categorise such a work. The art of it has formal elements, but it
also acted within the daily program of the Dessau Bauhaus - as noted by Kuhn - and
thereby engaging students and faculty without the imposition and insistence of
‘teaching‘. In other projects there are pedagogical aspects. Kuball‘s Urban Context,
developed over a five-year period, from 1995 to 2000, was an integral part of an
inter-disciplinary and multi-collaborator undertaking, which involved students at
the University of Lüneberg and the community. The focus of the project was the
excavation of a W.W.II Bunker, along with archival research, to examine not only what
lay buried, literally, under the streets, but also a suppressed collective consciousness
(memory). Kuball tied the various initiatives together in the summary publication, not
as closure but offering the possibility for research to continue.
Memory is a fragile construct located somewhere between, at the one extreme,
the dire necessity to forget and, at the other, the vital need to recall things and
situations exactly as they were. Kuball‘s bunker project ... resists every attempt at
memorialization [but] it operates neither as hands-on-archaeology nor as vague
empathy. His intervention is aimed neither at mourning nor at spiritual uplift but
- quite literally - at enlightenment as a disturbing appeal.
Manfred Schneckenburqer, ‘Rememberinq in Lüneburq and elsewhere‘
for the publication Urban Context 2000
Kuball‘s use of light sources rather than physical alteration-interventions
underscores his statement: ‘making things visible means making people aware of
things. By shining a light on something 1 make it important ... out into the open for
everyone to see‘. In doing so, Kuball does more than bear witness: he provides us
with the possibility of being ‘eye/I‘ witnesses. History can become an open book once
again, as can our immediate environs, that which we take for granted, or often block
out because there is too much to take in. The artist‘s challenge, therefore, becomes
how to ‘re-stimulate‘ the ‘over-stimulated‘ senses without adding to the problem.
(Kuball‘s answer may be, do as little as possible and make it mean as much as possible.)
His project for the 1998 Bienal de São Paulo was titled Private Light/Public Light, a
response to the bienal theme of antropofagia, a ‘cultural cannibalism‘ proposed by
Oswaldo de Andrade‘s manifesto of 1928. One hundred families in São Paulo were invited
to exchange their living room lights with a standardised lamp developed by Kuball, a
cylinder-shaped fixture that could either be hung or mounted on a stand. The original
domestic lights were assembled and shown en masse at the bienal. One could mistake
this tor a lighting store display, or misunderstanding the intent as an artful‘ comment,
a spectacle of the vulgarisation of commodities.
The areas of tension and conflict arising from this discursive interaction, between
two seemingly separate contexts not only address[es] a sociological aspect (privacy
of the individual) [and] public prestige, but also reflect[s] social utopias (individual
and society/Bauhaus utopia). Kuball‘s work is neither a work nor an action ... rather,
the project is like an attempt to create a new net and throw it out to plough up a
reality in a new way ... capture its changeability and its complexity.
Karin Stempel, from Private Light/Public Light 1998.
Another approach to the overlay of public and private, utilising light, was Kuball‘s greenlight
project in Uruguay (1999). He installed generic green glass bulkhead lights above doorways
along Calle Democracia in the Reus barrio of Montevideo: it was the centre of the residential
district for Jews who had fled persecution in Europe between the wars and in the aftermath
of the Holocaust. The doorways Kuball selected were those of empty, unoccupied houses:
some doors still remained while others had been long bricked-up. Nothing had changed
except for the addition of light that is consistent with urban renewal schemes. The absence
of artfulness is as meaningful and powerful as silence can be in the (conscious) absence
of words. As with the Lüneburg bunker and the São Paulo work, project documentation,
archival documents and social history were a critical component of the research and publication.
Mischa Kuball is presenting two new works at the IMA. One is a continuation of his ‘City
through Glass‘ series, a dual DVD projection done on site in Brisbane. Characteristically,
the ‘City through Glass‘ work is achieved through the simplest of means. Video footage of
car rides through the city- the same route during the day and at night - is shot through
the bottom of a drinking glass. The projected image is doubled: the monocular camera
eye becomes binocular.
Kuball combines the filming of the metropolis ...with other optical strategies that break
with illusionism ... and summon an independent pictoriality. The drinking glass slides
like an optical filter in front of the camera lens and shifts the city into the distance. The
cityscapes, substantially dissolved in light reflection ... position points of light within the
nocturnal life of the city. The artist confronts views with ‘his“ gaze onto the city which
turns back to them as an ‘eye-shaped‘, faceted, doubly-projected image.
Pia Müller-Tamm, ‘The City as Projection‘ for K20, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-
The siting of ‘City through Glass‘ works can return to the context of the city. In Düsseldorf,
the binocular projection was mounted in a transitional urban ‘no-zone‘, a pedestrian passage
between Grabbe-Platz and Paul-Klee-Platz. There is no reason to stop along the passageway,
and nothing to indicate that ‘this is art‘. Although light boxes and projections are becoming
part of the vocabulary used by designers as if art‘, Kuball keeps his information raw and in real
time: it distances his work from mere civic boosterism.
The second work titled FlashPlanet, is based on ongoing installations that have utilised
image and text generated by slide projectors. Four globe-shaped paper lamp shades are hung a
knee-level. Each is lit and animated from the inside by a strobe light. Slides of Düsseldorf, Köln,
Brisbane and Sydney, shot by Kuball on walking tours, are projected onto each lamp shade. (In
contrast, Kuball is the passenger and cameraperson in the production of ‘City through Glass‘
works.) Although the city choices are his (Düsseldorf is his home) - and as a tourist in Australia
- they share the common feature of water, a river or harbour, and present a mix of landmark
buildings, commercial, industrial and residential areas. That is to say, each city is the same,
and different. The strobe light interrupts the reading of the slide sequence, and creates retinal
effects through the contrapuntal light sources, as the slide images are themselves distorted on
the surface of the lamp shades.
The works of Mischa Kuball usually take the form of events that unfold through time. Kuball
employs light as a ... vehicle of meaning ... light allows familiar places to be restructured
and forgotten places to return to consciousness. When projected, light can mould space as
an immaterial membrane, while as illuminations, it can allow diaphanous images to appear
temporarily. Pia Müller-Tamm, op.cit.
The brief description of Kuball‘s work - the Lüneburg bunker and greenlight projects in
particular - suggests a solemnness, that it is human nature to keep painful history alive even
as memory fades for those ‘who were there‘. The social-historical aspects are important, but
Kuball does not apply a value judgement through rhetoric. He has stated, ‘place-relatedness is
criterion [and yet] an abstract parameter‘. The social eye can play against the perceptual I, and
bounce back (‘reflect‘) in unexpected ways.
The lighted interiors [of skyscrapers] come through it all with a sense of life and well-being.
At night the city not only seems alive. It does live. But lives only as illusion lives.
Frank Lloyd Wriqht, cited in ‘American artists paint the city,‘ Venice Biennale 1956.
Mischa Kuball is based in Düsseldorf. He has an extensive und distinguished exhibition history spanning 20 years with more than 70 solo exhibitions and installations in Europe, the Americas, Russia, and Japan: his work has been included in numerous international group exhibitions. Kuball is currently a professor of media arts at HFG, the state School tor Arts und Design, and ZKM, centre for Media Arts und arts at HFG, the state School tor Arts und Design, and ZKM, centre for Media Arts and Technology in Karlsruhe. www.mischakuball.com
In: FlashPlanet2005: Mischa Kuball. IMA Institute of Modern Art, Queensland, Australia 2005.© all rights reserved by the author