Private Light / Public Light, 1998 / Photo: Nelson Kon, Saõ Paulo / © Archive Mischa Kuball, Düsseldorf / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016
Private Light / Public Light, 1998 / Photo: Nelson Kon, Saõ Paulo / © Archive Mischa Kuball, Düsseldorf / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016Private Light / Public Light, 1998 / Photo: Kelly Kellerhoff, Berlin / © Archive Mischa Kuball, Düsseldorf / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016Private Light / Public Light, 1998 / Photo: Kelly Kellerhoff, Berlin / © Archive Mischa Kuball, Düsseldorf / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016Private Light / Public Light, 1998 / Photo: Kelly Kellerhoff, Berlin / © Archive Mischa Kuball, Düsseldorf / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016Private Light / Public Light, 1998 / Photo: Kelly Kellerhoff, Berlin / © Archive Mischa Kuball, Düsseldorf / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016

Private Light / Public Light, 1998


Contribution to 24th São Paulo Biennale

Seventy-two families or individuals in São Paulo were asked to exchange one lamp from their living space for one developed by Kuball. The lamps he received in exchange were placed closely together in the exhibition space and constituted the German contribution to the 24th Biennale do São Paulo.


Karin Stempel:

The concept

A central aspect of Mischa Kuballs work has, for many years, been the investigation and visualization of the relationship between context and meaning. Art, the origin of which is to be found in writing rather than in expression, in the dialogue rather than in the solipsistic monologue, operates semantically on the level of signs and symbols and, in the final analysis, seeks to question the symbolic character of codes.

Whatever his subject matter, whether sounds, words, language or text, whether structures, textures or forms, Mischa Kuball is at all times concerned with locating those empty centres in the fabric of discourse and dialogue where sense is engendered as a dissociation, and from a dissociation, of the elements.

For the São Paulo Bienal, Mischa Kuball has developed a tripartite project which seeks to make private and public spaces the object of interactive reflection, whereby public and private sources of light are taken from their respective contexts and, with the aid of certain devices, used as light sources in the other lighting situations.

In the project “Public Blend“, the public lighting of a certain street in São Paulo will be replaced by the private, domestic lighting of the residents, whilst in the likewise interactive project Private Light approximately 100 families will be confronted with the request to exchange their living room lamps for a standardized lamp developed specially by Mischa Kuball. These domestic lamps will be shown at the São Paulo Bienal, that is to say, they will be transformed into public exhibits and, as such, will shed their light on the Bienal itself. “Public Alphabet“ is the title of a video installation in which an alphabet is pieced together from the neon advertising signs at downtown São Paulo, thematizing at the same time the contextual entrapment of letters and their legibility.

The processes of change and exchange take place on different levels and are thus organized in different ways and in accordance with different patterns of integration. 

In a certain public place and in an urban context, lighting and/or lights appear as articles of everyday use, or as exhibits, or as advertising media. The different levels of appearance and presentation are linked with different associative forms whose structures are borrowed from those of language, of spoken dialogue. Private light replaces public illumination, private and public contexts are interchanged, whereby individuality and standardization came into conflict with one another and the concrete public context is transformed into an abstract structure of comprehension and digestion.

The areas of tension and conflict arising from this discursive interaction between two seemingly separate contexts not only address a sociological aspect (privacy of the individual/public prestige) but also reflect social utapias (individual and society/Bauhaus utopia).

In its diversity of aspects, Mischa Kuballs project makes an essential contribution to the theme chosen for the São Paulo Bienal: “Cannibalism“

Taking as its starting paint Oswaldo Andrades Anthropophagical Manifesto of 1928, a literary work which marked the beginning of Brazilian Modernism and formulated an answer to the reproach of epigonism, the São Paulo Biennial is this year devoted primarily to artistic appropriation, borrowing, adoption, incorporation and atavism.

This artistic reflection on public and private spheres and on the way they intermesh and interact enables us to see and experience the relationship between the individual and society, between the concrete and the abstract, between the particular and the general as a dialogue between mass inclusion and incorparatian an the one hand and the presence of the individual in the public, urban cantext an the other, whereby the work of art in this constellation operates as an interactive, social sculpture.

Excerpt from the official catalogue of the 24th Bienal of São Paulo 1998

Translation John Brogden

Karin Stempel


All rights reserved, © the author

Further texts from the publication Private Light/Public Light: Mischa Kuball, Deutscher Beitrag zur 24. Biennale São Paulo 1998:

Artur José Giannotti: The very serious artfulness of Mischa Kuball

Karin Stempel: The Concept; The Project