Mischa Kuball. Eclipse and Beyond, 2023

PRISKA PASQUER PARIS is pleased to present ‘Eclipse and Beyond’, an individual exhibition by German conceptual artist Mischa Kuball, who was born in Düsseldorf in 1959. Kuball’s location-specific productions, performances and projections in public and institutional spaces have brought him international fame. In many cases, light is the central medium for the artist when exploring urban situations, dramaturgical control mechanisms or the interrelationship between viewers and protagonists. By directing light onto objects, people, architecture, social structures and situations, Mischa Kuball transcends discourses and common patterns of perception and reveals the invisible. But wherever there is light, there are shadows – and that is what the artist wishes to examine. Although he was presented with the German Light Art Award in 2016, it would be wrong to reduce him to this medium alone. Mischa Kuball never uses light as a means to an end but rather within a strict conceptual framework that aims to explore social, philosophical, political and scientific questions. This may be in a didactic sense as enlightenment, as an imaging technique, visualisation, communicator or as a deliberately disruptive and confusing element. The exhibition gives an overview of Mischa Kuball’s artistic work and approach, while also bringing to the fore his interest in abstract forms and their symbolic power.

Examining ‘knowledge’

Light plays a protagonist role in Mischa Kuball’s work, both in its political and perception aesthetics dimension. It does this by quite literally shining a different light on discourses or behaviour, by shifting things into focus or by putting alternative narratives centre stage. The artist is never didactic, preferring instead to induce viewers to assume new roles or perspectives and to change their position. Here, different works refer to the museum context and its function in generating academic understanding with regard to art and culture, which are conveyed as ‘knowledge’ through collections and archives. In ‘research_desk_Nolde/Kritik/Mischa Kuball’, 2020, he examines Emil Nolde (1867-1956) – the artist, the man and the myths that have grown up around him. Nolde is regarded as one of the greatest painters in the German Expressionism school. At the same time, he is one of the most ambivalent figures in art history, research in recent years having revealed him to be an anti-Semite, racist and ardent National Socialist. Mischa Kuball shines an aesthetic spotlight on Nolde’s oeuvre and shows that artists and their works are inextricably linked.

In the double projection installation ‘making of Mnemosyne (after Aby Warburg)’ in 2021, he demonstrates that Aby Warburg (1866-1929) – who is seen as one of the pioneers of modern cultural studies – had already expressed concern regarding Nolde’s image of humankind in a letter he wrote to art historian Carl Georg Heise in 1927. Through his atlas of pictures, Mnemosyne – named after the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the muses – comparative visual analysis (as an instrument for acquiring knowledge) became the essential concept underlying modern visual culture. The vertically projected video shows panels from Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas; on the horizontal projection, we see the work on reconstructing the panels that was undertaken by the Mnemosyne research group. The physical reconstruction process is carried out by two hands. This action demonstrates that acquiring knowledge is work and that truth is never linear.


Between reproduction and reality

Another recurring theme in Mischa Kuball’s work is how reality is differentiated from the possible ways of reproducing it. In ‘platon’s mirror’ (2011), he transfers Greek philosopher Plato’s cave allegory into a light play consisting of reflections created by projecting onto silver foil. Plato distinguishes between two forms of reality: appearance and true reality. He puts these in relation to one another in an intellectual scenario – the cave allegory. In doing so, he wishes to convey that images of reality are subjective but not necessarily true. In Plato’s image of the cave, people who have been chained up there all their lives only see the shadows of objects. They do not know the real world of things that create these reflections but instead see their shadow world as being the only true reality. This is because, in order to be able to fully understand correlations, the origin needs to be known. Similarly, projected images are not tangible in Mischa Kuball’s work either because the source remains hidden. The light play is not clearly interpretable – it is merely a reflection of reality.


Insight and understanding

In the age of alternative realities, Mischa Kuball examines behaviour and context in various works, allowing us to experience that ‘reality’ can and should be called into question again and again. In the works ‘five suns / eclipse’ (2021) and ‘five suns (after galilei)’ (2018) – which refer back to a groundbreaking observation by the Italian universal scholar – Kuball reminds us to regularly change our position. Or, better still, the way we look at the world. At the beginning of the 17th century, Galilei (1564-1641) discovered, using a telescope he had built himself, dark spots on the sun disk that moved and changed. This astronomical discovery supported Nicolaus Copernicus’s view of the world, which ran counter to Church dogma: the Earth was not in fact the centre of the universe but moved around the sun. For believing in a heliocentric conception of the world, Galileo Galilei was imprisoned for heresy by the Roman inquisition and forced to recant the views he had expressed. Not only is his astronomical work seen as revolutionary today but his many drawings are also immensely impressive. Art historian Horst Bredekamp analysed these in ‘Galilei der Künstler’ (Galilei the Artist – 2007), reconstructing the scientist as an artist. This is because the images do not merely depict the new-found knowledge but the graphical representations in particular made a key contribution to Galilei’s understanding of space, light and the universe. Mischa Kuball shines his light not just on one but on five suns, which can be read as coloured, spinning discs, creating a fascinating interplay of colours within the space. This leads us to understand that knowledge is not universal but depends on perspective. The exhibition title can also be read in this context. In its symbolic way, ‘Eclipse and Beyond’ casts a gloomy eye on the state of the world today while at the same time calling for a reperspectivisation.

Dr. Wiebke Hahn


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