Nicolas de Oliveira



The Temporary Event:

The Project-Rooms of Mischa Kuball



A significant number of contemporary works within the realm of installation could be described as belonging to the realm of the

temporary. Often either the ‘spectacle‘ or indeed, the permanence of the very materials employed in its construction cannot be

maintained, resulting in the termination of the artwork.

Mischa Kuball‘s installations and interventions have a closer link to the specific moment and site for which they were devised.

The artist‘s intentions and process are entirely geared towards the ephemeral and temporary nature of the work. Though instead

of sending specific and inflexible artworks on tour, the artist travels in their stead, accompanied by a range of works and tools to

be implemented on his arrival. The true nature of the term ‘project‘ may thus be understood as a strategy for putting forward a

body of ideas and images. To this end, the artist employs light and image projections, which, as in the case of the ‘project-rooms‘,

though specifically tailored to each individual site, arrive and depart in the manner of the repertory of illuminations conjured by

the travelling film-projectionists of another time. These transitory projections might be described as ‘sculptural moments‘ (1)

held in space and time. Though active as artworks with defined boundaries, these works with light foreground the issue of



‘Before anything can become visible, it has to be perceived first.‘ (2)


Perception, seen in this context, might be said to refer to the mechanistic nature of the optical sense, while visibility entails

the presence of an informed subject. The complex nature of visibility is fundamental to representation, but is rarely brought

to our attention. It has been argued that art history among other disciplines, would have to be revised in its entirety to

accommodate the shift brought about by the scopic drive. (3) In moving the established order of representation, Kuball

indeed foregrounds visibility as tangible evidence of the relationship between the object and its audience. Working with

light in this manner allows the artist to proceed to the particular without ever losing sight of the context or indeed contract

within which the enactment of the visible takes place.

His screen is provided by the architecture of each particular location, thus placing the artist squarely within an urban context

and the attendant debate about the perception of public and private space. In his text ‘project rooms‘, Gerard A. Goodrow

states: ‘Although often described as an artist whose medium is light, his true interest is actually directed at the architectural

space within which (or onto which) the light is projected. Thus, in the final analysis, one might argue that Kuball‘s true

medium is actually architecture; light being merely a means to making the viewer aware of the architectural space surrounding

him. (4)


The external projections may be seen as a means to encoding the city, as a form of public ‘text‘. Yet before the act of

providing such a written work can take place we must comprehend its structure. To this end, Kuball provides an alphabet,

as witnessed in the projection in London entitled ‘Deptford Alphabet“. The work is paralleled by another, shown at the São

Paulo Biennial in Brazil in 1998. Here the artist is seen next to video recordings of partially blanked-out neon letters engaged

in the process of eating biscuits in the shape of letters from the alphabet The equation between eating and speaking is drawn

into sharp focus. The activity of eating is instinctive and predates any relationship with language, although the signified is

consumed nonetheless, pointing to another level of comprehension. ‘Until the end of the nineteenth century the city as a work

of art carried a sense of moral order within its aesthetic forms, bringing the memory of a harmonious society to public review.‘ (5)

The enactment of private and collective deeds in the city loses its power and is replaced by an architecture of surfaces

which takes the place of the public spectacle. ‘With light‘, wrote Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in the 1930‘s,‘architecture itself can be

changed,‘ (6) sentiment clearly shared by Kuball many decades later.


Moholy-Nagy‘s humanism denoted in a universal formalism though gives way to a darker, more complex reading in the light

projections of Kuball. The German artist‘s interpretation of the city adopts urban methods and sites in the way of a readymade,

that is, the appropriation of an architectural language which is both hegemonic and devoid of collective meaning. Visibility is

used as a central strategy to unmask this apparent contradiction. Thus physical space does not need to be added to, yet

remains to be determined by the artist. If the external projections take on the role of public work, we might be led to

understand the gallery or museum-based work as related to a more private sphere. Though the rooms at the Museum of

Installation give the appearance of domestic environments, it remains undeniable that the work continues the dialectic of

the urban context. This cultural dynamic is precisely what underpins all of Kuball‘s work, that is, the manifestation of the

desire to be at the crossroads of the debate where social commentary meets political activity through art and its institutions. (7)





(1) Hans Ulrich Reck: Light, Site, Time; in: Project Rooms: Mischa Kuball, Gerard A. Goodrow, ed. (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König) 1997

(2) Mischa Kuball: Private Light/Public Light: Mischa Kuball, K. Stempel, ed. (Ostfildern-Ruit: Cantz) 1998

(3) Jonathan Crary: Techniques of the Observer. (Cambridge Mass: MIT Press) 1994

(4) Gerard A. Goodrow: Project Rooms: Mischa Kuball,  (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König) 1997

(5) M. Christine Boyer, The City of Collective Memory, (Cambridge Mass: MIT Press) 1994

(6) Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Letter to Frantisek Kalivoda, (1936) in Kisztina Passuth Moholy-Nagy, (New York: Thames & Hudson) 1985

(7) op. cit. Hal Foster, Recodings  (Seattle: Bay Press) 1985




In: Mischa Kuball: project rooms. ed.: Museum of Installation, London 1999

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