Noemi Smolik



Revelation through double illumination


Hazy light rays ensuing from slide projectors are what first meets the eye when entering Mischa

Kuball‘s ‘Double Standard‘ installation in De Appel. Light, seeking its way through slightly darkened

rooms, creating forms on the surrounding walls. Forms made of light, and thus immaterial, reflecting

the light rays and passing them on to the ambient space. Light is the essential material with which

Mischa Kuball works.


In early Christian painting, light stood for Revelation, and yet, what is revealed was not the visible

world but that which transcended the visible world. Light was the source of a vision. That is why the

representative principles of light followed the basic principles of this vision and not the rules of

physical reality. The individual saints were the source of spiritual revelation. The old paintings depict

the light radiating from them that first made visible the real world.


Since the Renaissance, light has lost more and more its visionary significance. Light no longer

originates from a spirit that shines over the world but becomes a purely physical element that

makes the world visible until the world – as in Impressionist painting – becomes the source of light,

and light itself a purely physical element. And yet, in reaction to this development, a changed use of

light can be observed in art: light is being rediscovered as an element that can reveal the frontiers of

physical reality. The Russian Naum Gabo was one of the first artists to introduce light in that sense

into art. Nowadays, the American James Turrell is extending the boundaries of visible reality with his



Against this background, Mischa Kuball has been working with light for several years, installing his

first projects in public squares in various European cities. One of these was the ‘Megazeichen‘ project

in the City of Düsseldorf. For several weeks, one of the City‘s tallest buildings – the Mannesmann-

Hochhaus – was transformed into an autonomously changing body of light. In this project, Mischa

Kuball confronted the sober, functional architecture of the building with magical light effects; this

Contrast between the sober, functional and depersonalized character of our cities and the demand, or

rather longing for personal interhuman contact that transcends mere functionality is the basic concern

of the artist here. This also applies to his biggest project so far, in the original Bauhaus building built

by Walter Gropius in Dessau.


The installation in De Appel is an intensified Version of the project realized in Dessau. Rather than

projecting small photographic images, two projectors, mounted on the gallery of the large room,

project light onto the opposing walls. Mischa Kuball manipulates the slides to lend form to light,

creating squares and circles to produce a kind of geometric painting on the walls, of which the

medium consists of light rays that Constitute the forms themselves. These strict geometrical forms

overlap on the two walls with amorphous forms, likewise made of light, that are projected by another

two projectors mounted on the walls. The meaning of the amorphous forms is not immediately

apparent. Only after a short while do the shapes of continents become recognizable, and we perceive

continuously distorted images of the world map.


The squares and circles projected onto the walls intentionally correspond with geometric models as

represented in the rationalistic, functional tradition of the Bauhaus. This kind of functional, rational

system contains no forms that transcend physical reality. Here too, light is not a visionary phenome-

non but rather a physical entity that is to be treated in an abstract and formal way. Opposed to this is

the world map as representation of the real world; yet this too is but an abstraction of the world, which

in no way renders visible the reality around us.


Mischa Kuball‘s installation uses light to cast geometric and amorphous forms onto walls. The forms

are created by light, while the light actually only becomes visible in the forms, creating with this

composition a kind of sculpture that is more than just an accumulation of physical elements. It is a

revelation that does not become fully comprehensible until seen in combination with the other

work performed in these rooms.


In the first room of this exhibition, a flat ‘light box‘ has been positioned on the floor. It shows a

double view of the outer façade of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It presents an architectural

construction that is purely limited to its functionality, the final consequence of modern rationalist,

functionally constructed architecture. In the last room, more ‘light boxes‘ have been mounted to the

walls, using daylight to reflect private interiors such as kitchens and bathrooms, upon which shapes

of continents have again been superposed. The light boxes seem to be illuminated doubly. This is, in

fact, in line with the basic principle behind this Mischa Kuball installation, which is about the

recording of the oppositions that exist as much as ever between material and spiritual abstract reality,

between private life and public life, between functionality and formality, and finally, between the

emotional and the rational. All in spite of humankind‘s strenuous endeavours to overcome these

oppositions this century, with its ideas of a modern utopia. For it was with this utopia as background

that modern art and architecture strove - and here we have the primary concern of this artist – to

overcome these oppositions. Material reality was to be reconciled with abstract spiritual reality, the

private was to be reflected in the public, and the emotional, so it was believed, could be reconciled

with the rational. This was the Vision of a modern world, that, freed from all oppositions and

contradictions, would promise a light-filled future. The shimmering, darkness-penetrating light rays

were to reveal a unified world with an unambiguous centre. We are now seeing this enlightened

future retreat further and further on the face of encroaching darkness. The world is disintegrating and

becoming fragmented, oppositions are intensifying. Where humankind once thought the centre lay, a

dark hole is spreading, and remaining light rays are now only reflected by the edges. Mischa Kuball‘s

light installation, in which images shine intermittently on the walls of the rooms, is therefore a mirror

image of such a world.


In: Double Standard: Mischa Kuball , ed.: Stichting De Appel Foundation, Amsterdam Edna van Duyn, Amsterdam/ Eindhoven 1993

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