Ihor Holubizky

Re:Mix/ Broca II (Letter/Numbers)


Writing on Mischa Kuball’s work (and for the third time in as many years) presents a challenge -- to reflect upon the way Kuball’s mind works (rather than relying on a forensic examination of a studio practice), and in turn to examine my own  assumptions.  It is akin to a journey at night guiding by a flashlight or car headlights.  Darkness is always beyond the limits of the light throw and the route behind falls into darkness. Staying on a road is a way to maintain a connection to a destination -- the objective.  But if our objective is more than forward progress, the true nature of the unknown becomes apparent – it is spatial, in all directions. (Left to our own devices, we must think our way out of the unknown.)  While artists  have an objectives and intent, there is no need to stay on the well-travelled road.


Light is an active agent and metaphor in much of Kuball’s work -- ‘By shining a light on something I make it important ... out into the open for everyone to see’[1] -- yet his use of light also remains experiential and ‘immaterial’. Kuball keeps the self-serving aspect, an art for art’s sake, in check:


When the painter finishes their work there is a painting, something to look at.  But if I finish my work [literally, pulling the plug], it will disappear.  Part of my work is about disappearance, a non-existence.  It doesn’t continue visually: it’s an imprint and a grammatical memory. [2]


Individual and social-collective memory is a key element in much of Kuball’s work and woven through formative study.  At the age of 18, when career choices are made or forced upon young adults, Kuball chose to study psychology: art afforded a way of opening up the vast topic of ‘the mind’ through forms of social, behavioural research that is never-ending.  The applied aspect is embodied in temporary site work, both in a gallery and public context, and another form of research. In previous writing for Kuball and ‘like-minded’ artists, I described this as an ‘enactment’:  a critical distinction is that Kuball’s ‘enactments’ takes place within a public and social realm: [3]


I see this [democratic] process in two ways:  I design an idea, create a concept and the maquette, and put the issues forward for discussion. While this is still within the conventions of art-making and non-democratic, I then involve people to realise the pieces – to negotiate how this should be done.  There is a socialising aspect and public action is the critical element.  Without it the work cannot exist.


A prime example is Urban Context,  a five-year multi-participant collaborative and historical research project in Lünenburg , Germany, which was finalised in 2000. It involved the research and excavation of a W.W.II bunker in the city centre. Kuball’s ‘dénouement’ was to construct a scaffolding across the public street  and illuminate the footprint of the bunker that lay the street – to bring the past, what is buried literally and metaphorically, into present time.  Although the two works presented at the EAF do not have the same social and political dimension, there is an link as Manfred Schneckenburger  wrote of the bunker project:  ‘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. [4]


Stage II is a silent DVD projection of stage lighting and effects and cropped to show only the lighting track.  There is no evidence of theatre space or the fall of light on the stage.  On the opposite wall a foil screen reflects the projection. Lighting is an essential ingredient in theatre – otherwise we would be siting in a dark room – but has a code and  ‘language’  to generate and underscore the narrative (or action) and emotions through colour.  The gallery space could then be seen as a stage, but Kuball is not necessarily updating the Shakespearean notion of the human drama  that ‘all the world’s stage’, from As You Like It.  The lighting ‘experience may’ trigger a form of interior ‘monologue’  for the visitor --  synaptic pulses that can  (or should?) lead you to personal thoughts and impressions, whatever they may be at that moment.  And at the same time, we could ask – what does it all mean?


Kuball described his intention in terms of the prisoners described in the allegory of the cave in Plato’s  Republic.  Chained to one position, they are  able only to observe the play of shadows on the wall in front of them, constructing (and ‘knowing’) the world accordingly, And if this is your only reality, entering the world of  natural light and things will be less real, a shock to the mind and the eye. Granted, Plato’s allegory was not  directed to perceptual cognition,  or a ‘proto-simulacrum’.  But we now inhabit multiple worlds through media and technologies, ‘shadow worlds’ and ‘stages’ of reality through virtual sites:  we  learn their respective codes and form a social and political consciousness from this melange, which may appear to be coherent, singulare and plausible. [5]


Broca Remix is, likewise, an immersive and active environment.  Ten  polished metal ‘sculpted’ objects are placed in a darkened space with six revolving slide projectors. Each carousel is loaded with slides of numbers and (Latin alphabet) letters.[6] As the  projectors move the slides create a complex and seemingly infinite play of light, numbers and letters (language, without syntax) criss-crossing the walls and reflected off the irregular surfaces of the sculptural elements.   The title refers to Pierre Paul Broca (1824-1880), a French physician, forensic anatomist and anthropologist.  He discovered that the speech production centre of the brain was located in the ventroposterior region of the frontal lobes (in his honour, it was called Broca’s Area).  Broca came to his discovery through post mortem autopsies of  aphasic patients – those with speech and language disorders from brain injuries. and thereby established the groundwork for neuropsychology. a new branch of research and study. It is ironic, but typical that advances in scientific knowledge come through observations of irregularities – providing a clue to ‘normality’.


The sculptural elements are ‘embodiments’ of Kuball brain wave patterns from Magnetic Resonance Tomographs (MRT) done over a five year period. The scans were fabricated as three-dimensional objects -- ‘brought into existence’ – and the stakes raised by ‘reanimating’ them in this context (that is, they were not meant to be ‘art’ alone). He stated, ‘I am interested in language as a function of a code—that is, in the sense of coding and de-coding [and] when language and light come together, the basic elements of knowledge are present’.[7] It is not knowledge itself, nor an ‘actualisation’.  Rather, it is a form of modeling,  As with Stage II, the viewer enters into the ‘laboratory’ to observe and partake, yet it is not Kuball’s intention to teach science, or neurophysics. Nor is it a lesson in metaphor.  There is, however, the possibility of slippage:  where does one end and the other begin?


‘In the divine order, intellect is primary; nature, secondary; it is the memory of the mind’. Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841[8]


In the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, two former lovers undergo a medical procedure to erase their respective memories of each other, as memories can be painful as well as comforting.  The film is a labyrinth of shifting time and realities – what is happening now, what are reminiscences or flashbacks and what is the subconscious (‘visualised’) not wanting to let go, no matter how painful the memory.  When the male lead Joel asks ‘is there any danger of brain damage?’, the inventor responds, ‘technically speaking, the operation is brain damage’. The film’s elaborate coiling, however, cannot ‘take form’ without the audience, because it is about how we think, feel, and empathise, rather than passively observing a story about ‘them’, ‘then and now’.


Kuball proposes for his work,  ‘the more we know, the deeper we can look, and we can produce more data [information].  Yet the result can be more and more uncertain and blurred. I can’t destroy this perspective, but can create a relation between research and artistic interpretation and transforming it into the exhibition space’



The method of nature: who could ever analyze it?

If anything could stand still, it would be crushed and dissipated by the torrent it resisted, and if it were a mind, would be crazed; as insane persons are those who hold fast to one thought, and do not flow with the course of nature.

The termination of the world in a man, appears to be the last victory of intelligence. The universal does not attract us until housed in an individual. Who heeds the waste abyss of possibility?

So must we admire in man, the form of the formless, the concentration of the vast, the house of reason, the cave of memory.

Ralph Waldo Emerson [9]

[1] All uncited Kuball quotes are from correspondence with the author.

[2] Kuball statement has edited from its original form in  Chuck Mutscheller interview, ‘Uncompromising Light’, Sobos Art Review, http://sobs.org/art/sobsreview/kuballmain.html

[3] Hence the title of my previous Kuball essay, ‘The enactments of Citizen Kuball’. For Mischa Kuball, Projects 1980-2007 (Karlsruhe: ZKM & Hatje Cantz, 2007).

[4] Manfred Schneckenburger, ‘Remembering in Lüneburg and elsewhere’ for the publication Urban Context 2000

[5] Although not related directly to Stage II, a 2000 project by Kuball titled Public Stage, presented the opportunity for a open forum – a speaker’s corner – that was webcast.

[6] Kuball often uses slide projectors in his gallery installations –a once ubiquitous but now, near-archaic technology.  He is also interested in them as objects and has produced a bronze edition of a slide projector, the closest Kuball has come to making an art object.

[7] Quote from ZKM (Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe) press release 2007 for  ReMix/Broca II (Letters/Numbers).

[8] Emerson, The Method Of Nature, an oration delivered at Waterville College, Maine, 11 August 1841.

[9] Excerpts from Emerson, The Method of Nature, op.cit.


Ihor Holubizky, Artishsitorian based in Toront/ Canada und Brisbane/ Australien


In: Re:Mix/Broca II (Letters/Numbers), Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide 2008