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.

In: Private Light/Public Light: Mischa Kuball Deutscher Beitrag zur 24. Biennale São Paulo 1998 (excerpt from the official catalogue of the 24th Bienal of São Paulo 1998).

The project

It is a common saying that there are many stories in Brazil, but no history. Obviously, Brazil has its history like any other country and – like other countries – unites a variety of elements and traditions, partly determined by the changing relationships between power and powerlessness. Perhaps these differences are more evident in Brazil, and perhaps they are the real underlying theme which so significantly moulds the structur of this manifold, heterogeneous and disparate amalgam called “Brazil“, affecting it in a way that is independent of any of the specific differences that have always manifested themselves historically in the political and social constellation of each region and latitude. Perhaps it is that vague feeling that all identification and all the identities you meet here have only one thing in common: they are like masks that hide nothing and which express clearly that what is behind each one of them is nothing but another mask.

Although stories and history may well exist side by side as two disparate and irreconcilable phenomena, the distinction becomes instantly obsolete as soon as the hierarchy of official history becomes dubious –  a global event which does not just characterise the 20th century. It certainly hasn‘t just happened for the first time, and neither is it restricted to Brazil, though it may well have developed here in a more pronounced form, as it actually has a tradition in this country. Perhaps history is increasingly becoming part of that kaleidoscopic medley of figments of the imagination. These figments have always populated people‘s heads, and indeed dominated and at times confused and deceived them, though sometimes also liberated them, with all the risks and opportunities that are involved, setting them free from all securities and commitments, free to take the risk of thinking dreams and reality at the same time and all together and indeed not just to think either the one or the other, but both simultaneously.

Mischa Kuball is an artist who not only works within a given historical, political and social context but who also turns it into an artistic theme. When the artist is confronted with the increasing artiticiality and dubiousness of the parameters of this context, his real work consists in displaying the blind spot that is concealed behind all differences as the source of distinctiveness. His work is a concept which is as real as reality is conceptual.

As always, it is the little things that cause all the problems – though also the blessings. In other words, it‘s a matter of hitting the right space in the gap, of asking the right question, while at the same time knowing that there is no answer but,   at best a constellation of question and answer, right and wrong, concept and reality, failure and success, where the impossible is driven to the edge of what is possible, sometimes even touching this edge.

Mischa Kuball‘s concept seems very simple: private and public spheres are intricately linked according to certain rules, overlapping and mutually penetrating each other as projections, switching the conditions under which they operate and, to some extent, becoming dissolved within each other. The element that works as a catalyst in this process is light – as an object, a medium and a metaphor, always uniting all three aspects in a symbiosis. In the same way that light seems to represent the concept in all the parts of the project, it is also a mere sign and no more than an appearance a fleeting trace that brushes against an object in passing, brightly illuminating something that cannot be grasped.

It may, of course, be inappropriate and presumptuous to arbitrarily turn people into partners of a project with which they are confronted from the outside and indeed by outsiders. The selection criteria for the locations and the people may be dubious. And there may be doubt as to what this project is and what it means to whom. Yet it is equally certain that this project could only become and be reality because of something that has happened between people working on the project. This something is beyond the question of representation and representedness, of concept and reality, of art and society and indeed beyond the question of interpretation and meaning.

Mischa Kuball‘s work is neither a work nor an action that could be analysed or described in a conventional manner. Rather, the project is like an attempt to create a new net and throw it out, not to catch fish but to plough up reality in a new way and — with a bit of luck to capture its moves and movements, its suspended transitions, its delicate fragility, its changeability and its complexity, which inevitably become entangled in close-meshed nets, just as they escape the wide-meshed one.

The elements that are interlinked here are the experiences, stories and dreams of numerous individuals. Some of them are visible, other things can be imagined, and most will remain concealed. These are stories which nobody has told and nobody has recorded, stories which are nevertheless history and which produce it.

One day perhaps this will be told, too. One day perhaps these stories will be told, too.

Translation Hugh Beyer

In: Private Light/Public Light: Mischa Kuball Deutscher Beitrag zur 24. Biennale São Paulo 1998 (excerpt from the official catalogue of the 24th Bienal of São Paulo 1998).

In: Private Light/Public Light: Mischa Kuball Deutscher Beitrag zur 24. Biennale São Paulo 1998 (Texto extraido do catálogo official da 24. Bienal de São Paulo 1998.)

© All rights reserved by the authors