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Hanz Kotter | Point of View

Patrick Heide Gallery, 23 Nov 2017 - 13 Jan 2018

Review by John Stephens, March 2018

There’s been an abiding preoccupation by artists over the history of Western art with the effects and representation of light; from the use of reflective gold leaf to represent the light emanating from halos surrounding the heads of holy figures, through Giotto’s development of chiaroscuro techniques during the 14th century, and later Caravaggio’s dark and moody paintings, to the impressionists and post-impressionists translating light into pure colour in the late 19th century.

Working with actual light has a much shorter but nevertheless significant history that goes back to the Russian Constructivists of the early 20th century and, developing via the Bauhaus and Minimalism, today offers opportunities for artists to engage in a range of diverse practices using light.  One could, however, perhaps divide these recent practices into two kinds: one in which the artist might use light to affect a site, perhaps an architectural space; Dan Flavin or James Turrell spring to mind; and one in which the artist constructs images or objects using light; Mario Merz, Barbara Kruger or Tracey Emin, for example.  This latter practice has been greatly facilitated by the development of the neon tube that can be shaped and configured to almost any design. And while the artist was once dependent on the commercial availability of the colour of fluorescent tubes, these now offer a greater range of colours and it would seem that the newer light emitting diode (LED) offers an even wider palette of light colours. The availability of computerised switching (DMX) technology has enhanced this to facilitate the creation an illusion of movement, mood and space.

Hans Kotter, in this, his fourth exhibition at Patrick Heide, builds on a considerable body of work going back to the early nineties, and his first experimentations with light and colour in his photographic works of that time. The centrality of light to his work is perhaps best explained by the artist himself:

There is no other element with such a lasting impact on life on our planet as light. Light fascinates me in a huge variety of ways and I have investigated the medium of light, with its composition, physical contexts, colours, perception and cultural history for many years. The experiences and insights resulting from this investigation are later implemented in my works.

Zinsmeister, Annett  In the Deep Rapture of Light and Colour  in Hans Kotter, Light Flow, at Patrick Heide, London. Global Affairs Publishing, Bonn, Germany 2011(?)

Gallery installation view with Fractal and Point of View. 2016   Both metal, LED, DMX controller, Plexiglass.  Photo: Patrick Heide Gallery

Showing a number of wall- and floor-mounted constructions employing LEDs and the light transmitting properties of acrylic sheet (Perspex), Kotter creates work that exploits their potential for creating illusions of space and movement.  I say illusions because the actual dimensions of a number of the pieces defy the space that seems to be perceived within them.

Each of Kotter’s works has at its heart a simple geometric system that is used to organise and arrange LEDs that become the main component of his works. A central work to the show is the eponymous Point of View. Supported by a metal stand but also with the potential to be hung from the ceiling, it is constructed as an open cuboctahedron, formed of a cube with a four-sided pyramid on each face. Internally lit with LEDs along each of the edges of the form, the faces consist of what appears to be one-way glass that allows the viewer to look through one face at a time, but otherwise causing repeated reflections of the internal faces of the form.  If this sounds complicated, the principle is actually quite simple; it’s the spatial experience that is complicated.  You’re drawn into what appears to be a geometrically organised space that stretches into infinity.  In doing so it belies the external cuboctohedral form and dimensions of the piece.  You move, as the viewer, from being part of an endless space, eerily lit, to contemplating a geometric form emanating light.  This brought to mind thoughts about the relationship between art and technology, and to consider what the balance of that relationship is. It’s a relationship not unlike that of material, process and form that one associates with traditional methods of sculpture or painting.  And, like its older analogue counterpart, there’s a degree of latitude in that balance. As a viewer you can be fascinated by the effects of, in this case, light technology, but it’s the simple ingenuity with which the artist has used it, and a clear structural system to engage with the traditional concerns of the artist: form, space and structure and feeling.  Looking at the piece I found myself shifting between immersing myself in the affective aesthetic experience and trying to work out how it had been done.

Detail Point of View. 2016   Metal, LED, DMX controller, Plexiglass. Photo: John Stephens

Fractal, a wall-mounted piece some 15 centimetres in depth, uses two seemingly unrelated but complementary structural elements and associated light systems. It has a series of repeated circular motifs, like a set of collars studded with LEDs  on both the inner and outer surfaces of the collar.  Receding into the box, the repetition of the collar - presumably using some kind of mirroring arrangement - seems to form a tube curving down deep into the box,

and seemingly disappearing into infinity within it. A grid-like structure consisting of a complex of triangular elements appears to be attached to it. As if, through some sort of gravitational pull, it has been attracted there, but then releases itself and spins off (also presumably using mirrors) into infinity. An electronic switching device, a DMX controller, creates an animated movement of the light and I found myself again being intrigued with the powerful illusion of space but also with its technical artifice and the way it was made to work.

Detail Fractal. 2016   Metal, LED, DMX controller, Plexiglass  Photo: John Stephens

Detail Beyond Light (diptych) 2015   Metal, LED, DMX controller, Plexiglass  Video: John Stephens

The diptych Beyond Light is a simpler work consisting of ‘shelves’ of rows of light that fan out into the box. Using DMX technology, the animated light appears to open up and lead your eye into a series of horizontal planes stretching into a deceptively deep box.  Again, it was a fascinating and cleverly-conceived experience.  But there was something about its scale that had me thinking of it as a kind of maquette for a much larger light installation that I could, myself, be inside.

Detail Beyond Light (diptych) 2015.  Metal, LED, DMX controller, Plexiglass. Video: John Stephens

Upstairs were a couple of pieces; Light Code ”Black” and Twin that potentially worked within the gallery space to create a light environment.  I say potentially because, had the room been darkened and had the pieces been shown on separate walls, they could, through their emission of light, have had a much more affective interaction with the space.  

Light Code “Black” is a two-part piece contained within a white box and a black box, each with their ends flanged at an angle of 45 degrees and with an arrangement of switched lights visible within the ends.  They were hung flat against the wall, one diagonally below the other, so that the lights from within spilled out onto the wall.  Seen from the front you’re aware of two slits of light that create a shifting cold glow of light on the wall.  Seen from an angle, you’re aware, again, of a spatial arrangement of white changing lights within the edge of the box, thereby creating a dialogue between the box as a tangible object and the box having an inner space, emanating light.

Installation view with Light Code White and Black. 2015/16.  Both metal, LED, DMX controller, Plexiglass. Photo: John Stephens

Detail: Light Code Black and Light Code White, 2015/16  Both metal, LED, DMX controller, Plexiglass  Photo: John Stephens.

Of Twin, only one panel was shown; it consisted of a long oblong shallow mirrored box, a few centimetres in depth, leaning at a steep angle against the wall.  Controlled by a DMX switch, coloured LEDs arranged within its edge cast a shimmering glow of colour onto the wall. The piece should have comprised two adjacent mirrors with the light spilling either side of the pair.  However, it too suffered, not only from being too close to Light Code “Black” but also from being in an over-lit room so that its full effect was lost. The spatial quality of some of the other pieces in which the perceived depth belied the actual depth was in this case invoked by the mirrored surface of the panel. The space of the room mirrored within its surface acted in juxtaposition to its role as an object, spilling light onto the wall.

Gallery installation view with Light Code White and Light Code Black 2015/16.   Both metal, LED, DMX controller, Plexiglass and Twin 2016 (one panel only),  Stainless steel light box, LEDs (colour change) and remote control. Photo: Patrick Heide Gallery

Details, Twin 2016  Stainless steel light box, LEDs (colour change) and remote control.  Photos: John Stephens

The history of art contains within it quite a long and slow emergence of a relationship between technology and art.  It’s a phenomenon that has exercised not only a number of artists, but also writers and critics, particularly since the discovery and use of the glass lens.  The relationship has been somewhat tricky; there seems to have been something of a reluctance to acknowledge it. With the development and proliferation of new technologies, that relationship has become more obvious, but still, artists have had to wrestle with maintaining a balance between the benefits that specific technologies offer their art, so that ultimately it’s the art that speaks.  This show demonstrates Kotter’s very adept ability to face this challenge with ingenuity and confidence; his handling of this light technology has produced some very beautiful and fascinating works.

John Stephens

March 2018