Rediscovering voids at the Jewish Museum
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Rediscovering voids at the Jewish Museum

In conversation with artist Mischa Kuball
STIR speaks to artist Mischa Kuball about res-o-nant , his light and sound installation at the Jewish Museum Berlin on display till September 1, 2019.

by Sukanya Garg Jul 25, 2019

Düsseldorf-based conceptual artist Mischa Kuball’s site-specific installation res-o-nant was created exclusively for the exhibition space in the basement of the Daniel Libeskind designed Jewish Museum in Berlin. Covering a total space of more than 350 sqm at the Rafael Roth gallery, the installation integrates two of the five vertical voids that perforate the museum building. Here, visitors can travel through the three-dimensional multi-part installation that has also been shown in public spaces in Berlin through 2019.

STIR speaks with the artist to know the idea, approach, and inspiration behind this installation. 

Sukanya Garg (SG): How did you first begin working with light projections in your practice?  

Mischa Kuball (MK): Strangely enough, my curiosity has not diminished over the years. It aroused when I was a teenager, and at some point – I was about 18 at the time – it was quite clear that I wanted to follow that scent. At first, because of the lack of experience and practice, I just cut up some paper and projected light through it with a slide projector I had borrowed from a friend. That is how it started. These days, I may own more technical equipment, but this immediate and direct approach of treating light in a hands-on way has not changed; it is still the same. It obviously interests me to know whether I can penetrate material with light and what happens when light makes contact with material, thus also the idea of mirroring and reflection. I still operate within this arc of suspense. The answer to your question about the idea of light is, naturally, far more complex, and much more difficult. The intention is not predictable in all of the things I do, some things only develop during the act of doing. I may have an idea, but it is only through the realisation that the idea takes shape. 

To me, handling light is already a forming process. Light acquires a form or is formed. I am not interested in the material appearance of light or its propagation, rather what it can do in connection with something else, for example, with a place or a space. 

SG: Where did the inspiration or idea behind the work res-o-nant come from? Are there specific instances that acted as triggers?

MK: Res-o-nant departed from a question - would it be possible to interact with the strong expression of Daniel Libeskind’s architecture? And if yes - what would be the appropriate material, medium to work with? My idea is based on the observation that we all resonate to light and sound, mostly subconscious, and if we cannot find any expression to subscribe to the Shoah or Holocaust, than maybe expose a different aspect, which touches the core of the inhumanity of the Nazi regime between 1933-1945: the dignity of the human Gestalt! So my intervention at the Jewish Museum Berlin emphasises the untouchable condition humaine of mankind, as I introduce rotating lights and mirrors, sound and the movement of the audience to these voids.

Exhibition view 2, visitors to exhibition Res-o-nant at Jewish Museum | Res-o-nant| Mischa Kuball| Jewish Museum Berlin| STIR
Exhibition view 2, visitors to exhibition res-o-nant at Jewish Museum Image Credit: Alexander Basile

SG: In res-o-nant, the intersection of architecture, light, and sound, creates a feeling of absence and yet it evokes an experience of immersion, of being overpowered. What aesthetics or mechanics go into creating such a juxtaposition?

MK: I think it derives from a paradox that we cannot experience a void in the real sense; it is a conceptual approach to understand that all we see and feel is based on the absence of display and materialisation of any kind of object, as it would distract from the essential perception of non-representation of history. However, if you walk the voids - most visitors experience the meaning of absence - even though Libeskind needed tons of steel and concrete to make one feel as such… the way we use light, and I say ‘we’ because res-o-nant included from the very first moment a team of people to work on this project, like initiators and curators Leontine Meijer-van Mensch and Gregor Lersch, supervisors from outside the museum - Markus Mueller and Uli Sauerwein. We also developed strategies to encourage and involve all the 250 musicians worldwide to contribute to res-o-nant by a 60-second sound file.

SG: What brings about the inclination to work in large spaces? How did you navigate them at the Jewish Museum in particular?

MK: As the invitation reached me in June 2017, we started from a carte blanche kind of situation. I introduced two mind maps - indoor and outdoor - to operate res-o-nant at the Jewish Museum as a public project because the real size does not really matter to the scale of the project. The contribution of the musicians and the outdoor performances cannot be judged by square meters; neither the international media coverage.

  • Exhibition View 3, Visitors to exhibition Res-o-nant at Jewish Museum | Res-o-nant| Mischa Kuball| Jewish Museum Berlin| STIR
    Exhibition view 3, visitors to exhibition res-o-nant at Jewish Museum Image Credit: Alexander Basile
  • Exhibition View 4, Visitors to exhibition Res-o-nant at Jewish Museum | Res-o-nant| Mischa Kuball| Jewish Museum Berlin| STIR
    Exhibition view 4, visitors to exhibition res-o-nant at Jewish Museum Image Credit: Alexander Basile

SG: Along with the light projections, there are also sounds from emerging and renowned musicians. How did you create the soundscape for the work? 

MK: The contributions to the sound were delivered by the musicians, but the way it would be received in the space of res-o-nant was controlled by the sound system of rotating light and sound components we developed along with Frank Fietzek in Berlin. We used open call and mouth to mouth propaganda to find the sound artists willing to share our ideas for the space; the 30-second break ensures silence and recognition of the light and architecture. No additional light is in use for this installation as it is not part of the parcours.

SG: Were there any challenges you faced during the process of creation?  

MK: Too many to mention – but, in fact, the Museum and I operated as a team from the very first moment. So obstacles occurring for us had been solved as a team. So, we moved and still move forward step by step. Currently, we just hosted a women collective from Berlin: Gudrun Gut and Monika Werkstatt. In this case, we also collaborated with NTS Radio London.

Exhibition View 5, Visitors to exhibition Res-o-nant at Jewish Museum | Res-o-nant| Mischa Kuball| Jewish Museum Berlin| STIR
Exhibition view 5, visitors to exhibition res-o-nant at Jewish Museum Image Credit: Alexander Basile

SG: How has creating this work been different from the other interactive and public artworks you have been creating till now? 

MK: The number of people involved, including the musicians, and all the team members at the museum, plus the studio, amounts to 300 something. That involves a lot of internal communication, not to mention press and media requests, such as the upcoming MIT Conference on digital, populism and democracy, which Gregor Lersch and I will attend. But it is also the 24/7 character of the Jewish Museum, which opened its doors every day. There is no rest for anything; it attracts people daily and it is among the top five museums to visit on the Lonely Planet tourist guide. But there is also an invisible tension to operate in this museum, most people do have strong expectations of what they want to see, and this is for sure res-o-nant does not fulfil these demands. Well, people also complain about the missing objects, which we are not showing at all.

Exhibition View 6, Visitors to exhibition Res-o-nant at Jewish Museum | Res-o-nant| Mischa Kuball| Jewish Museum Berlin| STIR
Exhibition view 6, visitors to exhibition res-o-nant at Jewish Museum Image Credit: Alexander Basile

SG: In res-o-nant, you have given a visual language to the void; many of us experience, but cannot express. What do you hope to bring forth through this work? 

MK: I think my first aim has changed. Today, I would be glad to know if people were ready to experience themselves in this Museum environment without any prejudice of their expectation. So, res-o-nant is a kind of invitation to take a different route to get in touch with history in the present time.

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About Author

Sukanya Garg

Sukanya Garg

Garg is an artist and writer with a Masters degree in Public Policy from Duke University, USA. She has been involved in research, planning and execution of gallery exhibitions and external projects in collaboration with curators. Her writing has been published in several art magazines, journals and as part of curatorial notes and catalogues, and her work has been showcased in multiple exhibitions.

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