by Vatsala SethiDec 31, 2022
The experience of looking at and absorbing a piece of light installation by Berlin-based German artist Susanne Rottenbacher is accentuated by the seamless flow of dialogue with the observer. The sculptural installations entangled with each other stand or coexist despite the contradiction in terms of shapes. When suspended from the roofs of the gallery spaces, the curves and turns of the installations have the potential to turn the surroundings into a mode of kinetics. The manipulation of light compounded by its intensity and transparency reactivates the space where it is installed. Often touted as the “light-coloured bodies,” the installations are instrumental to thaw, even if metaphorically, the ideas of frozen time and space. An alumnus of Columbia University in New York and Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning, London, Rottenbacher has worked as a set designer at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and as a lighting designer for the Licht Kunst Licht planning office.
Over the years the artistic practice of Rottenbacher has become synonymous with the circles of light. In an interview with STIR, Rottenbacher talks about what drew her initial interest towards the element of lights, “When I was a teenager, I was deeply fascinated by ‘space’. I experience space like a character or personality. I decided to study scenography at Columbia University in New York, where I realised that—rather than structuring and composing space by means of built material—I am intrigued by composing space with light due to its immaterial, emotional and democratic quality.” It is when she continued with an M.Sc. from Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning, London, that she played with light as a way to reconfigure the geometrical precision of the built environment. “My present-day light installations interact vividly with the specific light dynamic of the surrounding space. They create a form of continuous dialogue and spatial choreography intensifying the sensation of the surrounding architecture,” mentions Rottenbacher.
The presence of the plexiglass in the “object” as a piece of work that Rottenbacher has created has helped her to participate in the public—it reflects as well as absorbs the patterns of lights from the surroundings. As the light shifts from dawn to dusk and day to night, the plexiglass is engaged in a conversation with nature to reveal the three-dimensional modes of experiencing art and environment. As the visual appearance of the art changes within the dynamics of the environment, it refrains to have a fixed meaning. The work constant in making is nothing short of a performance where art is a protagonist indulging in a conversation with proximity to the spaces.
Outside the controlled space of the gallery, the art installation in public is an assertion of the fact that change is the only constant. Since she has done a plethora of public art installations across the globe, such as In a Different Light, Spin, Max, to name a few, the space of creativity is a mediator for the unspeakable. “Artworks manage to captivate our interest when we are faced with experiences and sensory impressions, which we cannot fully explain right away. Much more than ‘seeking’, art is about ‘finding’ it. In that respect, the social relevance of art is that it is capable of intrinsically making suggestions for alternatives, for thinking the unthinkable, showing that it could alternatively also be ‘like that’,” expounds Rottenbacher.
The site-specific art installation Freiheit, on the premises of the church, is inspired by the Baroque traditions of painting done by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens around the theological themes of Christianity. The eleven rings populating the 16m height of the church interior are orchestrated in such a manner that it evokes a kaleidoscopic way of seeing the installations. The sculptures, suspended from the roof in a free-flowing manner, are in a dialogue with each other yet retain a distinct look. The large scale installations complemented by the gentle appearance of the lights is what speaks to the practice of finding meditative silence in the noise of everydayness.
The installation In Love with Tomorrow at Swarovski Kristallwelten Store, Vienna, is a work rooted in digital technology. It takes into account the workings of 3D CAD software without which it would not have been possible to model the highly complicated organic shapes for this new installation. For Rottenbacher, as an installation artist, digital technology is a blessing for her work. She explains, “The light-mirror-crystal installation in the four facade cubes manifests itself like contemporary dance stages of colour, movement, reflection, and refraction. In that way my work oscillates between sculpture and installation, dissolving the dichotomy between technology and atmosphere and possibly anticipating a time in which we will possibly be able to give space to emotion as well as to science.”
Since her installations are compositions of light art and movement like three-dimensional drawings in space with aspects of music and dance, they create relationships between people and build structures. By including the surrounding light conditions, the installations also integrate elements of time and chance. Rottenbacher leaves us with a question when the different components of an artwork captivate different viewers, “Am I able to evoke a mood or an idea?” when her work focuses on expressive qualities.