An experience report by Dr. Sabine Weichel-Kickert
Opening ceremony in a new format
18.00 – Arrival in Bad Rothenfelde, at the north side of the New Graduation Tower: after a day of rain, the clouds part and the sun shines through, spreading an apocalyptic light across the spa town, which has prepared itself for the grand opening of the lichtsicht 7 Projection Triennale.
19.30 – It is already dark, but the cyan streaks of light along the projectors illuminate the setting. They correspond to the laser beam emanating from the therapy centre, projecting its light message into the evening skies and leading the way to lichtsicht 7. A virtual blue stage curtain stretching the entire length of the graduation tower heralds the event to the sound of burlesque music. People wander around, families with children, senior citizens with walking aids, youngsters – all of them carefully wearing masks, as required by the latest version of the safety concept. The NDR television team has set itself up on the meadow and awaits the go-live signal, which will give the mayor, Klaus Rehkämper, the chance to address the audience at home at prime time.
20.00 – The countdown has begun, the clock runs backwards, more and more people congregate on the meadow in front of the virtual stage, the music swells dramatically until the curtains open at 20.30. In a captivating filmic review, the history of lichtsicht, from its launch in 2007 to the present day, is told in a fast-paced collage of texts and images spanning 4:40 minutes. The review closes with the sentence: “Today, the experiment goes on.” This is the first emotional climax of the vernissage, which is met with rapturous applause by the audience. Christian Meyer, Technical Director, who has been involved from day one, used archive material to compile this successful cinematic prelude.
Then it is over to the three speakers: the mayor Klaus Rehkämper, who tells of the adventures involved in putting together the new form of finance, District Administrator Anna Kebschull, who suggests that art – and hence also lichtsicht – is an indispensable resource, and Artistic Director and Curator Professor Michael Bielicky, who welcomes us all with the words: “Welcome to paradise”. The idea of refraining from the use of a stage, adapting the opening ceremony to the format of lichtsicht, i.e. having it take place virtually on the projection surface of the graduation tower, proved to be correct.
21.00 – The mayor, Klaus Rehkämper, starts the countdown from ten to zero, the audience joins in, lichtsicht 7 kicks off, and all videos start running.
Refik Anadol, a sought-after artist who also works for NASA, visualises air currents measured at Istanbul’s “Bosphorus” airport, and transforms the north side of the 400+ metre-long graduation tower (with a 250 m projection surface) into a turquoise, foaming sea of clouds, accompanied by a spherical soundscape.
Two other works by world-class artists are presented on this gigantic tower, which should be noted for a second walkaround: Dongling Wang, Chinese grand master of contemporary calligraphy, portrays millennia-old poetry on the graduation towers. A world première of a contemplative nature. And Australian pioneer of media art, Jeffrey Shaw, with a current rework by Sarah Kenderdine, causes groups of people to fall and get up again, like dolls, in ever new constellations, in a seemingly endless algorithm. The title of the installation “Fall Again, Fall Better” references Samuel Beckett’s pronouncement: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
At the end of the tower, with the windmill still in view in the top-right corner, we walk on towards the water fountains. A crowd has gathered there already, gazing in wonder at Max Hattler’s three-dimensional kinetic play on shapes, whilst endeavouring to maintain social distancing. And because it is so intriguing, it is nice to linger a while and take in the next piece of art by Lydia Hoske, featuring rainbow-coloured soap bubbles on the water shield, accompanied by atmospheric sounds. This marks the end of the enchanted world of harmless, light-hearted sensory experiences, and the start of more controversial worlds.
There are conflicting opinions on the masterpiece “Delusional Crime and Punishment” by Lu Yang, already the subject of controversial debate before the opening, a work that showcased at the Venice Biennale in 2015. Some regard the comic-like, 15-minute video as a menace that visitors need to be warned about. Others see it as a “tiring repetition” of agonies that the genderless avatar of the artist has to suffer, from its serial biotechnical creation to punishment rituals in the afterlife. And yet it is precisely this controversy that marks the quality of this work, designed with artistic brilliance and implemented with great technical expertise, as a philosophical reflection on a world view with Christian connotations.
Moving on from this intellectually challenging piece, the Rose Gardens offer a little respite. Taking a seat on a bench, in mild weather, the visitor can view the Cannes award-winning work “Grand Bouquet” by Japanese artist Nao Yoshigai. We are initially reminded of memento mori and vanitas portrayals, when overflowing floral bouquets, regurgitated from the artist’s mouth, slowly take root again and ultimately create humus. On a meta-level, however, a deeper message concerning the “Me Too” movement and the oppressive impact of patriarchal structures can be discerned.
At the end and beginning of the southern graduation tower, visitors can look forward to a 67-minute monumental work by Julius von Bismarck. The one-time master-class art student of Olafur Eliason explores natural and weather phenomena. To create his work “Fire with Fire”, currently on display at the Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, the artist took footage of the devastating forest fires in California. And yet this natural disaster harbours an almost romantically transfigured beauty which, owing to the extremely slowed down and kaleidoscopically reflected images, is evocative of Swiss psychoanalyst Herman Rorschach’s “inkblot pictures”. Von Bismarck’s work refers to the control and use of fire, one of our civilisation’s oldest land development techniques, and hence to the interaction between danger and beauty, destruction and creation. Juxtaposed against the crystalline projection surfaces of the graduation tower, glistening with brine, the work’s spectacular images of fire develop irritating, new stimuli.
Those in search of physical exercise should now move on to the data-driven installation entitled “Eternal Dream” by Simon Weckert and Phillip Weiser at the front end of the New Graduation Tower. Jumping into the air within the predefined quadrant results in a flight over the deep-blue tower into the cloud. With a number assigned to each jump, visitors can follow their eternal flight on the internet at eternal-dream.digital. Seemingly harmless, this work addresses the highly topical discourse surrounding the utilisation of data on the web.
Those with energy left to view two key statements of this year’s lichtsicht should now proceed to the Old Graduation Tower. Natalie Bookchin’s highly topical video collage of demonstrators from the Black Lives Matter movement portrays resistance in the face of systemic violence against Black Americans. The act of changing something’s position is being shown exclusively during the opening of the triennial in Bad Rothenfelde, where it debuts.
Finally, a profoundly close-to-nature, topical statement on the spruce dieback in our forests awaits visitors on the park side of the Old Graduation Tower. The portrait of a horizontally floating spruce tree, swaying in the wind, by Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahthila, represented by the legendary Marian Goodman Gallery New York. This monumental portrait, measuring 80 metres in length and 12 metres in height, represents an impressive memorial to this species.
The bottom line
Contrary to the contentions of some, lichtsicht 7 is anything but without concept, as I see it. The acrimonious issues of our time, such as the threat to nature, the oppression of minorities in our society, and data security on the internet, are of international concern and significance. In between, there is also room for artistic experimentation and new aesthetic experiences.
It is indeed a major cultural event that impresses its visitors not only with overwhelming images. The moment you set out to take in the visual, olfactory and performative impressions and possibilities, you become part of a work of art.
It is a tremendous, uplifting experience that we wish to share with the world.
From left to right: Desirée Kabis (Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design), n.n., Kira Ellen Adams, (Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design), Tim Roßberg (Project Leader), Claudia Klotzbach (Second Deputy Mayor), Klaus Rehkämper (Mayor), Michael Bielicky (Curator), Christian Meyer (Technical Director), Sabine Weichel-Kickert (Press Officer)
All Photos: Angela von Brill