Excerpts from the speech at the
opening of the exhibition
“Orte ohne Absicht” with
works by Laurenz Theinert
on 2.12.2018 at the Kunsthaus Kloster
Yesterday I was on the phone with Katerina Mirovic, a curator in Ljubljana, and when I told her that I would be meeting Laurenz Theinert today to open his solo exhibition at Kunsthaus Kloster Gravenhorst, she went into raptures: “Laurenz is so clear in his artistic vision that nothing ever gets complicated – even if the framework conditions are not always perfect. It’s so easy to work with him because he’s never confused and always knows what he’s doing technically, too.” So look forward to work from an artist who knows what he’s doing.
Throughout his studies, Laurenz Theinert has been involved in graphics, design and photography. He studied design and after graduation, in the 1990s, he ran a design studio. Over time, the corset of commercial design became too tight for him and he began to realize independent works.
In the experimental handling of color and form, of light and perception, he has developed his own artistic practice over the last 15 years. In 2005 he realized his first light and sound performance with Martin Stortz at the piano in the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. In the same year, he had his first solo exhibition entitled “Lichtbild, Lichtraum, Lichtspiel” at the Kunstverein Nürtingen with photographic works and light installations.
When he talks about his work today, he says, “My understanding of light is rooted in photography – all processes of photography are light-related and they have changed my understanding of the visual. The deeper my understanding became, the more I wanted to share that experience – the process of appearing and disappearing or ‘happening’ – with others, artists and curators, of course, but also with an attentive audience.”
Laurenz Theinert was born in Hanover and moved to Stuttgart more than 30 years ago to study. He still lives there today and is planning for the future. He would like to make himself at home in a residential project with friends and elective relatives, to know the companions for an extended breakfast or a clever conversation nearby. Just as he likes to play with thoughts, he also understands his artistic work: playful. If we were to ask him what his intentions are in his art, he would say he has no intentions. He refuses content and attributions, he refuses the knowledge of associations and codings and any form of comprehensibility and intelligibility. He wants his works to be understood as concrete art. He challenges you to look and invites you to empathize. But please do not be deceived, ask him how he explains the far. And he will tell you about different spheres that correspond with each other and how images and consciousness shape each other.
The path Laurenz Theinert takes is about seeing and experiencing, about presence and about immediacy. If you are one of those who are practiced in meditation, then this exhibition visit is a kind of continuation of your daily practice and you will have an idea of how seeing and feeling, thinking and understanding are interdependent.
Whoever knows Laurenz – and we know each other from the realization of many joint exhibition projects throughout the world – whoever knows him, knows that he is an extraordinarily social being. You can sense something of this when you experience him welcoming visitors to his concerts with the Visual Piano. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that introduction, and I could probably recite it, but with him it’s backed up every time with the joy of meeting a new audience.
He loves to play and he loves his audience – so today you. He takes you on a journey through colors and shapes, through movements and interweavings. He changes surfaces and spaces, views and experiences. He works in relation to place and context. He finds his way in. This is how he creates photographic series, installations and interventions, performances and concerts. In this exhibition you can see a selection in which the choice of spaces determined the choice of works.
I myself have known Laurenz for 10 years. In 2008 I invited him to the light art project GLOW in Eindhoven. Coincidentally, we were reading the same book – in translation of ,.Catching the Light” by Arthur Zajonc, published in Stuttgart in 2008. In this book Zajonc outlines the common history of light and consciousness. Reading it, it quickly becomes clear why many metaphors such as flash of inspiration or illumination or enlightenment are light-related.
Arthur Guy Zajonc, born in Boston / MA in 1949, is a physicist. The recurring theme of his publications is the working fabric of science, mind and spirit. One of his books is based on dialogues on quantum mechanics with the Dalai Lama. His research includes studies on electron-atom physics, quantum optics, the experimental foundations of quantum physics, and the relationship between the natural sciences, the humanities, and contemplative traditions. Arthur Zajonc writes: “Seeing the light – this is a metaphor for seeing the invisible in the visible, discovering the subtle webs of imagination that hold our planet and all existence together. Once we learn to see the light, everything else might take care of itself.” That was a promise Laurenz and I were happy to follow up on.
Zajonc’s goal is to initiate a change in perspective in science and to reevaluate light as an essential building block of evolution. He writes, “Evolution has occurred in the context of light, and over time the organism has responded by forming organs of vision.” In his remarks, he also refers to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who, in preparing his “Theory of Colors,” concluded, “The eye has light to thank for its existence.”
In 1791, Goethe published “Contributions to Optics” and described the formation of color as a result of the interaction of light and darkness. Goethe traced the conditions of the appearance, visibility and visibility of color. In his color studies, he outlined a theory of perception and determined the physiological, the colors produced by the eye, as the basis of his chromatic theory.
He distinguished between the chemical colors, today we would say the pigment colors or the body colors – the physical colors – which are produced by the optical phenomena such as refraction, diffraction or reflection of light, and the physiological colors, those produced by the eye as we know it from simultaneous contrasts or afterimages.
Based on these parameters, Goethe developed a chromatic color system that explained color from the interaction with light: color is no longer something static, but something that is generated in the interaction of body color, light situation and perception. And Goethe thus shows not only the diversity of chromatic appearance itself but also its temporal progression: from the fleeting, to the impermanent, to the permanent colors.
Goethe made physiological colors the foundation of his entire teaching. Although afterimages and other phenomena produced by the eye itself had been known since antiquity, until then they had been dismissed as deceptions and facial frauds. The study of their physiological causes did not begin until the 18th century, when physiology became central to medical discourse. Until that time, all color perceptions that were not compatible with the explanatory approaches of geometrical optics were treated as exceptional phenomena and attributed to imagination, since human perception was considered an unpredictable factor.
Only a few years earlier, the English physician Robert Waring Darwin (1766-1848) (later the father of Charles Darwin) had considered the eye as actively acting under physiological aspects. Under the title “New Experiments on the Ocular Spectra of Light and Colours” he had presented his dissertation to the Royal Society in 1786. Robert Darwin noted the after-image and simultaneous contrasts as regularities, which can also be found in Goethe’s theory of colors: A red object produces a green afterimage. Yellow a violet one, blue an orange one and vice versa. And it was Goethe who elevated the regularities of the colors produced by the sense of sight to the status of a norm.
Laurenz Theinert stands in this tradition with his work. In his works, color is a temporary, a fleeting system that generates itself in the play of pigment, light and perception. And like Goethe, he is concerned with the activation and reflection of sensory activity. Today, color perception is considered a sub-area of vision and describes the ability. to perceive differences in the spectral composition of light. Different spectral compositions of the color stimulus can lead to the same color perception.
Many artists have been interested in this change in perspective, including the Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez (*1923 Caracas) who recently summed it up in an interview: “I define myself as a painter, and the basic instrument of a painter is the color. … Color is not something permanent or eternal, like the idea we have in Western society that everything is eternal. Color is a circumstance and everything I’ve found supports that evidence in this changing, mutating, and fleeting state that is the world of color .”
As is often the case, transfers between science and art led to new forms of artistic expression. l877 U.S. artist and inventor Bainbridge Bishop received a patent for his first color organ. The instruments are illuminated attachments for pipe organs that can project colored light onto a screen in synchronization with the musical performance. Bishop built three of the instruments, none of which have survived. In the following years, he created a large number of instruments and compositions for colored light.
In 1925, Georg Anschütz, a professor of psychology in Hamburg, initiated various activities to investigate the visual aspects of auditory perception. The efforts culminated in four interdisciplinary congresses on color-sound research in 1927, 1930, 1933, and 1936. Concepts, of dynamic visualization of music were presented as color-light music by Alexander László and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, as kinetism by Zdeněk Pešánek, and as music-related abstract film by Oskar Fischinger. In the context of color-sound research, however, it was not so much the artistic concept that was discussed, but rather its significance for individual perception. Laurenz Theinert’s visual piano – the artistic exploration of the connection between light and sound – stands in this tradition of color-light music.
Laurenz Theinert: “Although we move in different spheres, we can easily connect as image- and sound-producing artists. I get inspired by the qualities and behavior of sound and seek out musicians who are interested in transmedia collaboration. “The better they know their instrument and their space, the more we can focus on our communication as an aesthetic process. … Sharing these encounters means sharing the fragile moment when two systems begin to correspond. … The presence of people changes the visual and aural qualities of the space, and a moving audience is like a third improviser on the set. … I like the challenge of improvisation, reminding us to be present.
With the help of software developers Roland Blach and Philipp Rahlenbeck, he developed an image tool that allows him to translate his artistic intent into live performances. In an interview with me two years ago, he said, “With conceptual and technical support, I developed the Visual Piano, an instrument that allows me to play with light, form and color in space and time. The idea was not new; there is a great tradition of color and sound instruments. I don’t know how far back in history we can trace it, but I was inspired by the early ideas developed in the 16th century or when I heard about the French monk Louis Bertrand Castel in the 18th century who proposed the idea of a “Clavecin pour Les Yeux”.
In the 1920s, Thomas Wilfred, a native of Denmark, coined the word “lumia” to describe this form of artistic expression. He developed a series of instruments and with the later ones he was even able to project colored images and not just fields of colored light as with his earlier instruments.
In Germany, from the late 1900s to the early 1930s, several color organs were demonstrated at a series of color music congresses. In one of them, Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack played his “Farbenlichtspiel” on a color organ he had developed at the Weimar Bauhaus School in collaboration with Kurt Schwerdtfeger. If we look at the many versions of color organs, we see that I was not the only one, but that there has been a broad artistic interest over the centuries in exploring the aesthetics of the frequencies of light and sound “My Visual Piano is a version based on digital controls that is still unique in the world.”
And what’s special about it? It is a digital instrument that is operated in an analog way. There is no mechanism or algorithm that translates the sound action into a visual work or creates an analogy. It is the artist who sees, feels, and thinks, and who responds to that sensory event. You can watch the painter painting.
Laurenz’s performances are real concerts, usually by two frequency designers – one who improvises with the timbre and one who plays with the light image. Laurenz Theinert calls this light art – unlike other artists* who resist the attributions and material connections, he deals offensively with the term light art – and has been doing so for many years.
Currently, the term “light art” functions like a complementary label for artistic positions that work with light as a material or tool. The term suggests a relationship to video or media art as they developed in the 20th century. It refers to art forms that are closely interwoven with the development of technical possibilities and inquire into their implicit aesthetic potentials.
Physical light as a material and medium of art has gained virulence in recent decades. Along the interfaces of analog and digital worlds, artistic formats change and renew themselves. In contemporary visual culture, light is the ubiquitous material, tool, and medium. Artists use light for drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, intervention and performance. Light artworks are characterized by the fact that they visualize interferences. They can be read as a dynamic system of reciprocal references that can be developed in the interplay of the physical properties of light and the conditions of human perception.
If in the past the image was characterized by spatial limitation, medial fixity, and temporal permanence, in the present this seems inadequate to describe also the aesthetic production, to which non-locality, time flow, intermediality, and transience are inherent. The aesthetics of the appearance of a permanent image, present precisely through its static nature, is transformed into an aesthetics of the mutable image, present only in its ephemerality. “Forms and volumes that were destined to persist within the lifetime of their support materials are followed by images whose only duration is that of the afterimage on the retina…” is how Paul Virilio describes the changes in the way images are viewed. Subjectivity as an a priori of perception is emphasized and the model of an objective, static and describable work has dissolved.
This form of subjectivity also interests Laurenz Theinert. He reads a lot and likes to think; he is a good observer and a clever conversationalist. Perhaps this is why he was fascinated by the book “Catching the Light” by the physicist Arthur Zajonc, who writes: “The photon is not an object that you can take in your hand like a lump of earth. Its ephemeral and enigmatic character draws our attention to the essential features of cognition as an intuition, of cognition as an event.” Cognition as event, as something that appears and disappears, cognition as something changeable. Arthur Zajonc further writes: “The true artist, monk, and scientist understands cognition not as an object but as an event.” In choosing his protagonists, Zajonc draws attention to the experience that knowledge and cognition depend on regular practice in order to remain disposed in a changing memory, in a changing body, in a turning world. We know this phenomenon from storage media that we have to change or can you still read floppy disks on your computer?
Maybe you also know it when you find old exercise books or study books in the attic – like I did the other day. I graduated from high school with an advanced course in mathematics, but I can’t decode 35 years later what mathematical drawings I wrote. Arthur Zajonc writes: “Personal development depends on practice and daily effort. Every action of the hand and the eye forms the soul. And in another place he states: “Knowledge as revelation presupposes organs of observation, inner tools: and new knowledge demands new tools. We all possess the rudiments of every organ, but we deny them the care they need-we neglect the exercise by which they can grow and flourish.” Dedicated to this mutability of the world and the practice of being in the moment is the philosophical part of Laurenz Theinert’s performances. He says, “My artistic research is dedicated to the interplay of all components and the performative aspects are very important. Everything is constantly changing and yet we consider color as something permanent and a material form as eternal, even though we know that nothing is forever – not even ourselves.
Perhaps a monastery is a good place to think about what artists, scientists and monks have in common, as Zajonc suggests. And perhaps this afternoon is also a good opportunity to practice looking at the invisible in the visible.