molitor & kuzmin: Light and Space

Ursula Molitor and Vladimir Kuzmin are renowned for their Light-And-Space works since the late 1990s. They shape object and volume through the use of light. They follow the continued principles of the Light-And-Space artists of the 1960s. “We are working with mass-produced materials, and for us, it is a tool to compose, not on a limited canvas, but in an open space.” From 1996 on, light became the main material of their artistic articulation. “We didn’t get into the technical details when we started to experiment with physical light. Our point of departure was the aesthetic phenomenon. We were excited that we found a material that seeks dialogue with spatial dimension.”

They use fluorescent tubes as a drawing material to structure their luminous spheres. The artistic compositions of molitor & kuzmin rest freely in a space as single objects or they can come in bulk; they can be organized in a geometric order or follow a mechanical principle like in an explosion drawing; they can also be framed by transport materials such as pallets, lorries or boxes. “Fluorescent light is such a re­strictive medium and over time, we developed a particular appreciation that drives us to continue to work with it. These tubes have their own poetics. The gas that’s inside is set to a high vacuum state causing a discharge phenomenon similar to the origin of the universe. Maybe we sense that when we look at them…”.

Their radiant works immediately captivate the attention as the centerpiece of an immersive environment. They take the visual lead in a space due to the natural ocular response navigating to the brightest part of an environment. “To date, we are still fascinated by the pure, bright, white light of fluorescent tubes. It alters a space and everything in it.”

In the first ten years, until 2007, the fluorescent lamps were switched on in continuous operation when on display, with black cross negative [2007] or endless [2013/2017], a new series of works has been done over the last ten years that varies in terms of luminous efficacy. Innovations in fluorescent lamp technology and control technology make it possible to control lamps like a pixel and use all shades of dimmed light. “This basically multiplied our material. Today we work not only with glistening white, but with all shades from white to grey to dark. The possibility of including this dynamic has changed our own view of our work.”

molitor & kuzmin don’t alter or manipulate neither form, nor color, nor do they hide the electrical cables of the fluorescent tubes. Everything that is used is shown as well. The technical transparency is part of the aesthetic approach that doesn’t aim to represent anything other than itself. “We are very concrete in our way of working.”

They address the entwinement of architectural spaces with light and perception, treating them as inter-fluctuating ones. ”Space is never empty, it is always ‘informed,’ it is loaded with information and usually this information changes over time. In our research, we detect part of this information and we re-code it by interfering with the luminous sphere. If it is right, it looks as if it belongs, as if it has always been there and as if it shouldn’t ever be removed.”

When a site turns into an artistic material and at the same time becomes its objective, then the US-American artist Robert Irwin calls it “Conditional Art”. Conditional Art, according to Irwin, is responsive to its environment, and its objective is to enhance a viewer’s perception of a space. Irwin considers his light interventions to be tools with which he examines “the quality of a particular space in terms of its weight, temperature, tactileness, density, and its feel.” Irwin is part of the artistic movement that started in the 1960s, mainly in USA and Europe. Referring to natural and to artificial light, artists created immersive environments and experimented with ocular responses, visual perception, and optical illusions. They composed with the interplay of light, time and space, including explorations of the limits of human perception.

molitor & kuzmin are the next generation of artists perpetuating the artistic research of the Light-And-Space Movement. “Really looking at the properties and qualities of a space, its use, its materials and including the processes of its development and the decisions that have been made, incorporating them as part of our artistic composite. For this kind of artistic research, you start from scratch knowing that you don’t know. Our development process in-situ is a constant crosscheck between our ideas and how they appear. And for each of our works, we develop their own guidelines. When we arrive at a new space, we just spend a lot of time observing, sensing, associating. We open our radars and we see, feel and touch. It’s important not to rush and to use our eyes, our knowledge, and our experience to explore and understand it. In the beginning, we don’t know what we are looking for and we should wait until we can overcome all that we have seen before. From there, we start to share and to discuss our ideas until we start to synchronize.”

In a perfect balance of creative joy and critical judgment, they develop their works. “We appreciate being two and in the fragile moments of artistic development, we sense how much we trust each other. Through our joint projects, we have found that we are a good addition to each other.” In 1991, in the same year the Soviet Union collapsed and Europe was no longer divided by the Iron Curtain, East-West cooperation became easier and German born Ursula Molitor and Russian born Vladimir Kuzmin started to work together. At that time, both were artists with a focus on painting. Vladimir grew up in Zaporozhe in Ukraine and studied architecture in Moscow. After his studies, from 1983 on, he exhibited not only in Moscow but also in Europe and the USA. At about the same time, Ursula began exhibiting, mainly in Germany. Backed by her studies as a graphic designer, her artistic portfolio included drawings, paintings and objects. In the first years of the joint work, they collaborated on abstract color compositions in painting. “At one point, around 1995/1996, we were no longer satisfied by colors on canvas. We wanted to include the surrounding space and we were excited to work with physical light as an open volume. And it is still the same today.”

[Interview on September 10, 2017. Revisited on March 5, 2018. All citations by molitor & kuzmin. Text: Bettina Pelz]

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