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Nikolaus Koliusis, Blaubeziehung, Museum DKM Duisburg
October 13, 2017 – January 9, 2018
Beyond all Anecdotes
The actual artistic work of Nikolaus Koliusis, who was a highly successful photographer at the beginning of the 1980s, commenced when he began to distrust his medium. For one thing, there was a clear uneasiness about the photo shooting situation, which is characterized by a shift in the boundaries of shame, making this shift the norm. Far too close, far too direct does the photographer face his counterpart—hidden behind and legitimized by the camera—all the while disregarding the social rules of distance. More substantial, however, was the decision to use photography under modified conditions, since the fundamental experience under which photography produces an image does not necessarily transport the photographed moment’s authenticity. The experienced magic and intimacy of one of the Stuttgart State Ballet’s rehearsals created an apprehension of the photographed image that could have only been disappointing. Captured on film, it remained undeveloped, and it disappeared into the depths of the archive. Thus, at the beginning of his artistic work stands a kind of iconoclasm, a denial of the image combined with the fascination for the authenticity of the experienced moment.
If the gaze and image are kept away from photographic work, then what remains from that medium? Nikolaus Koliusis dismantled the camera, and ended up with the transparent “ground glass” in his hands (Mattscheibe, 1980). This was the “place” where images originate. Without looking he held this ground glass as a membrane in this world, where space and light are captured. The ground glass mutated into a foil, a familiar material from photo shooting. The architecture, the human-made functional space that the young photographer Koliusis was onto, which he had learned to photographically capture, remained his frame of reference. Interventions apply for him to this day. Since then, transparency and reflection, concealment and layering have engendered his “view” of the world.
The exhibition at the DKM shows the playful ease with which Koliusis, over the past decades, has held this membrane to the world to encounter space under repeatedly new aspects and interpretative contexts. At an early stage, the color blue joined the membrane. When entering the exhibition rooms in the DKM, a blue dot (fully covered, 3, 2000) glows from a distance, a target that opens the view into an infinite distance, and immediately and indisputably hints at that the enclosed space in the museum is not the measure of all things. In the museum’s sequence of rooms, like in a book, chapter by chapter, room by room, this measure is adjusted anew with “space” and light.
As a prelude, in a salon-style hang, the “image” widens the space, adds to it in varying horizontal format sizes, horizons and defined spaces (Pleasure is on all sides, 2007). The image offers layered depths (Double Rosco No.2, 1995) and lets the blue enter the room as a free and shapeless intrinsic value (Blow up, 1990). If in this first chapter everything is committed to the play between the artistic starting point surface (image) and the “source color” blue, then the next chapter is dedicated to space. A big blue foil (blue box, 2017) swings in one open U-shape freely in space. It creates an interior and an exterior and sets the room in motion. Beyond measurement and independent of a boundary, space here originates as a quality from the void. Like a ship’s propeller whirling up water, here space swirls. In contemporary physics, these two coordinates, time and space, combine in movement and constitute themselves in their relativity. I start to swing in the room and, at the same time, the film surrounds me like a coat or like a protective arm. I become a dancer in the space, led by the foil. Only when I let myself be moved does the dance of the space begins. When dancing around the film, my gaze falls onto a round mirror disk (BS, 2010) and catapults me from the free oscillation into a here and now of the counterpart. My reflection—me here, you there—creates spontaneous positionings. My moment of standing becomes the point in space, which immediately loses its coordinates in the mirror’s opposite, because the curve of the mirror surface also denies the positioning in the boxed space. In front of a third wall, I encounter two transparent blue foil pictures with black outlines hanging freely from the ceiling in the room (Blauraum, 2017). In the room, the foil here is folded in the form of a “U,” into a flat plane and mutated to a flat body—an image. The folding of the film creates a layering that consciously emphasizes that images (the reduction to the surface) have an independent quality, which adds a “further” level to the real space. The looking through of the blue plane opens up a space which lies beyond the space-time dimension of the “U.” Its quality arises from the calmness of standing in front of the object and the indefinable depth of the “blue space,” which, in turn, connects with the surrounding space. The image adds, to the empty room, a static segment of space, qualified in blue.
In the following chapter, the view of the eyes catapults me into a here and now from the depths of the blue room (PUBLIC AFFAIRS, 2014). They directly declare me to be the counterpart and raise my awareness that I am moving around the world seeing and also one who has always been seen. Seeing and being seen in this space creates an element bordering on discomfort, from which not only Koliusis’s early irritation with the photographic setting emerged, but also the entire dubiousness of public spaces being controlled by webcams.
The blackened strip in one of these reflections (ici BBC, 2017) produces relief here only partly since it makes it more evident that here, in the depth of the darkness, something unseen is hidden. A mystery of seeing and being seen, which extends to the wide zones of cognition, occurs between the blink of an eye of a loving couple to the control-eye of the camera, and between revelation and censorship. In this room, there is an island of light, as if incidentally set aside (Rosco’s fun, Dein Schatten ist das Licht, 1986). Reflecting gold and silver foils on metal stands, like carpets hanging over a rod, create an island of light in the cool of the gallery’s lighting. They can be viewed from the outside, but they can also act as circumferential walls of light when stepping in-between. Both inside as well as outside create an urgency that contrasts with the blue depths. We encounter the latter in another dimension in the next chapter. The blue dot (fully covered 3, 2000) is “dense blue,” it is “blue materiality.” It gives the room a point of stability. In it, the space seems to be transformed into another state of aggregation to crystallize. Thus fixated, it then goes into the net (Monon Lave, 1993). Imperceptibly, I slip from the real space into a dream level, and poetic images well up from the “haul of blue.”
Thus enriched with “images” I switch to the last chapter of the exhibition. The light is dimmed, a beamer transmits to the opposite wall (Do not disturb, 2012), with its light images across the cuboid defined by transparent film that stands in the room. Film sequences of installations appear in the public space—for instance, the memorial for victims of the National Socialist euthanasia laws in Berlin, a Stuttgart underpass, the “Room of Silence” in Stuttgart. Invisible on their way through the room, the images appear on the wall. Light separations, produced by the light reflection on the film, dance in a crystalline structure over a second wall. Both the image sequences and the crystalline color separations clearly highlight the emptiness of the room’s nucleus. This nucleus, this emptiness of the space, is the material explored in the exhibition in manifold dimensions. Each individual work initiates a structure of relationships, each culminating in the consideration of a particular space-moment. Each artwork is “only” the vehicle, only a(n) (hand-) eye tool that opens space, with the help of blue and light, as an extension that exceeds the functionality of measured spatial dimensions. The power of transgression created within (whatever the individual inscribes it into a dimension of sense) enables Koliusis to thematize space as a signifier of meaning in repeatedly new and surprising ways in the public space. It is never about one or the other interpretation of a space. Instead, the works restructure perceptions in a surprising way so that “views” are irritated in a fixed way, even dissolved, and new things become visible.
Blue is thereby the enduring parameter that carries the basic theme of the “expansion” into all references. In all structural thinking, in spatial structures, and in contexts of meaning, it is ultimately a particular form of prosaic poetry that adds vastness to the narrowness, or at least an extension. The inner mission of each work of art to add a view to the world (not to repeat it), converts time and again to the new, from installation to installation. And thus originates the ostensible paradox that Koliusis’s artistic means are quickly mentioned, but their respective application postulates repeatedly a new adjustment of the gaze, of the ostensive attitude. In this sense, every work is new territory and the exhibition at the DKM is a rehearsal in letting one’s own view expand beyond its inner limits.
Dr. Susanne Ließegang, November 2017
Translation from the German: Dr. Bhesham Sharma and Alix Sharma-Weigold
Transcript of opening speech by
Prof. Dr. Frank Druffner, Kulturstiftung der Länder, Berlin
Exhibition DKM, Duisburg
Nikolaus Koliusis, Blaubeziehung, October 14, 2017 – January 10, 2018
Thank you, also from my side. Welcome tonight, to an exhibition that touches me very much, because Niko, my previous speaker, and I all have been connected for approximately the same length of time. Relationship is the major topic of this evening, alongside some other concepts. It is quite wonderful that I am the one who is allowed to open, or better—give a prelude—of the first large retrospective of Niko’s work.
We just spoke briefly and privately about the significance of culture during the German election campaign, which was almost of zero concern. And we agreed that if there were no houses like this here [Museum DKM], culture would be different in our country, significantly different.
Nowadays, one must search for a long time in public museums for an exhibition or exhibitions such as this one taking place in a private museum. There are many reasons for this that I do not want to go into. Our daily work involves promotional practice, but believe me, I know what I’m talking about, and I also know what I’m talking about when I reflect on private, civic engagement in the field of culture. Therefore, my very big thanks to the couple DKM, if I may say so, also for the invitation.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this evening is about art, which as I have said, I had already encountered in the nineteen-eighties in Stuttgart, in connection with my studies. Because, I must say, although I have studied art history one also went to galleries at the time. This was not self-evident. Art historians then were always very inclined to distinguish clearly between the noble matter of the seminars and lectures and what was going on in the, in a way, free scene. Things were different for us through fortunate circumstances that artists from the academy were clearly present during our studies, listening in on our courses, and we thus developed a very conscious awareness of current trends. But I think I can argue that one of the first studios I was allowed to visit was Niko’s. I don’t remember anymore, was it at Mozartplatz or in Mozartstrasse? I don’t know anymore, it was somewhere in the center of town. In any case, it was in the mid-eighties. This is where our relationship started, which repeatedly laid dormant over longer stretches of time due to professional reasons. When I went to Berlin in late 2014 to take up my present position I was fortunate to encounter Niko right in the middle of Berlin, with a work that immediately heralded me back to my time in Stuttgart because it was there that I had the first direct contact with his art.
Niko’s art is about… every art historian would now begin differently, presumably long explanations about the color blue in the history of art would follow, but I refrain from this—Niko has once disclosed his special relationship to the color blue (there we are already referring to the exhibition’s title)—quote: “Blue is the color of the distance, of the sky, of the wide sea. In classic painting, the background turns to blue, thus suggesting the filter of the atmosphere that covers the distance.” End of quote. With these very concise words, the three great pillars which will accompany us today in the exhibition are inherent. It is space that interests him, it is the filtering and in relation to this, very directly, it is the light. These three components are virtually his material. Hence, his material is firstly space, and I can only briefly tell you how he deals with exterior space from my very personal experience with Niko’s works. Interior space we’ll see afterwards is equipped here quite well in the exhibition.
In 2014, Niko created a room in Stuttgart in a hospital he called the “Room of Silence.” This is an incredibly aesthetic retreat in a clinic. One enters the room and is surrounded by an architectonic structure in which, like an amorphous construct, blue light boxes and windows are installed, plunging the whole room into a blue, very pleasant light. Not at all cool, not at all cold but very comfortable, if you like. The basic idea was that every hospital, of course, usually has chapels but not every person would like to be in a chapel when s/he is worried; and that one creates a place in this very lively, very busy clinic milieu which allows for rest, meditative components that is also revitalization for the person. I believe that this concept succeeded in this hospital in a unique way. And what fascinates me here is, in fact, that this moment of hope which Niko wants to give to the entrants to take with them when they have to go out again to their rooms and to treatment is not attached to the stereotypical green, the color of hope, but to a genuinely cool color. However, I do not know how Niko’s intervention turns the colour into a very delicate, completely filtered blue that really welcomes and absorbs us. This effect of blue will follow you here; we, so to speak, move through the exhibition not on a golden thread but on a blue one.
And it was the blue then, in a work that was also created in 2014, that reminded me of Niko in Berlin again and then our contact was restored anew. He has executed the memorial for the victims of the National Socialist euthanasia laws. Now this is a difficult issue and the place was not easy either since it is located in direct proximity to the Philharmonie. There stood the house in which, under the code name “T4,” the murder of over 70,000 physically and mentally handicapped people in Germany was prepared. How on earth can one be reminiscent of such a horror next to Scharoun’s Philharmonie, an architectural and, above all, acoustic solitaire? One agreed on a very reduced approach. A desk has been erected on which the story of this misanthropic action was documented, 24-meters-long, and Niko constructed a blue wall. When you visit the site, you first approach the work with a rather sublime feeling because it is simply aesthetically perfect and appealing in all its simplicity. It works and it fits. But when you then deal with the subject, this glass wall suddenly bears a quite different meaning. You will then notice that when you move around this desk and then look up in between that this disc alone is enough to make a selection. Everything behind it is immersed in unnatural blue. People are excluded and you yourself too, when seen from the other side. That is to say, it doesn’t take much to trigger a significant lot in the viewer with very reduced means. This, I can promise you, will happen to you in this exhibition immediately afterwards. Therefore, there are two modes, in a hospital and at a place of commemoration, both dealing with blue but aiming in completely different directions.
In this exhibition, there are, of course, mainly works designed for the interior. But you will find that the principles, these three pillars: light, space, and filter also manifest themselves very centrally here. You cannot look at any of Niko’s works unfiltered. It is always the play with “looking-through-something.” What is it, what kind of material is it? First, this leads back to Niko’s training, photo film, filter film, or foils. This is a tool which he, of course, adequately encountered in his training as a photographer. However, he does not use this filter film as a medium of the photographic process but as genuine artistic material. He uses it as a primary material with which he, as previously mentioned, has been familiar with since his studies. And this film is, of course, closely related to other thin, similarly functioning materials such as glass or mirrored metal, two further components that will appear in the exhibition.
If you would like to be quite assiduous now, you could see where the German term Folie (film, foil) really originates. It comes from the Latin word folium, which means the leaf of the tree. And in the absence of a term for thin, very thin materials this term folium or folia has become established over time to mean thin materials. We all know of medieval folios that are made up of bound folio pages, and medieval goldsmiths having placed very thin gold foils under stones which they mounted to illuminate their inner brilliancy. So you see, film has something to do with light, with optical effect. It is about perception, it is also, when we think of folios, ultimately relevant in the reading of Niko’s art. Thus, in this exhibition the thin film or foil, the glass, and the reflective metal convey their entire, broad potential based on optical effects.
The ones in front of it, us the beholders, are going to be changed by looking through, by reflecting, not only in the one-to-one form, but also in the mirroring of a hue that scurries past us, in front of it, but also the behind; the space, just the spatial film, is clearly changing in the respective perception by means of filtering and reflection. Hence one can therefore look at seeing, viewing from two sides because the work also has an optical function; we will soon hear this again when it’s about the exhibition setup. From the very beginning Niko has, on the basis of this foundation in photography, which he, however, did not practice in an architectural office by chance, occupied himself with these components of space, light, and film.
In a very revealing preliminary discussion Niko mentioned quite casually that he would actually like to invite the visitor to a “walk through a large, opened sketchbook.” This I found a totally plausible image. And I looked at the exhibition earlier, it’s a hundred percent true. You see an overview of his work, a real retrospective that basically documents all forms of involvement with these three components. It is not a question of genre terms, not about installation, not about light art, and not about finished, concluded works, but about process, what interests him and what he would like to silently discuss with us. A walk through a sketchbook, sure, the sketch is something jotted down, tried out, improvised, waiting for us in the space—the German word Spaziergang (walk) comes from spatium, space—there we arrive again at the basic concept, and the book in which the sketches are located is composed of folios.
Niko shows us what he has developed along these terms in his artistic work thus far, and that the process of his confrontation is not complete. This is attested to by the term sketch, the improvised, the open-minded, and also, in a sense, the playful, which is also an important component in his work. So what can you expect by walking through this show? It’s only me now who is between the exhibition and you. I don’t want to keep you away much longer from the enjoyment. As I said, an opened sketchbook can be expected in every room, a book whose entries all revolve around this major theme of space and its perceptions altered by aesthetic means. In this context, I would also like to associate photography, from which Niko comes, with the old-fashioned concept of Lichtbildnerei (composing of light). It fits perfectly because you will see that light becomes the material as the works radiate their colorfulness, their intensity into the space, and thus they change the enclosure of the room. So when you, in this wonderful enfilade look back then you will see that each of these rooms, oriented towards each other, appears in a different tone of white. This is not due to the lighting but rather to the works that change the lighting.
We will, and this leads us back to his works in the public space, realize that specifically the works of Niko, which he shows us here, work with a fourth concept. Namely the viewer, without whom in this case it would not work at all. And not just as a beholder—every work of art needs a beholder, which is, of course, banal—but his art needs a partner. A partner who is ready to deal with these questions he poses, with these phenomena, which he shows us this, with these effects he produces. This is something beautiful, I can promise you, and it is something very stimulating. We walked through the exhibition, I believe, for ten minutes, and I changed my concept of the speech completely, because the impression was so phenomenal, it inspired me to different thoughts than I had before. So we go into this exhibition and you will already see in the first room the leitmotifs that have accompanied Niko throughout his work. You can see a minute reproduction of a design drawing of lenses, an optical instrument that is, of course, very central for the acquisition, concentration, and transmission of light, and in this first space you will also encounter the large-format film of the ground glass taken from photography. You will find out in the blue box that a swiftly suspended blue film not only changes the room, not only emits vibrations, and not only plays with itself, because by overlapping, overlaying, and folding a whole spectrum of blues appear—that is, from a very simple blue, in the truest sense of the word, to the tripled blue by triple superimposition—but you will also see that we see differently when we look into this momentum, or when we look at it from the outside. And always keep the room in view. How is space changed by these works? Then a room follows in which various techniques and works are shown. One of my favorite works is Alle meine Lieben (All my loved ones), small mounted blue discs that act like a group portrait of the blue family, and like filter discs in themselves, in their small format, they produce great optical effects. This is somewhat similar to the blue glass spheres sitting on a wall. If you look at them you will quickly come to the same association as I do. These are cupping glasses that have deprived the wall of the blue; you cannot imagine it otherwise. It is so convincingly solved and looks so fantastic that it cannot be otherwise. These cupping glasses were placed on the wall and they pulled out the blue. You see films which hang like maps on racks in the classroom, textured silver and gold foil that as a result of the slight movement that every visitor creates, naturally, causes the light to reflect in a flash-like manner, but also takes up your reflection in the process. As I said, not in the one-to-one image, but in the absorption of the “incarnation” of the clothes, the clothes’ tones, which then disappear again. So they are in a sense display boards, display boards of optical movement, if you so wish. Demonstration objects that, hence, exist only by a moving viewer.
In a fourth room that I find to be a particularly beautiful work, you will see that something I just asked and researched earlier but didn’t find anything, that Koliusis—the name in Greek originates from fishery—that Niko has also gone among the fishermen, more specific, color fishermen, and has caught blue. Blue that was caught in a net as if he had dragged a solidified piece of the deep blue ocean on board or as if a slice from the sky or the blue moon had just not hit his head, but was caught in the net. Fishing with the color blue. In the end, I did not know at all, it is fantastic, that one would find a small room within the room consisting of a frame whose walls are films—In this series of framed films, foils are stacked one above the other, folded, and very similar to the works you will see right at the entrance. And through this space of foils, through this camera—photography evolved from the Camera Obscura. Here one could basically speak of the Camera Magnifica, which intensifes something, namely the beams of light falling through it—there, his works in the public space, that is, the works I discussed earlier, and a few others shown by a beamer. And through this refraction through the film, it seems very alienated in a way, but also extremely aestheticized. You have, on the one hand, the recognizable moving motif of these recordings, but on the other, because it is a four-sided film space, a radiation which appears purely abstract, gliding over the wall like scurrying dancing forms. You can look forward to an immensely deep impression going through the exhibition without these blue attitudes of the art historian.
The works of Niko do not want to provide answers to any questions, but they want to stimulate the senses and this really in the best of ways. They want to stimulate by their play with light, shadow, space, and their titles—the works’ titles are also an important element. When we say we walk into a sketchbook, then I can only recommend taking the works as reading material, as silent but at the same time eloquent conversation partners, as stimulants in seeing and perceiving. The works are not alone, and perhaps not even as I have suggested, primarily related on the important notions of space, light, and film, but rather very centrally on you as a walker through space and a beholder. Browse through Niko’s large sketchbook and enjoy a dialogical, highly aesthetic art, which quite strongly counts on you as a sensitive partner. Thank you Niko, for the great exhibition and an enjoyment of art to all of us.
Translation from the German: Dr. Bhesham Sharma and Alix Sharma-Weigold