Annette Sauermann on Giving Light Weight in Architecturally-Inspired Sculptures
More often than not, light is taken for granted. As it enters the eye and allows us to see the world around us, we forget that there exists as an entity all its own, beyond its ability to transmit information. Working with light as a material, German sculptor Annette Sauermann’s works exist as physical explorations of the relationships between spectrality and darkness, visual weightlessness and mass.
Born in Essen, Germany in 1957, Sauermann studied visual communication in Aachen. In the 1990s, she began to cultivate her practice of working with light with her “Light Traps,” which collected daylight from windows through paper filters supported by a thin wire frame. Since then, in addition to her individual artistic practice, she has also worked on several public commissions around Germany, including Doppel-Spirale (2000/01), an infinitely looping fountain, electrified by night via fluorescent tubes that run through the water installed in the courtyard of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in Berlin. Another one of her public works, Netzwerke des Wissens (2015), can be found at the Fraunhofer Institutes for Laser and Production Technologies in Aachen, which feature beams of light dancing on the buildings’ façades, controlled by data traffic over the institute’s computer networks.
Beyond engaging with the tradition of “light sculptors” such as Dan Flavin or Robert Irwin, who used ready-made fluorescent tubes to explore composition and luminescence, Sauermann’s work finds alignment with Minimalist Donald Judd’s engagements with space. Her sculptures—two of which are featured in C. Grimaldis Gallery’s “Summer ’15” show in Baltimore—also capture the ambient light of their environments, employing materials such as ray-catching acrylic sheets or translucent paper filters laid through concrete structures. Rather than only being made of or emanating light, Sauermann’s pieces—from wall-mounted compositions to larger-scale room-filling installations—explore and capture the presence of light, itself. We recently spoke with Sauermann about the way she approaches her materials as avenues to help her viewers see the light.
Artsy: How do your materials reflect on the way you have been called a “light architect”—in other words, do you build sculptures of light or for light?
Annette Sauermann: I build sculptures for light—pieces that give light itself—and its changes—a visual presence. I developed this concept by building and observing my large, site-specific “light traps.” These installations were huge projection bodies in which the changing daylight showed its countless different qualities in colors and intensity.
Artsy: What influences the geometry and compositions of your work? Is there particular significance to the materials you use? How do you navigate the relationships among mediums like light filters and concrete?
AS: One important idea in my work is to find a balance between seemingly incompatible materials and to bring them into a relationship of equal significance in a new visual whole. For example, the light filter, as a very delicate and light substance, is just as important as the heavy concrete; it connects all concrete parts of a piece and keeps them in a kind of tension with each other.
In the process of working out a new piece, light as a “material” is always in focus, but there are also questions of architectural, structural, and optical conditions. I am very interested in the risk that emerges from combining substances that are assumed to be incompatible like light filters, concrete, acrylic, glass, or paper.
As far as a structural material, I want to use one that refers back to architecture—which concrete does. Concrete relates to these translucent substances in a precarious way. In combination, these materials, extremely different as they are, offer endless possibilities of perception of light to an active viewer.
Artsy: How has your academic background in visual communication shaped your approach to artmaking?
AS: By learning drawing and photography I learned to see, especially how light makes our environment visible. I realized that I often see what I expect by experience and not what really is, so I decided to work on this topic—especially related to light.
Artsy: Working in public and international contexts, do you use light as a universal way to convey meaning, information, and possibly even emotion?
AS: Yes—in particular regarding meaning and emotion because light is a universal phenomenon, independent of culture and language. In Netzwerke des Wissens, light has some different meanings: universal ones but also several based on the context as both Institutes work with laser light and numerous subject matters related to light.
“Summer ’15” is on view at C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, Jul. 1–Aug. 29