A white plume of smoke rises between two panes of glass, creeping along the transparent surface as if seeking to pierce through it and take it over—in searching for a possibility of escape. But no matter how hard it tries, how often it changes shape, it remains trapped between the panes. Argentinian artist Miguel Rothschild had the temporary smoke installation specially produced for his current exhibition Geist at Galerie Kuckei+Kuckei. In the manner of a moving image, it functions as both a spatial and tactile extension of the photographs in the room.
The six-part photo series Geburt eines Geistes [Birth of a Spirit], on the other hand, depicts the evolution of an ever-expanding cloud of smoke produced by a forest fire that shrouds nature in its white nothingness from photograph to photograph—even concealing it until hardly anything of it is visible anymore. At the same time, the sizes of the individual photographs change in proportion to the dimensions of the cloud of smoke. Similar to how the smoke conceals the landscape, the various-sized burn holes deny us a clear view of what lies underneath. In perforating and thus destroying fragments of the image surface, Rothschild not only forcibly intervenes in his work but also alters its content to such an extent that he manipulates our view of it by shifting the focus toward the white, randomly created shapes formed by the smoke throughout the series. Underscored therefore is what’s destroyed and what’s destructive, not an intact, blossoming nature. At the same time, he repeats what the photographs depict: he burns holes in the photos only in spots where landscape would appear—thus giving the forest fire a tangible quality and ultimately allowing us as viewers to take part in it.
With the burnings, Rothschild also forsakes the two-dimensional image area. The paper is riddled with holes, the burned edges rising upward, expanding outward dimensionally and also allowing a view into the openness, the uncertain. In his practice of burning, the artist always follows the forms of nature in the photograph—thus creating regular, at times completely wild and mysterious shapes burned into the paper. It is the interplay between (image) reality and fiction that fascinates him so much. Only chance knows what the holes will look like in the end—they are an expression of an unpredictability, which also applies to the element of fire.
This unpredictability and arbitrariness is also manifested in the forms of the clouds of smoke: both in the photographs and in the room installation. As if by magic, the nebulous structures spread over the landscape, suggesting something sinister and threatening. With the title “Geist” [Spirit], the artist captures the idea of a ghostly presence familiar to us from different narratives and traditions from fairy tales, mythology, or religion. The image of a natural spirit as described by the religion of Animism is of particular importance to Miguel Rothschild: according to this belief, every natural element (regardless how small or insignificant) possesses an inherent soul, life breathed into it.
Although we as viewers may or may not identify with this image, we situate the mysterious being of the spirit on a metaphysical, irrational level. Or, as Beatrice von Bismarck describes: “What Miguel Rothschild surveys in his work is nothing less than the space between heaven and earth… the realm between the sacred and the profane, the divine and the earthly.” (See Beatrice von Bismarck, “Falling and Pleasing: Between Heaven and Earth,” in Miguel Rothschild, eds. Hannes and Ben Kuckei (Ostfildern, 2015), 171–76).
Miguel Rothschild was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1963. He lives and works in Berlin. His works are featured in numerous public collections and museums in South America, Europe, and Asia including the Berlinische Galerie, Berlin; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; Malba, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano, Buenos Aires; MAMBA, Museo de Arte Moderno, Buenos Aires; DZ Bank Art Collection, Frankfurt; CGAC, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela; Jewish Museum, Berlin; Museum Foundation Carmignac, Porquerolles; Hermès Art Collection, Paris and Rin Art Foundation, Tokyo. In 2019, works by Miguel Rothschild and others will be on view at the Deutschen Hygiene Museum in Dresden, Schlossmediale Werdenberg in Switzerland, as well as at Hangzhou Triennial of Fiber Art at the Zhejiang Art Museum in China. His solo exhibition at the Maison de l'Amerique latine in Paris will open in October 2019.
Text: Larissa Fischer