Egbert Steiner - Collector

Moving from photograph to sculpture? Or not?

What is the common ground between Gisela Stiegler’s “cube pictures” of 2004/05 and her current voluminous sculptures? Is it their development from surface to space, from sheet to solid? Or does the material feign something not actually contained in the work? What unites or separates the cube pictures, the graphite works on black canvas and the carved and shining – mostly black or white – expanded polystyrene reliefs and sculptures?

Stiegler departs from the photographic paper on which sophistically-staged still lifes were depicted in the form of painted geometric illusions. From “negative reliefs” scratched out of plaster surfaces, her path leads to carved and glossy painted polystyrene reliefs, taking the step from image to picture. The initially one-sided reliefs on glued polystyrene blocks correspond to the plane surface of photographic paper. In a next step, she departs from the plane surface, carving polystyrene sculptures which simultaneously support the planes wound around these spatial objects.

“Light is what we see” is the title of an exhibition catalogue of 1997 by Brigitte Kowanz, and Man Ray wrote in 1928: “You have to watch light at work. It is light that creates. I sit before a piece of light-sensitive paper and think.” These quotes describe an idea that Gisela Stiegler’s work also expresses. But her works are not uniform; she experiments, she probes the boundaries of her intentions using colour, substrate materials and transmitted and reflected light. The signature characteristic of her work, however, is her minimalist repertoire, which she skilfully varies: shining monochrome surfaces on two or three dimensional base material.

Shine occurs where the illumination is concentrated and the surface reflects like a mirror. Each point on the surface appears variably luminous depending on the viewing angle, and the light reflections change as the viewer moves.

This applies equally to Gisela Stiegler’s photographs, wall scratchings, polystyrene reliefs and polystyrene sculptures. Yet only her sculptures exploit the audience’s mobility in order to give the winding, carved surfaces maximum variation in representing the reflection, and thus the light.

The carving and painting produces the structured surface that reflects light. Stiegler is not primarily interested, as it might seem at first sight, in the weight or lightness of material, but in the possibility of causing light to represent – the volumes are an illusion. What is important is the winding, engraved and reflecting surface.

The viewer’s motion also becomes part of the picture in the graphite works that were created at the same time as the expanded polystyrene sculptures. Only as the viewer's position changes does the variability of the reflected light become visible.