The small Kunstverein Göttingen occupies the former home of physicist, mathematician and aphorist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742–99). In his current exhibition at the Kunstverein, Hotel Absence, Fiete Stolte does not refer explicitly to this history, but his objects and installations reflect on human perception as a cultural construct by alluding to its metaphors and parlance, such as ‘critical reflection’ and ‘change of perspective’. This in turn evokes the stylistic techniques, such as inversion, which the Enlightenment philosopher and author Lichtenberg so impressively deployed in what have since become popular sayings, such as, ‘the American who first discovered Columbus made a bad discovery.’
The base of the small pyramidal sculpture Me (2012) was affixed to the wall near the entrance to exhibition. Its forward-facing pinnacle opening towards the viewer, the work reveals itself to be a zograscope with a mirror built into it in such a way that the viewer who looks inside peers into his own eye. Rather than directing the observer’s gaze towards content concealed within the work, then, this piece turns the viewer’s gaze back to his own apparatus of perception and underlying perspective, optically and otherwise. It thereby frustrates one of the viewer’s fundamental expectations of the artist and the artwork, which Bruce Nauman stated in exaggerated terms in the title of his 1967 work The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths. Stolte locates this truth not in a different place, but in the act of viewing itself. The representation of the visually isolated eye in the box appears neutral, sober, and even scientific – and nonetheless belongs only to the specific observer, who is scarcely able to regard himself without experiencing a bit of vanity.
Also shown here is the installation Eye (2014), which was first presented by Sassa Trültzsch and Helga Maria Klosterfelde Edition last year at abc – art berlin contemporary and likewise takes up the motif of the eye. Here the artist has installed a sort of booth where visitors can sit and be photographed. In place of the usual mirror, this work has a camera with a wire structure in front of it so that visitors can position their eye at exactly the right distance. In the resulting photographs the camera lens is reflected in the pupil of the eye, while the sitter’s silhouette is in turn reflected in the camera lens. The image is highly symbolic and complex in its interleaving: the shadow of the self at the centre of one’s own gaze, the blind spot that only becomes visible when the act of observing is observed. At abc and at the opening in Göttingen, the installation attracted keen interest, but after a few days in Göttingen it had become an abandoned relic, an unused physical test set-up – or was it just the soberingly terse prop of an inherently fascinating minor magic trick? Two photographs of eyes have been left behind and are still lying around, lending concrete meaning to the title Hotel Absence.
Shown in Göttingen for the first time is the room-filling installation Sun Moon (2015). In contrast to the other works, it foregoes the glib ‘aha!’ effect of unexpected self-reflection, preferring instead to try its hand at reorganizing the cosmos. In a room lined with gold-coloured mylar foil, two projectors beam two videos onto a steel sheet lying on the floor, such that they are reflected in a screen facing them: the sun and the moon, each reflected in the surface of a lake. Recorded separately, the two are combined into a single image here, as if they were moving towards each other of their own accord. This movement culminates in the sun and moon converging to form not the darkness of a solar eclipse, but rather an intensely bright spot. While crossing the room, the viewer’s body covers the projections of one celestial body, then the other, such that only one orb is visible at a time.
The observer moves on earth, the earth revolves around the sun, and the moon revolves around the earth. Human perception is, of course, attended by wishes and feelings, by patterns of perception and thought. In this post-internet era of Wikileaks and speculative realism, it appears countercyclical, even academic, to assure oneself of the flexibility of one’s own thinking and thereby to check one’s own subjective position and the perspective that is linked to this position by orienting oneself to celestial bodies or to one’s own eye. But this is precisely what Stolte’s works offer in an authoritative and engaging manner – almost like Lichtenberg, who once astutely observed, ‘I am often of one opinion when I am lying down and of another when I am standing up.’
Translated by Jane Yager