The sun as the source of life is the focus of Katharina Sieverding’s installation for her exhibition Worldline 1968–2013 at Schloss Moyland. It ‘shines’ on the end wall of the central space flanked by two side rooms: a layout echoing the reredos and nave aisles of medieval cathedrals that reflected the universe of their time.
Over a period of three years, Sieverding collected images of the sun released online by NASA, combining them into a film projection titled LOOKING AT THE SUN AT MIDNIGHT (blue) (2013). The glow of this sun – actually more reminiscent of the moon – bathes the whole space in a cold, unnaturally bluish light that evokes the dawn. Cast onto the room’s side walls in an uninterrupted stream by four projectors, other photographic images flicker through the space, creating an almost cosmic atmosphere. Many of these pictures are familiar from Sieverding’s work: huge self-portraits from the Transformer series (1973); pictures of actions at the Dusseldorf Academy where Sieverding studied; modernist architecture; images from China; Sieverding as a sexy diva with a glass of milk in her hand under the slogan ‘THE GREAT WHITE WAY GOES BLACK’ and, again and again, her Kristallisationsbilder (Crystallization Pictures, 1992), the result of a blood test. Made over the course of the artist’s career since 1968, these works have long since entered the canon of contemporary art. Sieverding selected them to fit loaded political topics (nuclear threat, violence, pollution), subjecting some to further processing while others, like the Kristallisationsbilder, were simply reused. What they all have in common is an attempt to get behind the surface, like x-rays, taking a deep look at buildings, bodies and media images. The projection at Schloss Moyland heightens this approach, as the penetrating gaze becomes almost tangible in the space. At the same time, it is a retrospective examination of the artist’s own oeuvre to date and the historical period during which it was created.
But is it possible – as the title of the show’s central work suggests – to see the sun at midnight? Only, one assumes, by looking right through planet earth. And here Sieverding reaches the limit of her light-based method of analysis. This break is reflected in the most recent works in the show, SPIEGEL BOXES 1-14, INVITATION BOXES 1-13 and UNTITLED 1-10 (all 2013), presented in the two elongated side rooms. Each of the pictures shows two covers of the German news weekly Der Spiegel lying side by side on the top of a pile in a box, photographed with an almost dazzling crispness. Here, one encounters German history of the 1970s and ‘80s with a force that resists any attempt to penetrate it: atomic energy and the building of Brokdorf nuclear power station, the Cold War and Communism; but also the ‘Financial Wizard’ Herbert von Karajan, as the headline dubs him. The pictures, the words, the bright red of the layout – almost brutal in their impenetrability. The viewer’s eye glances off the surface of these images, as it glances off the sun. These pictures stare back at one evocatively. The black and white photographs in the second side room take a similar approach, arranging Der Spiegel covers thematically, in groups of four, via keywords including ‘terror’ and ‘art’.
Sieverding’s overall-impressive installation really does create a universe. It raises questions about the relationship between moving and still images; about their materiality with regard not only to the imagination, but also to the latest technical possibilities for projection; and, finally, about the processes by which images are made and the relationship between the resulting images and their viewers. In doing so, it puts most picture theories to shame.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell