“More Light”

On JoJo Tillmann’s light-objects

By Gerhard Charles Rump

Let light come on stage – or aren’t all the figurative arts concerned with light, anyway? Especially in painting? Wolfgang Schöne published his authoritative book “Über das Licht in der Malerei” (On light in painting) many years ago, and one can, indeed, come to such a conclusion from what he wrote. But painters have to take a detour. Colours are matter, which is also perceived as light. But it isn’t light, it only depicts light. And colour isn’t a property of objects (like form is), but only the reflection of light of certain wavelengths, depending upon the texture of the surface.

Glass painting is the exception. The stained glass painters have, since mediaeval times, used light for the diaphanous character of their church windows, also to theological ends, but of course to magnificent effect. In the 1960s, after a foreplay by, among others, Moholy-Nagy (“Light-Space-Modulator”) in the Twenties the “indirect”, the detouring work with light had an end: Artists worked directly with light – Julio Le Parc, Heinz Mack, Günter Ücker, Dan Flavin, to name just a few. “Physical” light has since become an undisputed means of art, be it a sole subject, be it as an agent embedded in a pictorial superstructure, like in the backlit Cibachromes by Jeff Wall.

JoJo Tillmann works with light in similar contexts. His light-objects, however, are not built like backlit advertising posters; rather they are made from different layers from C-prints, foils and perspex, held together by aluminium frames. Their box-like character, the step into the third dimension becoming subject-matter here, gives it the special quality of an object. So the light active in the work of art – which, in the newer works, usually comes from several fluorescent tubes, which may vary in length – is specifically taken out of the everyday context of the surrounding light. In this way light becomes free to work for the “pictorial function”, the two intersecting “spaces” forming a broken symmetry, to accentuate different zones, so to say.

The fluorescent tubes produce a light akin to daylight (“cold” artificial light of 6500° K), like the ones used in your friendly neighbourhood supermarket. It stands for clarity of appearance, as the “warm” artificial light (3200° K) is, according to JoJo Tillmann, “too dirty”, too yellow. It has to be fluorescent tubes, because, given the wanted compactness of the construction and the equally wanted visual compactness reducing heat is of prime importance.

So we stand in front of a highly differentiated object of perception. The viewer, willing to begin a dialogue, will delve into the light-space and will go through an experience of de-focalization, which will suddenly let him find himself in the middle of the imagined space. As there isn’t any fixed vanishing point, or point of rest, like in a painting executed applying the rules of central perspective, he will understand that it is he himself, or the “spirit”, his mind, is this point of rest.

Here we find a reflection of relativity and quantum mechanics, which have succeeded our old, fixed Newtonian view of the world, without having been able to be as graphic, as concrete. And so the light-objects by JoJo Tillmann, too, make the viewer existentially insecure as to understanding directions and dimensions in or of space – a constant source of fascination. “More light!”, one is tempted to say. Please – it’s within art itself.

Translated by the author