Brigitte Kowanz (1957 – 2022) embraced light as her primary artistic medium, exploring its diverse qualities and manifestations through objects, installations, spatial interventions, and expansive environments. Utilizing illuminants like neon, LED, and fluorescent cables, Kowanz’s works from the 1980s onwards delved into the intricate relationship between light and space. Her art allows viewers to perceive light as a distinct phenomenon, as a medium for conveying information and as the very guarantor of information itself.

“I encounter light as an autonomous medium. But what is light? Light makes everything visible, yet itself remains invisible. Light is language. Light is a code. Light is information. Light is what we see. Everything we see and know, we know through light. Through my installations, I am trying to make light itself visible and conceivable.” – Brigitte Kowanz.

Another Place Another Time, 2000 | Fluorescent tubes, fluorescent paint, acrylic glass, lacquer | 140 x 140 x 20 cm

Brigitte Kowanz

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Dimension (left) Situation (right), 2000 | 180 x 70 x 20 cm each | Fluorescent tubes, fluorescent paint, acrylic glass, lacquer

Brigitte Kowanz

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Her light sculptures, infused with poetic meaning, often incorporate handwritten texts or codes. Another Place Another Time (2000), for instance, features a square acrylic glass panel illuminated by fluorescent tubes. The work’s title is materialized in the acrylic panel through a laser cutting procedure that plastically renders the words in Morse Code. This installation fills its surroundings with a cool, blue-toned light, redefining the relationship between the artwork, its viewers and the environment they are both situated in. In this chain of perceptual dependency, the work consistently constructs new spaces and temporalities, always anchored in the coincidental. This aleatory and ephemeral character is also a material element of the work itself, present in the unforeseen trace of the electrostatic charge left after the removal of the protection foil that initially covered the acrylic surface. Kowanz captured this unique and almost painterly moment through a fixating layer of varnish, thus materializing the immaterial. In addition, the piece invokes the feeling of being transported to another place in another time, implying a sense of nostalgia and need for an escape, akin to immersing oneself in the virtual realms of the internet.

Kowanz’s art consistently mediates the artwork, virtual spaces, and physical exhibition spaces through the use of light. This approach is evidenced in her 2021 piece, titled Another Time Another Place, which was conceived for her last museum exhibition, ISTR at Schlossmuseum Linz. The work integrates an aluminum strip with a Morse code sequence, a fluorescent cable, and an iPad that visually and audibly replicates the same code — an integration of various sensory experiences. The coincidental elongation of the fluroscent cable transmitting information from one end to another becomes a spatial drawing, contouring not only the structure of the artwork itself, but also that of the space it engages with.

Lichtverschmutzung (Light Pollution) (Green), 2021 | Lightbulb, cable | Variable Dimensions

Brigitte Kowanz

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In Lichtverschmutzung (“Light Pollution”) from 2021, Kowanz references Joseph Beuys’ iconic Capri-Batterie (1985). Beuys’ work was a conceptual piece featuring a yellow light bulb connected to a lemon, symbolizing a union of natural and artificial energy. Drawing inspiration from this, Kowanz’s piece connects two black light bulbs with a fluorescent cable. Unlike Beuys’ work, which was designed to emit light from the bulb, Kowanz’s piece refrains from direct illumination. Instead, the visible light stems solely from the yellow fluorescent glow of the cable, subtly  drawing attention to the nature of light as an information carrier, playing with the concept of light that flows from one point to the other.

Her 1994 work, Licht is wat men ziet (“Light is what we see”), does not only mark an important point in Kowanz’s career, but exemplarily emphasizes the analogous relationship between light, information, and language.  Starting in the early 1990s, she began incorporating power strips with glow lamps into her art, a technique prominently used in this piece. For the first time shown in the dark, the glow lamps in this work spell out its title in Dutch, symbolizing the correspondence between light and language through an absolute poetic tautology, in which light literally illuminates the structure of language, while language literally illuminates the structure of light. Finally, this linguistic declaration stands as a manifest for Kowanz’s working method, a method often described as conceptual poetry, by embodying both a calculated, logical disposition,  and a symbolic glimmer of hope.

About the artist

Brigitte Kowanz (1957-2022), was an Austrian artist and educator. She studied at the University of Applied Arts Vienna from 1975-1980 and her work has been shown at different venues across the globe. She participated in the Venice Biennale, the Sao Paulo Biennale, the Sydney Biennale, and the Cairo Biennale. Additionally, her work has been shown at the Fondation Beyeler, the Hayward Gallery London, the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, the MACRO Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma, and the Shanghai Art Museum, among others. Extensive solo exhibitions of the artist have taken place at the Museum Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich, the Secession Vienna, and Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig in Vienna.

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ABOUT Brigitte Kowanz

Brigitte Kowanz (1957-2022) is known for her evocative sculptures, installations, and environments with a decidedly non-physical medium: light. Since the early 1980s, she has been exploring both the utilitarian and conceptual resonances of light with neon tubing, LED bulbs, aluminum, mirrors, and text. She draws upon such multidisciplinary sources as advertising, architecture, film, music, and the history of painting for inspiration. Through her use of mirrors, Kowanz aims to break down the boundaries between art and life, drawing viewers into her illuminated visions. Kowanz studied from 1975 to 1980 at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. She has been Professor of Transmedial Art there since 1997.

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