“Light and language are not only the foundations for knowledge and perception, because they serve as the transmission and communicative usage at the same time. Light is a form of language, respectively a carrier of signs and codes. On the other hand language can serve as a construction principle for light, and light can appear as literal.” Brigitte Kowanz 2010
Austrian artist Brigitte Kowanz uses light from neons, reflections from mirrors and darkness itself to ‘paint’ a picture. Using neon light tubes to make words and sometimes what appears to be words, the resultant image is a codified one, a type of undecipherable language which can only be deciphered on another level.
What these scribbles actually mean for example, in Lighting (2007) and Volumen (2007) has to do with the meaning of language itself; the codification that words are used to describe something. And by scribbling a word which looks like a word one might have seen but actually isn’t and is just a scribble, introduces an ambiguity and a commentary on language and perception which is another layer of meaning compared to say the neon word sculptures of Joseph Kosuth, the ‘father’ of conceptual art.
The repetition of elements reflected in the glass, coming out from darkness, seen in Light Never Stays (2005), Lighting (2007) Morse Alphabet (2010) and others depicts the situation in our spectacle society; a place where signs and images dominate and these images, taken from reality have become more real than reality itself. A copy of the copy, appearing and disappearing at the speed of the latest mobile dual-core processor, they have overtaken reality to become a ‘simulated’, alternate reality.
As a conceptual artist, the starting point of Kowanz’s work was to take it a step further from what Kosuth had started with his use of neon phosphorescent colours, and the use of words that references itself to produce a play on the meaning of the word and what one sees.
Thus Kowanz’s neon lights are all white or varying shades of white, supremely contrasted with the dark background and her words are either scribbles that appear as words, or are undecipherable or have a fragmented, partial meaning. These meaningless words or scribbles relate to Kosuth’s view, that traditional philosophers ‘concerned themselves with the unsaid’ and that modern philosophers focused on the said because they knew that the unsaid was unsaid because it was unsayable.
In Kowanz’s view, her neon sculptures are signs that don’t say anything, since it is unsayable and it is part of the her codified, language.
Kowanz’s installations also make use of mirrors to achieve the multi-reflectional ‘copy of a copy’ effect and in the case of Now I See (2010) a warping effect to simulate the warping of our senses. Also, the surface of the outside glass facing the city creates a blurry effect in its reflections, as seen in Beyond Recall (2011) and together these portray the contemporary state of image induced illusionality that we live in.