Shells, membranes and safeguards
Light with zero calories, infrastructures beyond optimization and Esther Mathis. In many museums there are hidden rooms designed to filter light, and create perfect conditions for something far beyond optimal, common, or necessary – Art. Because art is more than natural and its environment requires well-tempered unnaturalness. This is something that light spaces masterfully allow. Intricate infrastructure is compassionate towards artworks, its functionality is declaring: I feel you, therefore I feel for you. This is the gateway to luxurious experience.
We are very empathic towards art, yet we don't like artificiality. In a labyrinthine-like floor plan of light spaces, the artificiality of conditions leaves a lasting impression. The hissing sound of metallic blinds, lowered to shield the sun and raised to counteract the shadows of clouds – the whistling scintillation of a breeze through slatted openings as temperatures rise and fall – the sound of light. Pure meditation.
Museum light spaces emit a metaphor of sensitivity. Harsh, unrelenting weather reigns outside, always changing and marking time. Inside is the dream space of calm artwork, where the necessary abstraction is needed for a new language to unfold. Light spaces serve as gowns, envelopes, and ever-softer membranes in order to achieve the ever-finer textures, to smoothen plaster, to refine paper or liquid paint. The embracing shell transforms the world into coloured pictures, into paintings hanging on walls, the vividness of the landscape into tapestry, movement into abstract compositions. Its function is to replace the sun with soft light and allow the world to live with symbolic icons. Unnoticeable, distant, protective – holding the outside world at bay.
This is the infrastructure of opulence. It is the infrastructure that cherishes luxury, yet understands abundance as a collective need and responsibility. Art in museum collections is an idol and a fantasy, a sumptuous display of objects that are supposed to move us, make us think differently, play with concepts or catapult us into transcendence.
Museums are decadent beings, reliant on public and private donors that spend copious amounts of energy, time and money in protection of artworks which are radical, precious, unique and always waiting to be discovered anew. They demonstrate the desire of human culture to go beyond the common, to break the boundaries, enter into total luxury, transcending the "naturalized" distinction between the necessary and unnecessary. They are places where gods live, places where the infinite manifests itself, where the uncompromising is overwhelmingly welcomed. This is how a museum culture gets created, a safeguard to our minds.
For the last four years, Esther has photographed and experienced the lightspaces of Aargauer Kunsthaus, Kirchner Museum, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Kunsthaus Glarus, Kunsthaus Zürich, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Kunstverein Konstanz, Macao Milano, Museum Folkwang, Hamburger Bahnhof, Palazzo Edison, Ritter Museum, and Kunsthalle Tallinn.