6. September 2016

Sabine Elsa Müller

More fortress than castle, the formidable Hellenstein Castle stands high over the River Brenz, testimony visible from afar to its lasting endurance down through the centuries. And now, with it, stand six stainless steel slabs rise monumentally up from the grassy slopes. Just a stone’s throw away from the castle they, too, tower over the Brenz.

Rita Rohlfing chose her setting well. The view of the sculpture from the castle is free and unobstructed, with the details coming into focus as one comes closer. The uneven ground means that the number of the individual pieces that one can see is forever changing, for as one comes into view, another disappears. At times only four of the slabs are visible, at times five, and then, once again, six, all in a harmonious combination of color, form and rhythm, and all in continual flux. The initial sense of transparency and lightness is at such a contrast to the sheer size of the metal slabs that it sends shivers down the spine; the piece has a power greater than what one might expect. If we already knew that each steel slab weighs between two and two and a half tons, might we not hesitate before stepping between them?

The closer we get, the more our rehearsed responses slowly cease to be valid. The assumption that the blurred lines will soon disappear, and the contours and spatial relationships will become clearer, is dashed. The formation of the six powerful stainless steel slabs seems to completely disappear in the pulsating fields of color, to elude our grasp, to turn into something intangible and ephemeral. Reflected colored rectangles contract into one another the closer you get to them, casting completely new, unexpected reflections onto the grass, sky and approaching people.

On paper, the sculpture is anything but other worldly. Six stainless steel plates, each of them 18mm thick, are placed upright alongside one another, yet rather than being in a regular pattern or straight line they are positioned alternately in acute and obtuse angles. With a clear height of 250cm, the slabs have a width which varies between 437.5cm and 562.5cm, with the two sides of each having been finished in a different way. And that is the key: whilst the front side is painted with highgloss automotive paint, the backs are left almost in their original state. Almost, but not quite. These surfaces, the ones which one can see from the castle, have been electro-polished, so that their glimmering satin stainless steel surface has no color of its own, and instead becomes a reflective medium. These surfaces show nothing which is not already there, but do so in a manner that prompts reflection on our perceptual faculties.

The main thing, we might say, that these plates do is throw their bright colors into the mirrors behind. The colors scale from a light red to a violet, to a dark burgundy, all chosen from the wide selection of industrial colors available. The spectrum of colors creates a definite contrast against the complementary green of the grass. Are we looking at art against nature? Complicated, because the green of the meadow is already mixed with that of the plates as we see them. There is also a straight royal blue, like one might find in a child’s paint box. Red, green, blue- on clear nights the colors burning here are spectacular. Very intense, but never still, with blurred lines, looking different depending on where one is stood. Real, solid and close, whilst seeming very far away. The treatment of these surfaces causes an effect which is unclear, transparent and also distancing, creating an incredible illusion. As a viewer we want a part in this shifting and changing color, but we get little further than seeing the reflection of our own hands.

Because, of course, one cannot escape one’s own reflection. It is hardly possible to grasp the reflected image of reality here without also seeing oneself as a part of it. Whilst art in open spaces is often isolated and unrelated to its surroundings, “reflection” allows these two to meet. It shows us what is there, and shows us ourselves as a part of this. We experience ourselves in relation to what is around us, rather than as isolated individuals with blank stares at our mobile phones. And we experience this relationship as something which to a large extent we control ourselves, with the movements we make. As we walk around the plates, drawing closer to them and then heading back again, we are constantly changing our viewpoint and therefore the angle from which we see. This means we always discover something new. Our perspective is what creates the world, or at least, the world as we see it.

“reflection brings us into a typical moment of our time. The experience of a state of suspense, which no longer has any fixed point of certainty. In working between space sculpture and painting, art and nature it gives an unsettling impression of beauty and energy: It would be hard to find a greater contrast to the stone engraved with a claim to sovereignty inside the Hellenstein castle. The incredible sight of the sun breaking through the clouds as it sinks, and the colours spreading across the plates, lighting up together, leaves an unforgettable impression. A brief glimpse of an unending room, where, behind all of the changing shapes, nothing is lost.

Rita Rohlfing – reflection, in: Werk 13. Bildhauersymposium Heidenheim, Heidenheim 2013, S./pp. 47–50

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