Gabriele Uelsberg, Direktorin Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn
The artist Rita Rohlfing does not make it easy for any observer or interpreter to ascribe her artistic endeavour to any one genre.
She is a passionate painter who engages in a dialogue with colour. She paints, without however producing paintings in the traditional sense. She is a sculptor creating monumental sculptures which nonetheless never seem to have a fixed shape and which project their volume not outwards but inwards.
She is an architect who always defines herself in space, which she structures and questions, but without creating fresh utilisable spaces, rather she reduces the space by spaces which are inaccessible.
The exclusive desire to fix the incomprehensible nature of space and universe in the two-dimensional system of a canvas ceased long ago to be enough for the artist Rita Rohlfing. Once she had taken the values of the classical picture to their extremes, and, by refracting, inclining and successively arching the flat canvas, extended her paintings into plastic space, the possibilities of the canvas picture were to a great extent consciously exhausted. From this it appears inevitable that since the mid nineties her work has acquired the firm tendency to abandon for good the constraints of the flat picture and to transpose the painting direct into space.
Since then Rita Rohlfing has constructed coloured spaces combining sculptural and pictorial elements in such a manner that each in its separate components heightens the other, creating a third element which is essentially space and colour. This insubstantial colour space is also evident in the last three installations to be found in various places.
In the Oberhausen production called transparenzen (‘transparencies’) Rita Rohlfing ran through the entire spectrum of her space creations. In the middle she installed her big ‘inaccessible’ space cube, inside which the observer encounters a mysterious colour corpus which he cannot fathom, far less enter. When looking at Farbraum (‘Colour Space’) the visitor perceives colour as lighter than the air surrounding him. The colouring, weightless and hardly bearing on the space structure, appears to thrust outwards. Like a captive colour mist, there surges an endlessly variegated red, virtually spilling out of the frame. As well as the various intensities of red encountered by the observer, the interior, constantly forcing itself outwards through the veil-like glass, reveals itself as space within space, suggesting a maze of colours and approaches.
Against this larger-than-life space cube Rohlfing places her space loop, which with its inner and outer elements, both reflective and dull, coloured and metallic, invite the observer to a relatively intimate view opening the space more fully and restoring some of its ‘accessibility’.
The third setting of this installation, AMBIVALENZ I/II (‘Ambivalence I/II’) consists of the grey pictures which with their monumental shapes and sloping edges recall earlier works; in a sense they put segments on to the wall surfaces, projecting the space inwards from the walls. Here the installation is also completed by those metallic-coloured pictures leaning on the wall and which appear to partly ‘protected’ by a frosted sheet of perspex from the room and its preconditions. Here again the room is extended into the wall and out from it into the surrounding space, thematic and clearly intelligible.
With her installation Rita Rohlfing occupied the room as a continuum and reconfigurated it as a constantly changing body of colour showing also varied and related tones. The spectrum found in Oberhausen is deliberately many-faceted and exhausts the possibilities of perception of the room by contrast as well.
In the Artothek in Cologne she exhibited her installation ANSCHEINEND ‘Apparently’, in which the dimensions of the tall room, where daylight enters only through a row of windows at the top, were very subtly altered and reproportioned. At the middle of the installation there was an aluminium cube on the floor, its upper surface in frosted perspex barely offering a view of something inside, coloured in various tones of red and showing angles shifting against each other. The contrast between the outer aluminium surfaces of the sculpture, where the smoothness permits reflection, and the blurred appearance of the space behind the pane especially catches one’s attention which moves inwards from the surface, towards the imagination. Rohlfing takes up the ambiguity of the material, contrasting her shining red cube with an aluminium frame which almost incidentally appears on the high wall of the room. One’s view of the sharply defined aluminium shape is however in turn ‘disrupted’ by a frosted perspex pane in a metal frame placed before it at a distance of 55 cm and which allows a glimpse behind it only if the observer himself changes position. The cooler grey blurs together with the subdued red into a colour harmony which ‘resonates’ through the tall room in the Artothek, forcing it into a flowing variation. Here, colour becomes a component of space, ceasing to be a physical condition or attribute. Through Rita Rohlfing’s installation the room acquires a quality of immateriality which diffuses from within the corpus into the observer’s very space, making it part of the installation itself.
As a contrast, in the Ludwig Forum für International Kunst (Forum for International Art) in Aachen, Rita Rohlfing developed an overall concept in which the architectural element expands without interruption from a spatial form into sulpture, giving rise to a three-dimensional but inaccessible spatial form. In this installation, called Zwielicht (‘Twilight’), Rita Rohlfing uses big sheets of matt-finish perspex to create an ‘exhibition room’ which however is not open for the observer to enter. Inside this inaccessible space there are tones of red and architectural elements discernible to the observer only in shadowy fashion and which, like a living organism of colour, appear to have a life of their own. The light shining through the two glass walls into the resultant space allows the colour to strike outwards through the frosted panes, bathing the anteroom of the installation in intense red. The work consisted of two room-sized panes of frosted perspex and a dividing wall, part of the structure which normally separates two rooms. In her installation Rita Rohlfing however creates the impression that between the two there is a continuous space stretching both ways. But there was no way to see inside, since in the work the transparency was reduced to vague shadows of variegated colours.
The spatial colour corpus of the installation becomes a sculptured whole before which the observer moves and which he nonetheless experiences as a mass encircling him. The red penetrates so forcefully into his space that he becomes part of the sculpture without being able himself to enter it. The concrete interior of the spatial colour structure is only vaguely discernible because, through the artist’s use of a further structural device in which she sets big coloured panels against each other within the space, any attempt to look inside is diverted and resolves itself as a harmony of red tones of different degrees of warmth. An exact colour concept results, which Rohlfing has precisely planned. The use of intense colours has facilitated the work’s light effect and its ‘radiation’.
‘Space, colour, light lose their individual meaning, appearing as ‘twilight’ which seizes us in its thrall.1’
The colour corpus of the Zwielicht (‘Twilight’) installation seems in its dimension and depth to be indeterminable. If the observer of Zwielicht (‘Twilight’) stands for some time in front of the resultant spatial colour corpus, he almost becomes a part of it, while it in turn continuously changes in substance and aspect. Further, he is imperceptibly ‘absorbed’ into this imprecisely perceived interior with its refractions and seeming paradoxes, which takes over not only part of his awareness but also spreads into his whole thinking, while the eyes look for an answer. This insubstantial colour space created by Rita Rohlfing is admittedly an almost hermetic and selfsufficient mass, but in the perceptive process it becomes an open if not physically accessible continuum in which the observer almost becomes a component whose space is penetrated by the colour and deep into which his seeing and thinking both plunge.
This symbiosis of seeing and thinking, awareness and reflexion, is a central theme in Rita Rohlfing’s artistic work. It is a theme which she addresses through painting and interior architecture in constantly renewed and astonishingly fresh installations, engaging the observer in the continuum of experience.
Gabriele Uelsberg, director of Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn, Germany
1 Gabriele Teuteberg, Rita Rohlfing – Zwielicht, in: farbecht (‘colour-fast’), Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen 2003