14. April 2016

Bettina Zeman

In preparation for the exhibition “The Virtual in the Concrete”, Rita Rohlfing studied the interior space of the Clemens Sels Museum Neuss very intently. Its architectural givens were to her an inspiration for a new site-specific concept that is designed as an installation in the garden room, as a projection in the foyer, as well as encompassing a selection of acrylic glass objects, mural works and photographs. By the well-calculated interplay that she has set up between her works, the artist has very impressively counteracted the architectural austerity, the weightiness and the closed-off look of the 1970s Deilmann building in favor of lightness, fleetingness and 3-dimensional depth.

The exhibition brings the different work groups together from Rita Rohlfing’s entire creative production. Yet these groups cannot be clearly marked off from one another; they rather flow into and mutually influence each other. In her art, Rita Rohlfing oversteps the boundaries of the genres she chooses so as to sound out those in-between places that defy any clear comprehension or conclusive definition. Her works repeatedly move along the new and different boundary lines between painting, sculpture and installation, between painting and photography, between photography and architecture.

For the foyer of Neuss’ Clemens Sels Museum Rita Rohlfing, for the first time in her work, has developed a projection. The artist was stimulated by the weightiness and construtive austerity of the staircase that dominates the entrance area. Onto the steps of this concrete volume she has projected a large-scale architectural image that, especially through its extreme worm’s-eye view, appears strange and enigmatic. In the projection, which in its dimension and chosen angle follows the architectural anatomy, it is not the use of color, but more the fine and multipart structure that offsets the severe form and visual rigidity of the staircase. By means of this specific intervention, Rita Rohlfing has seemingly — that is, virtually — contrived a visual interplay of lightweight and heavy, near and far, large and small, an effect that unfolds between reality and projection, between surrounding space and artwork.

The projection guides our eyes towards the four large-scale photographs on the foyer’s back wall, which captivate via their formal arrangement and sombre hue. The four smaller photos on the entresol she has likewise designed specifically for this exhibition. The artist had become intensely occupied with photography, above all in 2015, enhancing her art with an additional medium and opening new experimental possibilities within her oeuvre. Thus the photographs have the programmatic title of “s e e m i n g l y”, for the painting-like images disavow clarity, as also do her acrylic glass objects. The closer you approach the photographs, the more the tracks and light beams dissolve into multipart forms, structures and impressive chiaroscuro contrasts. The question as to what the depicted motif is, including the site and the material, remains unanswered and withdraws to the background in favor of an indefinable pulsating picture plane in which the viewer’s gaze becomes immersed and is lost.

Opposite these, the two works “metallica” and “untitled space” hold a dialogue with their surroundings by way of their clear, geometrical forms that comment on the constructive severity of the architecture. The square, asymmetrical work “metallica” — which the artist created just for this exhibit room — in its elongated form takes up the diagonals of the staircase construction, but only to contradict its static, heavyweight concrete with its own remarkable dynamism and lightweight placement on the wall. According to your standpoint and the angle of light, the pale color tone oscillates between a light gray and a delicate pink, while the aluminum panel’s velvety-matte surface optically loses its material weight. It seems to pulsate and, underscored at the same time by the fine shadowed edge, to float before the white shape of the wall. Just like “metallica”, the work “untitled space” calls for the viewer’s incessant shift of place and perspective but without overcoming the factors of irritation and uncertainty. By sanding-down the glossy lacquer paint that she had applied in many thin single layers to the aluminum support, Rita Rohlfing gave it a matte, velvety surface that, according to the lighting conditions, differs in its fine, openly porous structure as well as in the brightness and density of its coloring. Contrary to its formal clarity and severity, “untitled space” remains in a state of indefinability and constant variation, prompted by the oscillating gray color with its reddish shimmer as well as by the surface structure that evokes movement and openness. This piece stands exemplarily for the artist’s work group that, along with a rejection of right angles, directs the colored planes to gradate into narrow, sanded-down margins. Because of the deliberate breaks in perspective, these works of only 3 mm thick aluminum panels create the illusion of a sculpural materiality that is purely virtual. The viewer tries in vain to comprehend and resolve the optical puzzle: the visual interplay between fore- and background, one- and two-dimensionality, flat plane and space.

Rita Rohlfing has also actively taken on the architectural prerequisites and especially the layout of the garden room. For this room whose long window front opens onto the adjoining park, the artist has produced an interior environment with the title “APPARENTLY” made of acrylic glass and colored elements that reach formidably to a height of more than four meters and a width of just under two meters. By means of this artistic intervention in the site’s architecture, Rohlfing has transformed a window segment into a luminous colored space. In contrast to her acrylic glass objects on the opposite wall, the viewer can now immerse him/herself visually in the color volumes out of two different red hues, and do so from two sides — from inside and out. According to the visual angle and the incidence and intensity of the natural light — which also falls through the in-between space consciously left open — the effect of an imaginary three-dimensional space changes. Its color glows through the matte surface of acrylic glass and window pane as a diffuse red shimmer both indoors and outdoors. With her “APPARENTLY” installation, Rita Rohlfing has produced a remarkable color site in which virtual and real space coalesce and the division between interior and exterior space — between architecture and surrounding landscape — is optically suspended. Above all from the outside view, the work mirrors the natural environment. For according to the time of day, the weather conditions and the season, the work “APPARENTLY” is subject to a steady transformation in which the shift from light to shadow, just like the play of the leaves and the branches, impels the colors and forms to radiate and pulsate and sets them in motion. The further the viewer retreats from the work and steps back into the surrounding park grounds, the greater the color and formal unity becomes that Rita Rohlfing set up between artwork and architecture. Thus the slender rising panels and their orange-red color respond to the elongated forms of the Deilmann building, with its struts and embrasures, as well as to its characteristic red bricks.

As with all artworks by Rita Rohlfing, the placement of the viewer plays a central role in the installation as well as for the acrylic glass objects and the multipart work “AMBIVALENCE”. For according to position and perspective, the forms and colors change. The works are subject to a shift between sharp and unsharp, between materiality and immateriality, between appearing and disappearing. While in the frontal approach the tall red panels in the “APPARENTLY” installation are perceivable in their formal austerity and materiality, they seem to lose their haptic properties the more the viewer moves off to the side. Also in the course of the viewer’s changing perspective, the strong blue, the vivid violet or the greenish yellow hues fade, as it were, to a light gray and shiny white. With her diffuse color fields, Rita Rohlfing conjures up the illusion of flowing movement that divests the works of their clarity and tangibility, which is formulated solely in the viewer’s mind.

The outgoing coloring and the diversity of the color tones is what Rita Rohlfing offsets with the restrained hues and the still format of the mural work “AMBIVALENCE”. Which, with the linear severity of its two sharp-edged aluminum panels and their metal features, reacts to the architectural situation of the garden room. The three-part work is to be seen in the context of that work group whose minimalist forms are breached by an enigmatic aura. The large-scale, satin-finished acrylic glass pane in a metal frame overlaps parts of the monumental background form that, according to your standpoint, allows different views into and onto the wall design. By means of the closeness of the panels to each other, your view is guided to the elongated in-between space that, via the oppositely arranged edges, allows the two forms to step optically forward and backward, while once more there is an interchange between plane and space, between materiality and immateriality. The soft focus creates an imaginary rift in the wall that seems to open up an unknown beyond to the real architecture. Also with the wall piece “AMBIVALENCE”, Rita Rohlfing produces a quite diffused experience of a space that negates the feeling of safety and permanence.

As the works on exhibit exemplarily demonstrate, Rita Rohlfing’s works defy categorization and decipherment. At the heart of her oeuvre what prevails is more the intangible, the enigmatic and the mutable. The negation of stability can be read as a mirror of the present, which through its fast pace, transitoriness and uncertainty repeatedly demands a change of place and perspective in which the borderline between reality and virtuality becomes ever more indistinct. The exhibition “The Virtual in the Concrete” substantially sensitizes our perception and our feeling for power and the diverse effects of color, form and structure. The works suspend material boundaries and optical barriers and counteract real architecture. New visual angles open up to us, as well as surprising paths to experience in which seeing and thinking, the perception of, and reflection on, art come together.

in: Rita Rohlfing – Das Virtuelle im Konkreten/The Virtual in the Concrete, Ausst.-Kat./exh. cat. Neuss, Clemens Sels Museum Neuss, Dortmund 2016, S./p. 17-45