Herbei ein Licht! 
Curated by Declan Clarke & Paul McDevitt
Lismore Castle Arts: St Carthage Hall

In 1787 during his travels in Italy, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in his position as celebrated author, was taken on a torchlit visit of the Vatican museum. Goethe became excited by the possibility of focusing on single art objects, visually removed from other objects in the vicinity and without the blanket illumination of a fully lit room. Drawing on this instance, recounted in his Italian Journal (1817), Herbei ein Licht! presents a group exhibition of 18 German artists responding to the themes inherent in Goethe's most influential work, Faust.

Faust Part I was published in 1806 and had an immediate impact on German, and European, literature at the time. Combining traditional folklore with a very contemporary mindset, Goethe radically considered the relationship between science and faith, passion and power in an epic hybrid of play and poem. The work greatly influenced all German writers who followed him, and produced a series of interpretations across European culture in a variety of media, such as Mihail Bulgakov's Master and Margharita and F.W. Murnau's hugely influential film adaption from 1926. A complex story, Faust Part I, centres around a bet made by Mephistopheles with God that he can lure his favorite human, Faust, away from righteous pursuits. Faust Part II, published in 1832, the year of Goethe's death, expands the scope of the story further. No longer is the battle for Faust's soul the focus of the narrative, but rather the question of politics, ethics, and philosophy that sculpt society as a whole.

In Herbei ein Licht!, Lismore Castle Arts: St. Carthage Hall, visitors will be offered an experience, directly influenced by Goethe's torchlit visit. A group exhibition of works relating to Goethe's Faust by leading contemporary German artists is installed in a completely dark room, all light sources removed and the wall painted black. The gallery will only be open to one viewer at a time. Visitors will be provided with a single candle and encouraged to navigate the darkened space and find their own path through the works, thus accentuating the intimate nature of the exhibited works and imparting a different viewing experience each time. 

Most of the artists are exhibiting in Ireland for the first time and include internationally renowned artists as John Bock, Thomas Zipp, Andy Hope 1930, Alicja Kwade and Thomas Kiesewetter. The exhibition includes site-specific pieces, such as Claudia Weiser's large-scale wall work, and an intermittent soundtrack provided by Markus Selg.

The majority of the exhibited works have been made specially for Herbei ein Licht! which brings together the most comprehensive group exhibition of contemporary German Art yet staged in Ireland.


Herbei ein Licht!
Cristin Leach, Sunday Times, 11th September 2011

The title translates as "Bring a light!" but you don't, in fact, have to bring your own to this exhibition of 18 German artists. A silver candlestick from the nearby castle is handed to viewers, who must enter one at a time to guide themselves by flickering flame around the show. Inspired by Goethe's Faust and his torch-lit visit to the Vatican Museum in 1787, the curators Declan Clarke and Paul McDevitt have engineered a black box, as opposed to white cube, venue in which to view art. Much of the work was made for the space (a darkened Victorian church hall), including Cornelius Quabeck's Cutting Edge Ad, a slashed painting of a poodle with unexpectedly reflective eyes, and Thomas Helbig's woode carving Mir Hams' Ja. Alicja Kwade's photograph of lit matches falling is wonderful in this environment, but it difficult to really see Vorschlag 3, Claudia Wieser's paper wall-work. Still, a hugely enjoyable experience with more than mere novelty value.

Cristin Leach
Sunday Times
11/09/11


Herbei ein Licht!

Morag Asmundssen, Critical Belfast – winter 2011

Artists Declan Clarke and Paul McDevitt claim this show is "one of the most comprehensive group exhibitions of contemporary German art yet staged in Ireland" and have chosen to structure this exhibition around Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust. Further inspired by Goethe's torch-lit visit to the Vatican museum in 1787, the exhibition can only be viewed by candlelight and only one visitor is permitted entry to the gallery at a time.

In short, this meant that after a considerable journey to Lismore I had to wait in line with other expectant visitors; this being the south of Ireland that meant in the rain. So, was it worth the wait? When I eventually got in an invigilator handed me a lit candle before closing the door and leaving me to venture into the gallery alone. The first and only thing I could see in the blanket darkness was another candle in the distance. On closer look, as my own reflection came into view, it became apparent that I was looking into a mirror. More precisely, I was looking at a work by Adrian Lohmüller. A seedy arrangement befitting the vanity table of a cross-dressing psychopath.

Next to this are the smooth and subtle contours of an exquisite relief of a Germanic looking town cast in plaster flicker captivatingly; Gitte Schäfer's "Cabra" is a perfect work for viewing by candlelight and the merits of Goethe's enthusiasm for viewing art by candlelight are abundantly apparent. Another successful relief that would fall into this category is Helbig's "Mir Hams' Ja", a wooden portrait looking uncannily like Rupert Murdoch, covered in thick trails of silver paint. It's eyes are clapped tightly shut as if protecting itself against the painted assault.

Vast oddly shaped shadows crawl up the wall as one turns to a small, plinth mounted sculpture by Thomas Kiesewetter – one of only three objects in the exhibition. Considering that Kiesewetter's work frequently dwarfs the viewer, being able to tower over the sculpture and see it from all angles feels like an intriguing reversal.

But what does this all mean? Though the majority of the works were produced specifically for the exhibition, the significance of the Goethe themes seem less important than the works themselves. As such, the show doesn't have a pronouncedly curated feel and one wonders how positive a factor this is. There does remain a sort of devilish theatricality as evidenced in the impish faces looking back at you in the paintings of Matthias Dornfeld and Bernd Ribbeck, or the scarlet alien coldly gazing down from the Andy Hope 1930 work, "Wonder". Also arresting is the sinister glimmer of the poodle's eyes in the – admittedly Faustian – "Mephisto" by Cornelius Quabeck, which are recalled later on the way to exit the gallery in the crazed eyes of Klaus Kinski in "Faust", a collage by John Bock - almost too well hidden in a blacked out window alcove.

While many of the works tend to throw back the candle's glow in reflection, most notably in Gregor Hildebrand's cassette tape painting, other works such as Claudia Wieser's monumental "Vorschlag 3" encouraged a more thorough viewing - a wall papered series of staired interiors that seem to extend the potential and the obscured architecture of the space while alluding to the nearby Lismore Castle, which hovers over the town. It also underscores the spectral, eerie nature of the exhibition the longer you spend there.

What at first appears a scattered collection of dislocated works, over time in the isolation of the space become gelled through the darkness, the theatrical stop start soundtrack by Markus Selg, and the overall pervading sense of the unheimlich shared by the works. An unusual and haunting exhibition that remained with me through the rainy journey home.

Morag Asmundssen is a freelance writer, curator and blogger and is currently a PhD research fellow at Goldsmith's College London