C H R I S T I N A A U G U S T E S E N
BETWEEN OBJECT AND EVENT
by M A R I E N I P P E R
Natural light and our experience of colour are a motif of Christina Augustesen’s artistic oeuvre.
Augustesen’s works of art revolve around light, and she treats light as a material that is essentially immaterial and ephemeral but which can also assist in materialising shape, colour and spatiality. Through her use of materials and design, Augustesen continues a form of art which – since the second half of the 20th century – seeks to work up new materials such as Plexiglas, epoxy and other plastics, providing scope for simple and precise design. In the 1960s, the use of these new industrial materials resulted in a new minimalist idiom, nicknamed ‘Finish Fetish’, which was used to describe the attractive, cool, semi-technological industrial art that was particularly created in and around Los Angeles during the post-war years. Within this genre, artists explored light and colour as something that could materialise sculpturally and three-dimensionally, and an experimenting approach to the shape and colour-related qualities of these plastic materials challenged the formal delineation between painting and sculpture, between space and artwork.
Augustesen’s art embodies a visual arts tradition. The way in which she composes her works as a balanced encounter between colour surfaces is reminiscent of the American art movement ‘Colour Field Painting’, which found expression in the works of artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. ‘Colour Field Painting’ was a 1950s trend that attempted to make colour the painting’s subject in itself. This was manifested in the composition of vast panels of canvas that were visually experienced as vibrating, atmospheric surfaces. Augustesen uses the same technique in her works when she shields the coloured layers with opaque acrylic to create a sfumato effect that blurs the background colours by modulating them into a vibrating whole. The less transparent the acrylic material is, the more difficult it is for the eye to discern the panel edges, and the softer the experience of the transitions between the colours. The works are experienced as meditative and subtly pulsating with colour and light.
Augustesen not only relates to the art history of the post-war era, but her work involving colour and light is reminiscent of even earlier periods of art history: the painting techniques of the Renaissance for creating light and atmosphere in the picture surface, while evoking Danish modernism at the same time.
In the exhibition “Through the Spaces of Light” at the Bornholm Art Museum, Augustesen has deliberately created a number of works that engage in dialogue and interplay with two key artists of the museum’s collections: the Danish painters Edvard Weie and Niels Lergaard. Through a vertical composition of coloured acrylic, Augustesen uses her “Apertures” series as the basis for the dense areas and clearings that permeate Weie’s landscapes, and she explores the ability of the acrylic material to translate light, colour and depth through a three-dimensional modulation of colours. The same is true of the “Colour Fields” series, inspired by Danish painter Niels Lergaard’s horizontal compositions depicting the meeting of landscape, sea and sky. In both series of works, Augustesen reduces the motifs of Weie and Lergaard to atmospheric surfaces which – like clearings or openings, horizontal lines or sunsets – evoke a number of intermediate nuances and afterimages when we observe them over time.
Since the 1960s, artists have been interested to varying degrees in how we experience the world through our body and senses. Some have been inspired by phenomenology, a philosophical tradition interested in defining how human beings experience and acknowledge the world through both awareness and body. In the book “Being and Circumstance: Notes towards a Conditional Art”, from 1985, US artist Robert Irwin postulates a theory about the reciprocal dialectic or conditionality between a work and the world. In Irwin’s view, the primary task of phenomenological, site-conditioned art is to draw the onlooker’s attention to how a work is intertwined with the surrounding world and, thus, away from the issue of what is being seen to how it is seen. The crux of the matter is not the art object in itself, but the onlooker’s perception of it.
In a way, Augustesen’s works of art can be described as ‘site-conditioned’, to borrow a phrase from Robert Irwin, as the objects assimilate and draw the onlooker’s attention to the spatial conditions that arise at the specific site where they are being exhibited. Augustesen does not pursue the phenomenological work to the full, however, as her art is never reduced to pure sensation. Instead, her works insist on being simultaneously present as both object and event that express themselves over time. She does not perceive the boundary between the object and its context as something permanent in either the physical or the contextual sense of the word, but rather as a fluid line of demarcation, a border where two zones – art and the surrounding world – meet and are brought into play.
Augustesen describes her works as instruments which finely and exactly capture the works lingering on this border between object and event. The works clearly embody the nature of an object, but at the same time they communicate the conditions and situations that exist beyond the work: the exhibition space, the views, the changing daylight, the shades of colour created by the light and the atmospheric quality. In this way, Augustesen’s art enriches us with an experience – not just of the work of art in front of us, but of the world around us and our own sensation of it.
Marie Nipper, 2022
Abstract for the Exhibition Catalog for the exhibition "Through the Space of Light" at Bornholms Art Museum
LIGHT, COLOURS AND THE SHIFTING PLAYS IN-BETWEEN
- on Christina Augustesen´s Lightsculptures
Christina Augustesen’s sculptures revolve around the dynamics of light. From observing colours, shades and shifts, Augustesen captures and archives what could be described as ‘light testaments’. City landscapes, forest trees, the ocean and any kind of topographic landscape play a role in how light is reflected and affected. Also seasons, geographic location and the flow of light within architectural structures are continuous sources of inspiration.
“My inspiration for working with light and colours stems from an understanding of light as a dynamic phenomenon, including understanding how colours occur in light’s refractions. Likewise, I am inspired by the ways that light and colours help accentuate different spaces and create diverse atmospheres. My primary interest is in the interactions occurring in-between the immateriality of light and the materiality of surfaces, including the ways in which these two are co-dependent upon one other, and consequently enable people to perceive surfaces and spaces in meaningful and inspiring ways.”
Wind carrying clouds across the sun, a grey sky or the movement of the sun from East to West during the course of day are all factors in how light appears. Every day phenomena, which Augustesen has an affection with and a special ability to perceive. Augustesen extracts colour nuances, motion and intensity, which are essential characteristics and key elements when she creates her spatial light sculptures.
Within acrylic geometric boxes Augustesen gives shape to the observed ´light testaments’. Daylight as well as programmed electric light is framed and structured in various box shapes ranging from small cases to large scale outdoor cylindrical installations. By using translucent acrylic sheets as canvases Augustesen illuminates the surfaces from behind in fixed temporal duration. When the light passes through the space and through the transparent and coloured surfaces, it creates depth and new colour creations.
Depending on the amount of light, layers of space and selected colours, different colour combinations are created ranging from delicate shades to more deeply saturated hues. Adding the diffuse light employs different tones and modulations between the shifting colours creating an even larger palette of different colorations. The shifting is harmonized in temporal intervals creating a mellow natural feel as the pace is slow, and set to resemble the changeability of the daylight.
Augustesen has her own distinct approach to light and colour. She is inspired by pioneers as Marc Rothko, Josef Albers and Johannes Itten, and with an architectural background, her practice draws on several foundations. Every day phenomena, which might pass on unnoticed, are being accentuated and made visible in tangible sculptures. She renders shifts and transition to promote attentiveness and presence. With slow and gradual motion Augustesen makes us aware of our own sensory perception. We are exposed to a recognizable universal sensation unheeded cultural, national or religious background, but simply based on our surroundings. We are all sentient beings no matter favorite shade or what individual recollections the colours will raise. Augustesen’s work brings attention to the fact, that we are all a part of some kind of lightlandscape and the cycle of nature.
Natalia Gutman, 2019