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Review: Robert Irwin's 'Light and Space' at Berlin's Kraftwerk

On display until 30 January, Robert Irwin’s Light and Space occupies the upper floor of Berlin’s Kraftwerk. Currently the largest of its kind in Europe, Irwin intertwines light and space with the location’s brutalist architecture to explore human perception and make us conscious of what we perceive.

Photo: via Facebook

It’s no coincidence that Irwin chose this space for his installation. Situated in the Mitte neighbourhood formerly belonging to East Berlin, the decommissioned power-plant remains a piece of architectural glory. Though the three-story facade of corrugated metal panels appears ordinary at first, what lies beyond is far from it.

Behind the doors, the multi-level industrial space is dominated by concrete and metal, with the ceiling reaching more than twenty metres at its highest point. As you traverse the open space, glimpses of the installation can be seen from as low as the ground floor.

Making your way up the two-story concrete staircase, Irwin’s 16x16 metre display opens up directly before you. Inviting the viewer to immerse themselves as the artist experiments with light and space, the installation consists of a series of fluorescent light tubes in abstract, rhythmic yet undecipherable patterns.

Diverging away from his usual practice, Irwin takes advantage of Kraftwerk’s double-sided free-standing wall and combines his traditional white with a fluorescent blue situated on the rear side of the main instalment.

Despite following the same abstract pattern, the blue intends to offer a more intimate experience. With less contrast between light and shadow, the impression of a more subtle, sombre atmosphere resembling nighttime is created.

Photo: Carsten Milark via Facebook

Yet despite the scale and magnitude of Irwin’s installation, something remains lacking. I couldn’t help but feel that the immensity of the space drained energy from the piece, with Irwin potentially underestimating the true scale of the setting.

In comparison with König Galerie’s latest MACHINE HALLUCINATIONS: NATURE DREAMS, in which Refik Anadol created a masterpiece of immersive digital wall art, Irwin’s Light and Space falls somewhat behind in the domain of recent Berlin light installations.

Considering Kraftwerk’s capacity for sound (think Berlin Atonal), the lack of any accompanying sound to the installation was also a little disappointing. Inviting the viewer to immerse themselves requires the use of all the senses, yet here the atmosphere was lost to a silence filled with surrounding chatter.

While the installation itself remains something to admire, the absence of a truly immersive experience left something to be desired. Perhaps I had my own preconceptions to blame, but with a ten euro entrance fee and a lot of hype, Light and Space sadly fell nothing short of underwhelming.


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