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For her new series Commedia della Luce, Susanne Rottenbacher has for the first time

conceived abstract theatrical figures from light.

Whereas past works of the Berlin-based artist visualised ephemeral phenomena such as

speech or dance, now the spectrum of characters from the Italian Commedia dell'arte of the

16th - 18th Century provide the impulse for new works which – another premiere – are spatial


The Masques et bouffons (comédie italienne) (1860), a large scale study of the figures of the

Commedia dell'Arte by Maurice Sand, the son of George Sand, served as immediate

inspiration for Susanne Rottenbacher.

The series Commedia della Luce starts with Harlequino (2016, 115 x 105 x 50 cm) – a

hypnotically formulated composition of dynamic violet curves and energetic yellow lines of

light: playful and powerful, and strong enough to make the entire space oscillate – just as the

Harlequin brings a story to life, veering between good and evil, the comic and the tragic. The

placing of the character amongst travelling people, jesters and acrobats, explains the curious

effect of a coil spring that is always ready to bounce. Susanne Rottenbacher also created

sculptural equivalents of the stylised characters of Pantalone, an elderly wealthy merchant,

Dottore, Zanni and Pierrot. The latter is realised through artistic, dance-like curves that

contrast the irregular and angular form language of the sculpture Zanni. The poetry and

mobility of light in analogy to sound and dance-like choreography is characteristic for the

artist’s oeuvre.

Susanne Rottenbacher’s artistic vision is informed by her fascination for contemporary dance

and classical music – her many years of experience as a stage designer at, among others,

the Deutsche Oper developed her exceptional ability to comprehend rooms of any calibre

and to radically change or re-establish them with minimal shapes. To fill space with light

instead of matter is a lasting interest of the artist. She always thinks in and with the space.

Because her fascination for space marks the beginning of her preoccupation with light; and

the urge to translate her own narratives into space and light lead her from stage design to


In Susanne Rottenbacher’s works LED-light is inserted into transparent materials such as

acrylic glass with technical virtuosity and embedded into the encountered architecture. Her

sculptures evoke – often levitating in space – vibrant movements that go beyond the static

form of the light fixtures. In the composition, the viewer surmises the visualisation of the human field of vision, the flow

of wind and water, rhythmic choreographies and our own movement within space: we, the

viewers, attend a process of motion. The hypnotic and radiating effect of the new wall-based

works includes their surroundings and reaches into the exterior space – the work and its field

of reception is thus extended and dynamically reconstitutes itself afresh at different times of

day. To this end, the artist mixes the colours of the lights in a spectrum of modulations, and with

the use reflective foils develops an eclectic multi-perspectivity.

Susanne Rottenbacher’s work with light always oscillates between control and loss of control:

the contingency of the synthetic materials, as well as of the magic that happens in the space

– of the radiating effect of light and therefore the opening of the works. The emotion finds its

antithesis in the meditative component of light, that for example is characteristic of the

reduced colour field painting of Rothko – particularly the box format of Rottenbacher’s earlier

light works triggers associations with panel painting and iconography. Art historical

associations range widely from Lucio Fontana’s Ambiente Spaziale and Dan Flavin’s iconic

fluorescent tubes to Toulouse-Lautrec’s sketches of Loie Fuller’s Dance of the Veils at the

Folies Bergere: which was one of the first presentations of electric light in the theatrical

context. As matter and energy, electrical light determines the state of the modern world, and

since its invention at the beginning of the last century has fascinated artists as creative

material. And so the fluorescent tube can aesthetically stand by itself as a minimal form or

extensively unfold its mesmerising effect, which it also obtains in the Commedia della Luce.

Susanne Rottenbacher’s new wall-pieces visualise physically and metaphysically emotional

movements and sensitivities as well as the fundamental contextualisation of the dramatis

personae. Charismatic people are said to have a quality of radiance, an intangible motivation, talent or

inspiration – it is this emanation that the artist describes in her new works. Cast in light, the

stereotypical human qualities that the Commedia dell’arte employs become universal and


Commedia della Luce visualizes the subtlest of psychological forms and is in constant

transformation – none of the figures ever appear the same in different places. This enables

every viewer on every occasion to see and conceive the sculptures anew and to create their

own spatial narratives. Susanne Rottenbacher’s elaborate compositions unfold an intriguing and multilayered effect:

they build stages and form protagonists for new realities and radically change our views

towards the space we move in.

Susanne Rottenbacher (1969, Göttingen) studied stage design at Barnard College of

Columbia University New York and finished Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning

London with a Master of Science with the focus on lighting. She worked as a stage designer

at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and as a lighting designer with ‘Licht Kunst Licht’: in this context

she conceived, among others, the lighting design of the Federal Chancellery as well as other

newly built government buildings. Since 2004 she works as a freelance lighting artist and -

designer. She received numerous awards and scholarships, for example: 1st Prize, Kunst

am Bau C.O.R. Düsseldorf (2013), IIDA Award of Merit, IESNA for the planning of the lighting

design of the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus, Bundestag, Berlin (2005), as well as the

Josephine Paddock Fellowship at Columbia University New York (1991).

Among her exhibitions are: ‘Der Flug der Königinnen. Women at work’,

ROMPONE kunstsalon, Köln (2016), ‘The Difference between Sunrise and Sunset’, Schloss

Tüssling (2016), ‘Unpainted LAB 3.0.’, Kesselhalle München (2016), ‘deLight’, Galerie

FeldbuschWiesner, Berlin (2016), 11m2 Projektraum, Berlin (2015, Solo), Galerie Teapot,

Köln (2014, Solo), Art Dubai, Salsali Private Museum, Dubai (2014), ‘Scheinwerfer,

Lichtkunst in Deutschland im 21. Jahrhundert’, Kunstmuseum Celle (2014), as well as The

Prague Contemporary Art Festival, GASK gallery (2013).

Celina Basra

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