‘The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.’
- John Berger, ‘Ways of Seeing’, 1972
The act of seeing is central to the work of German artist Kathrin Sonntag. Based in Berlin, Sonntag uses a wide variety of media including photography, slide projections and everyday objects to explore the way we see and perceive the world around us.
For her first major solo exhibition in Scotland, Sonntag has produced a new large-scale installation based around a series of photographs taken during a visit to the workshops of prosthetic glass eye makers in Lauscha, Germany. The glass eye as an object interests Sonntag as something which singularly returns the gaze, and which she views as ‘a starting point for the act of seeing itself’. Sonntag has created the installation fluidly, working with the particularities of the Cooper Gallery’s curved walls, wooden floor and skylight blind slats; all of which are incorporated into the work.
A series of arrangements composed around simple trestle tables and vitrines provide the framework for an extensive set of visual propositions. In an interview filmed in the gallery, Sonntag emphasises the importance of everyday objects in the work; and explains how comparisons between seemingly unconnected elements can be seen to illustrate the act of perception and create a shift in visual understanding.
The eye is led through the installation by a web of associations prompted by layering, repeating and deconstructing elements from the workshop photographs: objects, colour, pattern, materiality, line and form. Images of the glass eyes are re-interpreted in every arrangement, and play with the idea of the natural versus the artificial: one image is represented as a fragmented plaster fried egg, a jar of glass eyes on stems as a bunch of tulips. Objects, rectangles of coloured paper and paint, sheets of clear glass with washes and swipes of coloured inks, projections and mirrors are all meticulously positioned to reflect and refract these elements further; making new connections and creating a series of elegant, witty and poetic visual puns.
Sonntag interferes with her own visual language. Strategies of mirroring, fragmentation and concealment in her arrangements create visual slips and highlight unexpected viewpoints and details in the work. Visitors become implicit in a heightened reality as the installation comes alive with each new discovery and association. Central within this dynamic exchange is a post-performative awareness; the ghost of Sonntag’s movements, actions and interactions with each of the elements in the installation vibrates throughout the gallery.
In the Cooper Gallery exhibition we see Sonntag seeing us seeing her present a snapshot of reality as seen through her eyes. It is one well worth lingering in.
Written as part of the Axisweb Writing Scotland programme 2014