Illumination of Frankfurt City – Conceptual work 1998/1999

Idea and conceptual work of the aesthetic illumination of Frankfurt city at high artistic level started in the year 1998. The Project was designed to be realised involving many internationally well-known artists and institutions in Frankfurt (city, fair, museums, university, skyscrapers) and to begin with the new millennium. Petra Roth, the then-mayor of Frankfurt, generously accepted the patronage of the project. Idea and concept were introduced to representatives of Frankfurt city, museum directors, representatives of Messe Frankfurt, skyscraper proprietors, and international artists in numerous presentations and meetings discussing the possible realisation of the project.

At the same time I conducted a project-related seminar at the Kunstgeschichtliches Institut of Goethe University in cooperation with Prof. Kerscher. Central theme of the seminar was the scientific approach of the project and the introduction of the students in the new genre of light art and in the oeuvre of the participating artists.

Several events on this topic were realized by the MMK Frankfurt, the Deutsche Architekturmuseum and the Messe Frankfurt. In the meantime, many elements of this conceptual work can be found in its own kind in the Luminale that accompanies the biennial architecture fair Light + Building.

An excerpt of my conceptual work from 1998/1999:

Idea: Light of the sun and the recovery of energy therefrom will be of significant value for the future of mankind. Also in history of mankind light always played an important role in many respect. All cultures associate light with life and happiness. The presence of light is regarded as a sign of divine presence in most religions. In philosophy, light traditionally stands for knowledge and understanding, as well as joyful anticipation of the future. Every year on New Year’s Eve, people around the world greet the New Year with fireworks and chase away the old one. The illumination art project is a metaphor symbolising the basic confidence and the increasing and desired unison between mankind and nature in the new millennium. Mankind and nature should promptly reach the same wavelength since they act and stand in the same spectrum.

Concept: In the light installations of the illumination art project the visitors themselves become part of the staging; simply by walking through the streets, they themselves cast colourful shadows and by doing so participate in a constantly changing artistic production. The illumination subtly transforms our spatial experience of the city. Spaces open up; our perception and mood are stimulated. This creates the experience of a new dimension from the onlooker’s point of view, similar to the vistas created in the work of Barnett Newman or Caspar David Friedrich. It facilitates contemplation within and in front of the artwork at the same time.
The illumination project consists of many individual works, all of which realise the topic of light differently. Although artists working with the medium of light create a series of individual works, these all interrelate by the common theme. In this way, buildings that appear in an erratic position during the day are transformed at night by illumination to form a new artistic whole.

This objective is based on the perception that in modern architecture there is unfortunately often no reflection or reference with respect to the architectural facades of neighbouring buildings. This is in Frankfurt for instance very obvious particularly in the architectures of the bank tower buildings. Each edifice is a solitaire without any context with the surroundings or with human dimensions. In the past, for example, city planners strived in their architectural vocabulary for interrelationship between squares and streets and for reflection to human dimensions in the foundation of houses. Today, with their high rise architecture clients and architects want to beat the neighbouring buildings in height and appearance or they develop constructions without soul that are torn down again after half a generation at the latest. They do not leave any edifying heritage for the next generations. This modern architecture reflects in a certain way our contemporary society. It almost seems that taking the surrounding neighborhood and fellow man into consideration is a discontinued model. In modern society the egocentric attitude towards life and the exploitation of nature is standard. The men and women working in the city’s office towers are classified as “human resources”. As biomass of the economy they are sold, moved back and forth, or dismissed in the case of mergers or company reorganisations.

In an artistic way, the nightly illumination of the skyline will transform the city of Frankfurt into a unified artwork and outshine reality for several hours by the poetry of light. By illumination, the city of Frankfurt encounters the visitors as one collective experience. The marked light course offers not only residents but also visitors a range of positions and viewpoints to observe the “locus amoenus” (pleasant place). For those who prefer to enjoy the experience on their own, there are many vistas offering ample opportunities for solitary contemplation both inside and outside the city boundaries. This poeticising of the city by light will even be clearly visible from airplanes.

At night, the city centre light course leads the visitor through the art project like Ariadne’s thread from one installation to the next. When viewed from the vistas on the edge of the city, one can experience the city as a single work of art.

An exhibition of pictures, photos and inscriptions accompanies the illumination project. In addition, the exhibition’s catalogue examines in more detail some of the scientific aspects of the project. During the exhibition, there will be talks and guided tours on using light in art. Another thematic focal area is the meaning of light in science and research. The illumination project is in this aspect extremely forward-looking with regard to the importance of light as a medium of expression and as a future energy source.

The illumination project stands symbolically for the accomplishments that arise through the cooperation between many personalities from the arts, sciences, and international communities. Only this cooperation will carry societies and humanity forward. Mankind can only survive if he lives with nature in unison. Only then survival is worthwhile in the first place.


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