Friday, 25 April 2014

Looking back at Kathrin Sonntag's I SEE YOU SEEING ME SEE YOU

Two Student Curatorial Team members, Abi Dryburgh and Lucas Battich, cast their eye on Kathrin Sonntag's I SEE YOU SEEING ME SEE YOU, 28 February - 8 April, Cooper Gallery, DJCAD and wrote these pieces for Cooper Gallery Notes... Get involved with the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.

Kathrin Sonntag, I SEE YOU SEEING ME SEE YOU, Cooper Gallery, 2014

I saw this and thought of you

A fun, minimal look (sic) at the representation of objects. Inspired by a trip to a glass eye factory, Kathrin Sonntag has created a reflexive installation that stares back at the viewer and makes you question the very mechanisms by which you understand the work. Addressing the innate human need to make links and connect like with like, visual connections are taken to their most basic level – a clementine sits on orange paper, a green spray bottle stands next to a colour-matched smear on a clear pane. Plain coloured fields pepper the walls and bring to mind Pantone swatches and their attempt to make organised sense of the colour spectrum.

Kathrin Sonntag, I SEE YOU SEEING ME SEE YOU, Cooper Gallery, 2014
The placements of matching pigments, colours and shapes next to objects that they recall if anything make me think about how dubious the validity of representational painting is today. When a stout coffee cup can evoke an eyeball or a flat square of brown quite clearly represents wood, what is the point in elaborating in more detail? There is great power in simplifying, and this exhibition is a strong example.

For me the most arresting work in the room is the mirror that has been masked in the middle by what is essentially a rectangular paper cataract. In a room filled with prosthetic eyes, it is a stark reminder of how precious eyesight is for those of us lucky enough to have it.

Abi Dryburgh, 
Level Four, Fine Art, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design
Abi Dryburgh's website:

Kathrin Sonntag, I See You Seeing Me See You

During the fifth century BCE the Greek philosopher Empedocles first suggested what later came to be known as the extramission theory of visual perception. The theory was best developed by Plato, who argued on the existence of an internal fire issuing from our eyes as a visual stream (Timaeus 45b-c), which by touching objects allowed us to perceive them. This idea was only refuted many centuries later by modern science. However, even though mistaken in its physical aspects, the theory has its correlative in the way we move and focus our eyes, the way our embodied subject constructs the world around us, to an extent governed by cultural and social habits, rather than passively receiving factual information. These varied concerns are put into play in Kathrin Sonntag’s installation I See You Seeing Me See You.

This immersive installation is centered around the leitmotif of the prosthetic eye. The exhibition includes numerous references to the history of the glass eye in Lauscha, a small German town where prosthetic eyes were invented, and also home to traditional doll’s eyes manufacturers. Featuring a range of photographic and sculptural works, everyday objects, sets of display cases and slide projections, the installation creates an atmosphere reminiscent of a workshop, or rather a laboratory, that connects with Lauscha’s history.

Kathrin Sonntag, I SEE YOU SEEING ME SEE YOU, Cooper Gallery, 2014
The varied composition of objects creates playful and compelling visual propositions, highlighting at times unexpected similarities. Everyday objects, such as a light bulb, a bouquet of flowers, a broom, are juxtaposed in such ways that their familiarity borders into alterity. The act of seeing (and of being seen) is put in relation with the Freudian notion of the uncanny, where objects retain a sense of the ordinary, while at the same time are distorted into something that seems foreign, unfamiliar, alien. This notion is also increased by the recurrence of glass eyes throughout the exhibition, which gives these inanimate objects the unsettling impression of having their own agency.  Frames constitute another recurrent feature, as a structure that guides the eye into certain details or sections in the installation and gallery space, which seem to remind us that much is a stake depending the angle from which things are perceived. The photographic act of framing is also recalled with the inclusion of camera lenses and a 1930s book on the optics of photography, aptly titled Das Auge Meiner Kamera [The Eye of the Camera].

Kathrin Sonntag, I SEE YOU SEEING ME SEE YOU, Cooper Gallery, 2014
Monochrome surfaces, including paper, painting on walls and glass, and even projected to the gallery wall on a slide projector, seem to give a nod to the long history of monochrome painting during modernism (Frank Stella statement on trying “to keep the paint as good as it was in the can” finds its echo in an actual can of paint positioned next to a painted shape on the wall), while establishing particular areas or regions within the gallery, each with its dominant colour. These chromatic arrangements give the spatial installation both a musical and cinematic quality, highlighting the temporal aspect of the eye’s journey through the exhibition.

Plato’s proposition on visual perception may not hold as a scientific description, but in its metaphorical sense it seems to come alive in this exhibition, where Sonntag cleverly weaves a wide range of visual elements to engage us on the act of seeing.

Lucas Battich
Level Four, Art Philosophy & Contemporary Practices, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design
Lucas Battich's website:

To read other reviews and watch a filmed artist conversation by Kathrin Sonntag please visit:

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