| Art

Constructing Light

Karolina Halatek: Liminal spaces for visiting the sublime

“Constructing spaces with light is almost like going to the origins of life,” says the artist Karolina Halatek. “Throughout history, people have noted the special role of light. It gives energy, sustains life, enables vision and impresses us with spectacular phenomena… Light holds an undeniable power of transformation. It serves the biblical mastery of the darkness associated with immensity.”

Halatek creates experiential site-specific spaces that incorporate visual, architectural and sculptural elements. Thinking of her work primarily as a catalyst for experience, she creates immersive installations dominated by light, light which extends perception to the edge of human knowledge. Halatek’s aim is to imbue her art with qualities that cause a transformative shift in the viewers’ self-awareness:

“Some moments feel timeless. Such moments come with an elusive sense of fulfilment, a heightened awareness of being present. Attention is directed to the situation. We forget who we are. We become the experience. In the words of Alan Watts, ‘the world is at once inside my head and outside it, and the two, inside and outside, begin to include one another like an infinite series of concentric spheres’.” (Watts 1962)

Halatek’s awareness of the importance of light to perception came from growing up in an environment saturated with photography and film: her father was a photographer, her uncle a cinematographer, and her grandfather an amateur filmmaker. After studying drawing and painting, she developed a visual language for creating ephemeral spaces that deliver intense yet unfamiliar experiences. She studied Design for Performance at the University of the Arts London; Fine Arts at the Universität der Künste Berlin; and Media Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. In Berlin, she participated in workshops at the Institut für Raumexperimente run by Olafur Eliasson. 

One of her first large site-specific installations was created in 2014 for the Project Room at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw’s Ujazdowski Castle. Free to propose new work for a 7.5 by 4.5-metre room, she decided that she would not put any objects in the room. Instead, she temporarily transformed the space into Scanner Room, a kinetic installation filled with light and fog. The thickness of the fog caused the walls and ceiling to disappear and the vastness of the space amplified each viewer’s presence, even when no one else could see them. Two moving profiles of LED light were the only reference points. People became ghosts, dissolving in the white mist. They became visible only when a beam of light passed across them, causing them to emerge slowly, like a developing photograph. The constant movement of the light provided a visual reference while creating a contemplative atmosphere which evoked natural rhythms like breathing, sea tides and celestial cycles. On the edge of sensory deprivation and introspection, Scanner Room provoked self-awareness and meditative calm rather than featuring the external space of objects (Pawełek 2014)  

Near-death experience: ‘Light was the only thing that mattered’

A significant development in her artistic journey was when Halatek encountered Ian McCormack’s testimony about near-death experience (NDE, McCormack 1988). This had a profound impact on her imagination as she realised that NDE testimonies held the potential for deepening her understanding of the meaning of life and how we perceive reality. Survivors of NDE often report encounters with light that permanently changed them, giving them a sense of serene purpose and a feeling of being reborn. Books like Dying to be Me, Dying to Live, Living to Die, Saved by the Light, Embraced by the Light, Transformed by the Light, Lessons from the Light, etc., give glimpses into that crucial moment at the edge of the hereafter, where an experiential treasure abides. Halatek’s fascination with NDE led her to explore the world’s biggest online archive of NDE testimonies at the Near Death Experience Research Foundation in Houma, Louisiana (www.nderf.org). She is now writing a doctoral dissertation on near-death experiences.

This fascination with NDE reoriented her artistic output. First evidence of the shift appeared when KulturRegion Stuttgart offered her a residency at the Akademie Schloss Solitude to work on a public art installation for the ‘Aufstiege’ light art festival (she was commissioned by the city of Gerlingen which is on the border with Stuttgart). 

From the beginning, Halatek aimed to design an interactive piece that connected people to universal questions while creating a dialogue with… (read the full article in Trebuchet 15)

Trebuchet 15: Installation

Installations as theatre 
Giuseppe Penone
Michael Landy 
Annette Messager 
Karolina Halatek
Sounds Art as Installation
Jean Boghossian 
Jon Kipps 
Chantal Meza 

Trebuchet 15 Installation Art

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