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Ping-Pong Balls And Minimalism At Erwin Redl's "InMotion" Exhibition

The artist spoke with us about his minimal, kinetic sculptures at Bitforms Gallery.

by Zach Sokol
20 February 2014, 3:03pm

Erwin Redl may have developed an impressive reputation for massively sized-yet-minimal light installations, such as his Matrix series, or his inclusion in the 2002 Whitney biennial, in which he covered one side of the museum in colored LEDs, but his recent exhibition at Bitforms Gallery in Chelsea may suggest otherwise.

InMotion, the artist's first New York solo show in nearly a decade, focuses on time and natural forces such as gravity, compared to his prior work where the spotlight was focused on bulbs and artificial atmospheres.

The four piece exhibition at Bitforms includes kinetic sculptures, such as Levitate, which fills an entire wall with thirty-one vertically suspended glass pipes. Each pipe has a small fan on the bottom, propelling Ping-Pong balls into specifically choreographed sequences.

These sculptures continue Redl's practice in minimalism, though his work is now scaled down to fit the space of a tighter gallery, subsequently forcing the viewer to notice subleties in the installations, like the sounds of the Ping-Pong balls as they plop down in the glass tubes. The seemingly-simple structures can provide a hypnotic effect on visitors, as you begin to notice anti-matter, of sorts, throughout the gallery space: the silence between the Ping-Pong balls, the way the light from Breath Of Light refracts off the gallery's bone-white walls; the way that structures inform space, and how space informs structures.  Redl spoke with The Creators Project about how exhibiting in smaller spaces forces him to reconsider his practice, and he dove into what structure means in an abstract sense. InMotion may not be as light-focused as his earlier work, but spending some time in the room can provide an illuminated experience in its own right.


The Creators Project: This is your first solo exhibition in New York in almost 10 years, right?

Erwin Redl: That is true. Yes.

How would you say that premiering your work in a city as vibrant and exciting as this compares to showing in Los Angeles or Ohio or another place you've exhibited? 

The attention span is also much lower in New York than in any other city, I think.  Since most of my installations are time-based, I have to kind of think about the ways it will be perceived. 

Also, space is much more restricted in New York, so you have to think about designing your work according to the parameters of the space that you’re working in. So, at Bitforms for example, I can only show a few pieces at once, and they're each timed in a way that should keep people engaged. 

Do you think that would change if you were in a larger gallery?

Absolutely, it would be completely different. The acoustics are very interesting because the walls are bigger, there’s a concrete floor, the layout is almost square so sound’s extremely amplified downstairs. It would be a different setup, a whole different way of perceiving sound.

I don't want to call it a New York exhibition, but in a way it is.

Oh, yeah. You have to be extremely space-conscious. It’s not like, you know, we’re gonna show it at Ace Gallery in Los Angeles where we get 12,000 square feet; it’s a whole different way. It’s just one room with a piece that is 80 feet long. You have to think in a different way. But you grow with these challenges, obviously.

Earlier you were mentioning the term media, but in regards to natural forces, such as light and sound, and I think what's really interesting about your work that it is media, but it’s natural media.

I shouldn’t have called my installations natural forces, but I use that term media in an expanded way because it is. All we see is media, especially because I’m spending half of my life behind a screen, you know?


Your work is often minimal, but with this current exhibition, your installations feel almost like minimal versions of your already-minimal work. Again, is that the space requirement or are you specifically trying to focus on concentrated objects?

My medium is almost structure. James Turell said, "I'm planning space" and Zaha Hadid said, "Structure is program." I’m interested in structures, and how they manifest themselves in different media. Structure can be something ephemeral.

There's a a certain set of rules. And then you pick an appropriate media. But sometimes the media drives the structure, and sometimes it’s the other way around, sometimes the structure drives the media.

And when I say structure, I also mean time. It starts out just as a metric in space, but it’s also a metric in time. In this one piece at Bitforms, Levitate, the sounds it makes and its ability to bring in a viewer all correspond to time. I didn't know this until I watched it in the gallery space.

So would you say as you’re making your work, you don't necessarily know what the final installation will look like? 

Absolutely! Whenever I do pieces, even large scale pieces, I make a rough sketch of the programming--how a light sequence might work, how something might move--but at the site in a space, everything is different.

Of course you can sit down at the computer, see animated pixels, even in 3D, but it has nothing to do with reality. So it’s always like I create some sort of a skeleton, or just a couple of routines. But it’s like a soccer game or basketball or football game: you have a game plan. But the rest is war. You go out there and suddenly something changes. You can’t ignore it because otherwise you go under. And going under in an art piece means it could fail.

That reminds me of that Woody Allen quote, “Man plans and life laughs.”

Oh yes. You plan, but if you stick to that, you go under. With all this stuff you have to be interactive, not just set your foot down and say, “That’s it.”  It’s possible, you know, but it's not how I work. 

Although some of your work is technologically enhanced, it seems to me that it definitely has some definitely concrete soul of nature and natural forces.

Well yeah, l I grew up in a very rural area in Austria. So I’m definitely extremely informed by nature.  Especially the slow pace of nature.  Because I’m kind of from a small spectrum of people who work with tiny sequencing of lights.  I mean there’s other people in my field whose work I admire, but it's on the other spectrum. They're much faster, much faster spaced, and more related to like a night club aesthetic. And I see myself much more in an almost land art context than an artificial, strictly-technological context.

I think it’s interesting that sometimes people label you as an LED artist, but I don’t see that at all.

No, not at all. I think of myself as an installation artist, whatever that means, but it’s different from a sculpture because when you look at a sculpture, but you’re almost in the installation. You can’t escape it. And there's a whole different type of thinking required about space. 

What are you working on in the future? I know you were doing something at the new police academy in Queens.

Yes, this is more quote unquote traditional. It’s like a giant hanging lens installation. But I’m working with glass now. Glass is invisible, but has enormous gravitas. So it’s kind of invisible structure having gravitas. Gravitas is like you feel the weight, you feel the difference.

How will you be incorporating technology into your future work?

I hope not too much. I do it all the time because it’s easy for me, but it is very time consuming. You do all these large scale projects that just don’t have that head space, that quiet moment in time that you need each day to do drawings. I miss that a lot. And so I just try to scale back on the technology investment, investment as in time, any time to find more time to do those pet projects that don’t involve technology.

"Inclined Plane"

InMotion is open to the public at Bitforms through March 15th. For more info, see the gallery's website, here

All images courtesy of Bitforms

Bitforms Gallery
Kinetic Sculptures
Erwin Redl