SEEING DARK AND LIGHT IN LIGHT
Dr. Stephan Ch. Kessler SJ
Light can only be seen in the light. Is this true? What do I see in darkness? I see the absence of light.
The pictures of Philip Stoll awaken the attention for the epistemological maxim of philosophy that light is perceived in light. The photographic paintings, created in this special light-space of the Late-Gothic Romanesque church of Saint Peter, are a sensual invitation to con-sensuality, to a form of existential empathy. Senses and sensuality are confirmed when looking at these photographic images on the one hand, on the other hand the viewer is invited to transcend them into the open and wide. For both the artist and the object step back: photo-graphy in the quite literal sense as „light-writing“. In the search for the greatest possible simplicity and reduction to the essence, a new reflection and a widened transparency emerges. The paintings of Philip Stoll let the representational recede, they purify the sensual perception of external vision and lead to a concentration on the perception of the invisible light itself. The artist calls this reduction a „peeling“ of reality. Through the concentrative gathering of the senses on the essence of things, the core of the letter is peeled out. Stoll’s paintings, in their abstraction, are a form of deconstruction of external perception. Here the artist moves in the great stream of contemporary art – from Piet Mondrian („In order to achieve harmony, art should not be guided by the outward appearance of nature, but by its essence“ 1941/42) to the light spaces of his mentor James Turrell. The photographic paintings open up a luminous interior space and lead to a form of cognition that allows new things to appear in the dissolution of the figurative.
The luminance of light itself can be experienced in a sensual way in an „other-space“ („Espace autre“; Michel Foucault). The light points „supersensually“ beyond the concrete photographically recorded space and beyond time (4 seconds of opening the lens at f/11). In this way, the images convey something of the meditative attitude that is a prerequisite for their creation and that suggests viewing them in precisely this attitude.
Quite analogously, the Neoplatonically inspired thinker Augustine of Hippo (354-430) describes this aesthetic and epistemological experience and practice, which is also familiar to Philip Stoll. Von Hippo’s autobiographical „Confessiones“ can be read like a description of Stoll’s artistic approach: “ Called to return to myself, I (…) entered my innermost being. I entered and looked with the eye of my soul, dim as it was, (…) at the unchangeable light („lux inconmutabilis“).“ It is not the light common to all or supposedly visible, „but something else, far different from everything else.“ This „other light“ becomes visible and perceptible in the paintings of Philip Stoll: „He who knows the truth knows it.“ And Augustine takes the thought even further by referring to the relativity of time and adding personal love as a power of knowledge: „He who knows it knows eternity. Love knows it“ (Confessiones 7,10,16).
Philip Stoll’s art is about truth, the truth in and behind appearances. His exposures make the visible invisible, so that the invisible reality becomes visible, tangible. That is why the „light of nothing“ (Wilhelm Weischedel 1905-1975) also shines in the “ non-light“. For in light we see light; and darkness is not dark, night shines like day (cf. Psalm 36:10 and 139:12). Stoll’s pictures prepare the attention, both in the light and in the darkness, to learn to sense the unchangeable light.