Title of Artworkaura
Year of Origin2005 - 2006
    diameter ca. 100 cm
    neon tubes, acrylic glass, mirror
Collaboration/Shared Production/Researchn/a
    Robert Simon Kunststiftung
Medium/Type of Artwork
Light Source
Light-Optical Factors

Brigitte Kowanz: Morse Code and Aura

“Light is what you see.” This is the succinct, simple and also illuminating description by Brigitte Kowanz of the object of her artistic endeavors. The media of light has stood at the center of the Viennese artist’s creative works since the nineteen eighties. Challenged by the flood of light images and light messages in our daily lives, Brigitte Kowanz examines the tension field between linguistic and pictorial representation. She articulates light in the form of bodies of light, thus simultaneously illuminating the cryptic symbolism of the media of writing. Her light objects emit messages, puzzling and yet demanding to be decoded Brigitte Kowanz (born in 1957, lives and works in her native city of Vienna) studied at Vienna Applied Arts College (now University) from 1975 to 1980 where she now teaches as a professor.

The installation “Morsealphabet” (Morse Code), a radiant arrangement of white light markings, impressively presents the artist’s thought and work processes. Twenty six light tubes are arranged rhythmically to form a large radiant circle. A layer of black lacquer with oval and round gaps has been applied to each of the tubes. Glistening white neon light contrasting like an autonomous three-dimensional body against the dark background is emitted from these openings and forms an aesthetically cool symbolic ornament. Upon closer examination, a system of round and elongated signs becomes recognizable in the arrangement of the wreath of tubes that demands to be decoded.

The original visual and emotional observation is redirected in the direction of a cognitive, intellectual level of perception. The oval and round light openings correspond to the long and short elements used in Morse Code. Tube for tube, the complete Morse Code can be read clockwise. It becomes clear that the seemingly abstract composition in fact represents a code system. Morse Code is a binary coding of the written alphabet. Its invention enabled the transmission of text messages over long distances for the first time by means of short and long light or sound signals. At the same time, it is the foundation of our digital information world, where the sending of messages in Morse Code has an almost sensuous quality as compared to “digitalization.” Brigitte Kowanz has captured Morse Code’s fleeting and sequential “short—long” in a static simultaneity. Visible and legible, she has given aesthetic expression to information technology. By drawing on Morse Code, she has furthermore challenged the viewer to decode the symbolism of our world, tracing the cryptic phenomenon of digitalization to something that can be experienced sensually. The installation’s radial arrangement and the blinding white of the light not only recall the positive characteristics associated with the symbol of the sun and life’s energy, but also the sun’s dangerous side as a blazing, life-threatening ball of fire. This contrariness of positive and negative is also reflected on an abstract level in the abbreviated Plus 1 and Minus 1 method of the binary code.

The artist not only references the cool aesthetics of technical systems with the clear dark and light rhythm of the light tubes, but simultaneously stimulates sensual perception. By drawing compositionally on the color contrast of the piano keys, she enables the acoustics of the Morse procedure to sound.

Brigitte Kowanz also makes use of Morse Code in other installations as a design module. She writes individual words and entire sentences in Morse Code. They are usually terms dealing with the phenomenon of light such as “LUX” or “Lumen.” In making use of the encryption, however, it is not her intention to exclude the uninitiated viewer from an understanding of her artistic message. On the contrary: She sensitizes the viewer to the problem of the omnipresence of puzzling abbreviations, unintelligible words and obtuse language, striving to visualize this impoverishment of life. Her shining messages sharpen one’s view for the empty automatisms of our daily life. She prompts the viewer to penetrate the unintelligible and to decode the mysterious. The process of revealing the concealed in her artworks leads the attentive viewer to the experience of things’ underlying truths: When seeing, light, which is absolutely necessary for the process of sight, should not be forgotten just as one should not forget the words used when talking.

The spherical “aura” is a very different type of light sculpture. The piece consists of fluorescent lamps intertwined with each other in a net-like fashion which are attached to a Plexiglas sphere measuring one meter in diameter. Although the sphere is visibly fixed to the ceiling by means of four cables, it seems to hover over the viewers’ heads in the middle of the room. The light of the neon tubes wrap the content of the sphere in a pale mist. Only upon closer examination can one read individual letters from the shining loops: taken together, the letters “a”, “u” and “r” result in the word “aura.”

Brigitte Kowanz created a light system in the light sculpture “aura” that not only references itself, but particularly the space surrounding it. The sculpture alters the space, seems to dissolve and redefine it.

The term aura derives from the Greek meaning “breeze.” It characterizes a phenomenon that one can only surmise and feel, a fleeting appearance, an invisible force or also the impalpable presence of a person. In Christian iconography, aura becomes “aureole”, the halo. This Christian symbol of “divine light” is often represented as a more or less stylized, radiant circle. For centuries, artists have frequently attempted to find a pictorial form for this immaterial “breeze.” The symbolism of light as a “divine glow” has hardly had an influence on Brigitte Kowanz’s thoughts. “It is rather the challenge of representing something material and pictorial with the help of the immaterial.”*

Brigitte Kowanz also accepts the challenge of making the auratic appearance visible and tangible through her artistic means of light and language. By pointing out precisely to what is seen in the piece with the written word “aura”, she captures the light in the figure of speech that describes itself. “Aura” is thus doubly visible, verbally and visually.

She furthermore expands the “breeze” or the light figure over and beyond the borders of the object. By reflecting the light of the neon tubes in mirror, she seemingly opens the space upwards, heightening the effect of spatial penetration. The reflection simultaneously falls back on the lightsphere and intensifies the nebular atmosphere of the colors that alter the space in a mysterious fashion.

The mirror is a symbol that is fraught with meaning in the history of art. Because it reflects everything and serve self-observation, it can reveal hidden truths and recognitions. A mirror image personifies the “now” as well as the past and makes clear that all earthly appearances are fleeting and temporal. The viewer standing directly underneath the sphere is sucked up into the play of light by means of the mirror. He can find his own schematic mirror image behind the net of letters—is literally surrounded by an aura. Brigitte Kowanz’s aura sphere, on the contrary, carries the mirror image away to an inaccessible distance—as a staged interplay of imagination and reality.


* Translated from Christa Häusler, Licht als Bild und Botschaft, in: Another time another place – Brigitte Kowanz, Munich 2003, p. 40.



Daphne Mattner, Brigitte Kowanz: Morsealphabet und Aura, in: BEI NACHT. Lichtkunst aus der Sammlung Robert Simon, hrsg. v. Robert Simon, Susanne McDowell, Julia Otto, Celle 2010, pp. 108-115.

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