Artist Philipp Fürhofer presents an accessible, three-dimensional illusionary space in the SCHIRN rotunda.

Within the scope of the exhibition “Diorama. Inventing Illusion,” from November 9, 2017, to January 21, 2018, the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt is presenting a large-scale installation by Philipp Fürhofer. With his work [dis]connect, created especially for the Schirn Rotunda, he transforms the circular building into an illusionary space, and in doing so cites the optical mechanical playhouse that Louis Daguerre opened in Paris in 1822. In this walk-through theater, stories painted on large, semitransparent canvases were set in motion using lighting and stage equipment. Fürhofer’s installation [dis]connect amounts to an accessible, three-dimensional illusionary space.

Philipp Fürhofer, [Dis]Connect, Installation view, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 2017, Foto Norbert Miguletz

It consists of two mirror ceilings positioned one above the other in line with the height of the Rotunda’s two upper stories. In addition, a forest motif based on landscape dioramas emerges from the ground-floor pillars and extends upwards along the glass front of the Rotunda. The artist uses light to create two different spatial situations. When the floor of the Rotunda is illuminated, the lower, semitransparent mirror looks like a false ceiling installed above the heads of the visitors and serves to visually reduce the space.

The viewers’ perception of reality

When the light is switched to the upper area of the Rotunda, the lower mirror becomes transparent and affords a view of the entire circular structure. The reciprocal action of the two mirrors results in a visually endless reproduction of the architecture. The two spatial situations alternate in a regular, pulse-like rhythm, reflecting Fürhofer’s play with the viewers’ perception and their notion of reality.

Philipp Fürhofer, [Dis]Connect, Installation view, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 2017, Foto Norbert Miguletz

Changing spatial situations with the aid of light effects that give rise to unusual visual experiences is a recurrent element in Fürhofer’s works. In his monumental, painted light boxes, he uses light fade-ins or fade-outs to change not only the external appearance of the sets, but also their overall spatial impression. In these objects, Fürhofer likewise generally employs semitransparent reflective film, which becomes part of the work when similarly illuminated.

The futility to grasp reality

Whereas the installation [dis]connect incorporates actual architectural elements of the Rotunda, such as the pillars on the ground floor, the mirrors in both light situations create a space of illusion that seems to dissolve into abstraction. Yet the construction of this illusion always remains visible and transparent as an intervention. Visitors can decide the extent to which they wish to abandon themselves to the illusion. Fürhofer breaks with the diorama as a realistic depiction of the world and points to the futility of efforts to grasp reality.

Philipp Fürhofer, [Dis]Connect, Installation view, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 2017, Foto Norbert Miguletz

Philipp Demandt, Director of the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, says of the installation: “With [dis]connect, Philipp Fürhofer extends the exhibition ‘Diorama. Inventing Illusion’ by an illusionistic space that is freely accessible in the Schirn’s exterior area. Using light and mirror effects, the artist utilizes the architecture of the Rotunda for the purpose of showing us how we can be deceived: He lays bare the illusion and demonstrates what it means to want to grasp reality.”

The illusionary worlds

“Whereas in his dioramas Louis Daguerre made every effort to create a reproduction of reality that was as credible as possible, Philipp Fürhofer’s piece addresses the production of reality per se. [dis]connect imparts no ‘knowledge’ as such, but rather a dissolution of visible coordinates in space—a state that calls to mind the illusionary worlds and those we escape to in our virtual age,” says curator Ilka Voermann about the artist’s work.

Philipp Fürhofer, [Dis]Connect, Installation view, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 2017, Foto Norbert Miguletz

Artist and set designer Philipp Fürhofer (*1982 in Augsburg) lives and works in Berlin. He studied visual art at the Berlin University of the Arts from 2002 until 2008. His works have been presented in numerous solo and group shows, including at the Kunstverein Augsburg (2016), the Arsenāls–Fine Arts Museum Riga (2016), and the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich (2012). Since 2008, Philipp Fürhofer has also repeatedly worked as a set and costume designer for opera houses in Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The opera Les vêpres siciliennes by Giuseppe Verdi that was performed at London’s Royal Opera House in 2013 and for which Fürhofer created the set design received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Opera Production in 2014.

With the exhibition “Diorama. Inventing Illusion,” until January 21, 2018, the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt is addressing the cultural history of vision. It focuses on the diorama, which is used to reconstruct and realistically stage events, stories, and living environments with the aid of various creative means.