Lilly Grote’s Boxes von Daniel Kletke
magic is behind the curtain as doctor faustus lights the light
The world in a box. The world in a repository, container, space for safekeeping. The world as a box? Is that conceivable? And, more importantly, can boxes be a viable medium for an artist after Joseph Cornell, who epitomized the box and annexed it for his art? Instead of a direct answer here comes my proposition: The fact is that nobody challenges an artist who executes an oil on canvas, stating that, for instance, since Rubens did many of his works in oil on canvas, the possibility of oil paintings is no longer conceivable for anyone. Now Lilly Grote has been producing boxes for years. And they are hers. They are her boxes alone. And the only parallel they share with the boxes built by Joseph Cornell is the fact that they are boxes. Worlds absorbed into boxes.
The nature of these parallels are … definitely finite; most particularly because the artist Lilly Grote carries a remarkable degree of independence in her baggage. If inspecting this luggage, it reveals art worlds filled to the rafters with heavy weight imagination. True poetic heavy weights are the content of Lilly Grote’s suitcases containing artificial artistic universes made up of illusions and selected by the magician Lilly Grote. Most of the materials used come from our everyday routine. They are part of our commonly shared experiences. Many of the items were thrown out in a society whose cycles absorb the individual elements of consumerism and hence trash much that could still be used but must go, just because. Grote bends down, picks up such matter, inspects it and re-inspects it, asking any number of pertinent questions. A shared memory of storing items. Of recycling and storing them in warehouses, on harddrives, as well as on metal shelves. Waiting for the when to come. Patiently awaiting the moment of their resurrection. Art historians are never short of language, calling such things object trouvé, a technical term reaching back to the earlier parts of the 20th century. Grote keeps good company here. Yet she is an equal among equals. Found objects, assembled like driftwood after a high tide and kept and stored, inspected and reconsidered by the magician. Lilly Grote thus commands over a storage of utensils she uses as plants for her simulated magic garden. Included are such diverse materials as wood and cloth, metal and paper, technical gadgets and electrical equipment. Most of the boxes contain artificial, electric light fixtures.
Technical science, illumination, light, electricity (doctor faustus lights the light). With regards to her artistic background, Grote’s vita is heavily influenced by film, albeit partially shaped by a traditional art academy. For decades, cinematic aspects have been dominating and thriving in the artist’s life. Grote is not a film star / actress! Her place is behind the stage (what is behind the curtain? As Laurie Anderson so appropriately asked many years ago). While in her art she is the stage set design and the costumes, she is much more than that because she is the technical director, the brilliant sound engineer and mixologist of ingredients unseen. The stage as stage is not her perfume. Hers are the intricacies, the technicalities of staging. This is where Grote has surfaced as a culinary expert in her own right. When we look into her boxes, we sense the subtle spice a master chef has learned to add in a long working routine. This is what we can experience when gazing into those wonderworlds of illuminated treasures: There is something light. Light not just in the sense of brightness, but light in the sense of carefree, floating, not heavy components. This is what in culinary terms the amuse gueule does. It amuses your pallet. It is fun in the most sophisticated echelon of the fun department. Because it is never rough or coarsely hewn, as it is … cultured, experimental, enriched with the best ingredients consumerist waste has to offer the recipient. The hungry devouror of delicious subjects would have to be the full fledged admirer / lover / collector of Grote’s experimental laboratories made in Berlin.
It does not really matter whether it is a rusty key ring that serves as an introduction into the ancient Egyptian temple of Abu Simbel or the striding Tiger of Swakop carefully marching from right to left in an interior flooded with Yves-Klein-blue light. Regardless what the scenario, Lilly Grote does magic, she enchants you, charms you, casts her spell on you. She does all this with her associations and imitations, with improvisations and simulations. Her repertoire is wide ranging and learned. And who of us could (or would) claim to be autonomous, independent of … it all … in the early 21st century? It is only natural that Grote quotes prototypes and that she has multiple models to rely on and to present. But this is part of the charm within the charms she works, that her magic world is pictured with riddles. Thus Magritte knocks at the door and is mentioned in a title. And L.A., the universal capital of all celluloid, says hi. What is intriguing and charming is the level of originality Lilly Grote achieves and maintains in cooking up all those recipes in which known and not-so-well-known spices are continually being amalgamated.
They are compositions of light, and in most cases the light is the director. Dexterous and skillful are valid ways to characterize how Grote stages the boxes we can admire. They are illuminated and they illuminate us at the same time. Because they evoke atmospheres in which small is large and large is small. The phenomenon of the world in relative terms. Where walks become journeys, gazes permutate into flights, sighs into passages, works of Alice wondering with wisdom in worlds of the wise. This is not just smart but poetic and smart. Beat this.
The boxes are made to fit. They are appropriated, and sometimes the light gives the title itself, as in the box Warrior of Light. Time and again, we encounter extremes that meet, visual battles of haptic matters versus tactile issues, soft with hard, metal objects against textiles. In this controversy of spheres and content, Lilly Grote asks questions while calling questions into question. What are we to assume when we see the cardboard silhouette of a minuscule girl approaching a gargantuan door armature made of metal with rays of bright, honey-dew light radiating through the cut-out space for the key? Certainly, the worlds of Lilly Grote contain all constituents for the most controversial discourses. But they are never didactic, they are no one-way streets. Before anything else, these hermetic and autonomous and poetic boxes are magic. No: They are super magic!