On the surface of Heinz Mack’s Relief with Serial Reflectors, light shimmers and darkness shivers, refections meld and refractions multiply. In the instant in which the viewer moves, this fragile landscape fragments, upended into a glimmering chaos, only to reassemble into a new luminescent configuration a moment later. In sculpting aluminium, the iridescent material of aeronautic and cosmonautic technology, into a complex surface of curved, overlapping plates, Mack sought to capture the utopian potential of the space age, which fascinated him and his Zero compatriots. ‘Space, deep and open, unbounded even by horizons, is the free sphere,’ he wrote in 1961, the same year as Relief with Serial Reflectors was executed. ‘[T]he clarity of light and the fullness of the
silence are forever expanding. From the light, the space gets its sensuality, its atmosphere, its transparency. Light unburdens space’ (H. Mack, ‘The Sahara Project’ (1961), reproduced in ZERO, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2015, p. 376).
Beginning his artistic practice with painting, Mack would soon turn his attention to a series of increasingly ambitious refective surfaces – the so-called light reliefs – which sought, through scale, intricacy, or kinetic motion, to make palpable the transient, immaterial power of light. Yet Erstes Lichtrelief (First Light Relief), created in 1958, was the result of a fortuitous discovery in the artist’s studio, as Mack related: ‘An unexpected possibility to visualise aesthetic motion arose when I stepped accidentally on a thin metal foil lying on a sisal carpet. When I picked up the foil, the light had the opportunity to vibrate. As the carpet had been produced mechanically, the imprint of course also remained mechanical and decorative’ (H. Mack, quoted in D. Honisch, Mack, Sculptures, 1953-1986, Dusseldorf 1987, p. 12). In adopting the form of the relief, a pivotal step towards his abandonment of the pictorial plane, Mack found the perfect structure to encapsulate the dynamic tension which underlies his artistic practice. Light and shadow play over the raised surface, while refections alternate between calm and restlessness. Depending on the angle and nature of light, on the position and actions of the viewer, Relief with Serial Reflectors dissolves into a whorl of moving energy, antithetical to its material form. ‘For me, light is immaterial, and in my case, I prefer to make works that are instruments of light,’ Mack related. ‘My sculptures do have a kind of function: of making light visible’ (H. Mack, quoted in Heinz Mack: ZERO & more, exh. cat., Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, 2015, p. 15)