Ernst Schering Foundation - Berlin
27 / 04 / 2017 - 16 / 07 / 2017

“The peculiar property of the pure spirit is seeing, not knowing,” wrote the poet and physician Justinus Kerner. This statement is called into question by the Berlin-based artist Ivana Franke with her project Retreat into Darkness. Towards a Phenomenology of the Unknown. Do we only see what we know? What can dislocate us from our comfortable, predefined point of view and challenge our gaze on the world?

The project Retreat into Darkness. Towards a Phenomenology of the Unknown includes an installation by artist Ivana Franke, curated by Elena Agudio, at the Ernst Schering Foundation, along with a series of experiments to be conducted by the artist in collaboration with the vision scientist Bilge Sayim, as well as an interdisciplinary symposium and a publication. The above-mentioned are all integral parts of Ivana Franke’s artistic practice, which represents the full-fledged investigation of the limits of our perception, which is conditioned by our minds and bodies and by the environment.

With her new installation, the artist takes us into a visual and bodily experience able to break our preconceived idea of reality, lending it other dimensions that are decidedly fictive, imaginary, and cosmic. Reflected light appears as if floating on air and emerging constellations of “objects”. Initially, these stand still, as if frozen. When the visitor begins to walk around, these objects move in unexpected directions. These curious constellations seem to extend deep into the space, only to come back towards us in a counter-intuitive motion.


Like standing before twinkling fireflies, the viewer is invited to glimpse the “unknown” moving objects revealed in the dark. Perceived light translates into experiences that challenge our perception and imagination, suggesting spatial architectures that cannot be identified through the ones we already know. Creating “epistemological ruptures,” those experiences give us the capacity to imagine and challenge existing common modes of knowledge and to create room for different possible futures.

The symposium will bring together vision scientists, artists, philosophers, science historians, and art historians to explore the experience of seeing the unknown. How do we perceive and experience entities and events that we cannot properly categorize—how does the unknown as a subjective experience come about? How does the phenomenology of the unknown materialize? What is the relationship between the unknown and the known within visual perceptual experiences, between the visible and the legible? What is the significance of the experience of the unknown in our lives, and what is its function in society?


Ivana Franke is a visual artist based in Berlin. Her works, often in forms of light installations, investigate the interface between perception, cognition and environment, focusing on perceptual thresholds. She represented Croatia at the 52nd Venice Biennale with the solo exhibition Latency. Her other projects include Disorientation Station (11th Shanghai Biennale), Seeing with Eyes Closed (Peggy Guggenheim, Venice, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin), other exhibitions include Manifesta 7, Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb and MoMA P.S.1.