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Gabriele Leidloff, “Goethe,” 1996, radiograph


As I entered the hall I was confronted with the unfamiliar face of Goethe’s X-rayed plaster life mask. Goethe (1996) incarnates the leitmotiv of the exhibition: a scientist-artist alliance as testimony to Goethe’s interest in the mechanism of vision, his studies in optics in particular, and poetry. It is worth noting that masks were commonly used at that time, along with drawings and portraits, as photography was yet to be invented. The contrast between the density of the image and the artificial coldness of the light box that frames and displays the mask generated an uncanny feeling in me. It was as if I was in a hospital watching radiographs of patients rather than attending an art exhibition. The rather vague features of Goethe allowed me to build up in my mind how the living Goethe would have looked, given the fact that we do not have any portraits or drawings of him. Leidloff’s X-rayed mask seemed to bring to the surface the personality of Goethe and, departing from that, to allow me to create the physical lineaments of Goethe’s face. The inside becomes the outside. This turn runs counter to the usual way we operate, namely by starting from certain physical appearances to deduce the character of a person.

Excerpted from “The Enchanting World of Gabriele Leidloff: Imaging the Unseen in Between Science and Art”

Gabriele Leidloff

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