Hartung Trenz — Verses of Light

Written by Bettina Pelz. Published on 21 December 2022.

“We think that it is awesome what the INTERFERENCE community does, and we are happy and proud to be part of it”, said Detlef Hartung while working on the MISE EN LUMIÈRE project. When Aymen Ghrabi and I as artistic directors were asked to do the MISE EN LUMIÈRE project, Detlef was one of the first artists to discuss the scope, the technical needs, and technical production. Since we started with the INTERFERENCE project in 2015 in Tunis, he has been of great support in many steps. He agreed to join us in the new undertaking as well.

The Cologne-based artist is part of the artistic tandem Hartung Trenz, both artists are cooperating since they studied together in Munich. Since 1998, their site-specific artwork can be found across Europe as solo interventions or as part of public art projects. In their spatial projections, they probe the relationship of wording, typography, and light, of text and image.

Found sites in their architectural, socio-cultural, and historic dimension have been gateways for their projection works. Their works often blur the boundaries between art and architecture, offering viewers a thought-provoking experience that combines visual aesthetics, linguistic exploration, and the physicality of the built environment.

The projected text may include poetry, quotes, or abstract linguistic elements, which interact with the architectural forms and surfaces. This interplay between text and architecture can transform the perception of the built environment, inviting viewers to reconsider their surroundings and engage with the power of language within a spatial context.

In 2015, they realized their first architecture mapping projection in Tunis. In 2016, they joined the collective effort to build the first public light art project in the Medina of Tunis, and in 2018, they participated again in the INTERFERENCE exhibition project. In 2022, they contributed to the public art project MISE EN LUMIÈRE highlighting the impact of Tunisian women pioneers with artistic interventions for Tunis’ iconic sites.

Hartung Trenz. MISE EN LUMIÈRE Tunis 2022. Photos: Ouafa Ben Amor.

“Over the years, I got to know the Medina quite well, but I still did not know all the sites of MISE EN LUMIÈRE. But I love Tunis, I enjoy all the activities of the INTERFERENCE tribe, and I love to work in the Medina. The Medina doesn’t change too much over the centuries, it is us who make the difference. And I am honored that we were allowed to work on the facade of the mosque … I am very thankful that for the first time, this was possible”, Detlef Hartung said. With the support of Afifa and Mongi Gharbi, they developed a text-based projection for the Zitouna Mosque in the heart of the Medina.

Hartung Trenz. MISE EN LUMIÈRE Tunis 2022. Photos: Ouafa Ben Amor.

Here the artists worked with the Sura 24 of the Quran, known as Sura Al Nour, the Verse of Light, as text material, especially with Aya 35. The verse can be translated as follows: “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within the glass, the glass as if it were a pearly (white) star lit from (the oil of) a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.” The verse refers to the metaphor of light to convey the divine presence and guidance of Allah. It emphasizes the concept of divine illumination and spiritual enlightenment.

Hartung Trenz. MISE EN LUMIÈRE Tunis 2022. Photos: Ouafa Ben Amor.

Part of the artistic development is the typographical design and animation. The term “typography” finds its roots in the Greek words “typos,” meaning “impression, image, shape, impact” and “graphein” meaning “writing, painting, scratch”. It includes the principles of character development and writing, encompassing the design of both individual characters and complete texts. It is the art and technique of arranging and designing typefaces (fonts) for shaping written language. Since 1998, Hartung and Trenz have consistently employed the “Univers” font, created by Adrian Frutiger. The choice of this font for projection choice echoes  Frutiger’s approach while creating: “When I set the pen on a white sheet, then I don’t add black, but I take the light off the white sheet. (…) So I understood that the most important part of a typeface is the gaps”1 Art Directory Design: Adrian Frutiger. URL http://www.art-directory.de/design/adrian-frutiger-1928/ >> 17.12.2014. Hartung and Trenz embrace this conceptual aspect, merging it with their artistic intentions. They invert the design principle, presenting “black” as “light”. They use the font as a filter and as a prop to behold and deepen their understanding of the visible world.

Hartung Trenz. INTERFERENCE Tunis 2018. Photos: Jennifer Braun, Detlef Hartung.

Hartung and Trenz’s texts are not narrative but semiotic maps. Letters and their space, words, and connotations expose a space to a play of light and shadow. Typographic forms and codes wander through the space, break down, and get reformatted. Characters become hypertexts, i.e. they form a network of image, space, text, and file units with mutual references. The artists built esthetic situations based on generating performative interferences.

Hartung Trenz. INTERFERENCE Tunis 2018. Photos: Andrea Hannig, Detlef Hartung, Zied Mnif.

Hartung and Trenz have a distinct inclination towards non-linear reading and writing methods, as they actively seek new perspectives for beholding and contemplation. They delve into the realms of “How – Where – Why” when it comes to language and typography. Through their artistic endeavors, they document an ongoing journey of reacquainting themselves with the world, employing spatial exploration of symbols and characters. They navigate between analytical scrutiny and creative associations, crafting textual material as typographical landscapes. In doing so, they critically examine the interplay of colors, shapes, and connections that emerge. Through concealing and revealing, illuminating and casting shadows, and emphasizing and backlighting, they investigate and delve into the intricate connections between perception, visual representation, and the power of imagination.

The artistic tandem has infused Christian churches across Europe with their text-based projections, delving into their architectural, socio-cultural, or religious dimensions. With MISE EN LUMIÈRE they embarked on a new journey by extending their artistic approach to an Islamic mosque. With careful consideration for the sacredness and reverence of the Zitouna Mosque, they engaged with the urban setting and the architectural elements, intertwining the exploration of text, the language of space, and the potential of light. “Without the close cooperation with the INTERFERENCE community, a project like this wouldn’t even be possible”, expresses Detlef Hartung his thankfulness for the very unique opportunity.