Philipp Fürhofer


“In me there are two souls, alas...”, Faust’s famous inner conflict also applied to young German artist, Philipp Fürhofer. In love with both art and music, Fürhofer grew up torn between pursuing a career as an artist, and as a pianist. Though he decided on art, music, and most notably opera, remain extremely important in his life and influential for his art practice.

Born in Augsburg, Bavaria in 1982, Fürhofer moved to Berlin to study under Hans-Jürgen Diehl at the Berlin University of the Arts in 2002. While there, he was visited by Hans Neuenfels, highly regarded for his work in experimental theatre. Neuenfels discovered Fürhofer’s love of opera and invited him to assist him in stage design at theatres in Bayreuth and Zurich. It was this introduction that lead Fürhofer to the unique position he occupies today: he has created award winning set designs for many of the world’s foremost opera houses including London’s Royal Opera House and the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, while remaining fervently committed to his fine art practice.

Fürhofer’s arrestingly beautiful art works are multi-layered and entrancing. They function as light boxes, but also as paintings. Depending on whether the light is turned on or off, the contents are either illuminated or shrouded for the viewer. In the works where the light rhythmically switches on and off via a timer, the viewer has to concentrate in order to consume the information relayed in these alternating states. This game interferes with the more straightforward act of looking that a viewer might adopt when perusing a traditional painting, instead placing him in a much more active role where he is encouraged to move around the work and adopt different positions of engagement.

Through his work for the stage, Fürhofer learnt how to captivate an audience by drawing them into a space in a constant state of flux, so that there is always something new unfolding for the duration of often lengthy performances. It is Fürhofer’s awareness of the role of the viewer, that casts him in such a unique position as an artist. Not only is the viewer active, rather than passive in relation to his practice, the spy-foil surfaces of Fürhofer’s works reflect the viewer when the light is off, and then banish his reflection when the light is on, causing him to look beyond his own image and into the interior of what the work contains. An easy comparison to arrive at when considering Fürhofer’s practice, is a corporeal reading of the work. Indeed Fürhofer was first inspired to create his multi-layered objects with their light tubes, bulbs, rubber pipes and blend of organic and inorganic matter, after looking at x-rays of his own chest cavity when he was lying in a Berlin hospital. The strange sense of dislocation between looking into an image of one’s own insides, while simultaneously presenting a contained, apparently hermetically sealed vessel to the outside world, was a strange, but inspiring paradox for Fürhofer.

It is important not to confine his practice to a strictly physical interpretation. There is a strongly spiritual quality to Fürhofer’s creations. They not only encourage the viewer to participate in a visual game of looking and remembering, ordered by the controlled time frame, their evocative nature prompts the viewer to slip between temporal and spiritual planes, and reach for a higher order of things inspired by beauty, art and music. There is a strange poetry inherent in the everyday - even in the detritus that spills over in our lives - and Fürhofer is adept at capturing this, playing with the stereotype of creating a sense of theatre through experimenting with smoke, light and mirrors. At the heart of his practice though is a serious core: grounded in a deep awareness of the fragility of human existence and the interface between the spark of life and creativity and the shadowland that waits in the wings.

Fürhofer’s work has been exhibited around the world in galleries in Hamburg, Milan, Berlin, Sydney, Cologne, Munich and Hong Kong. In 2012 the Bavarian National Museum, Munich, presented his solo exhibition Breakthrough. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Nextgastein Artist Residency at Bad Gastein, Austria, 2011.

He lives and works in Berlin.