Art and Matter

By Damien Aubel

For over twenty years Evi Keller has been putting together, piece by piece, an esoteric yet powerfully sensorial body of work. Portrait of an initiate.


” Mystery” : the word constitutes a discreet leitmotif in Evi Keller’s answers while, on a freezing Sunday night, the artist holds forth about the Stelae (Stèles) which give their name to the exhibition that is about to open at the Jeanne Bucher Jaeger gallery. These delicate pieces with shimmering fluidity are a “mystery” indeed. Are they thin shining strips that could have been cut out of precious, imaginary geological concretions? Or barely tangible membranes where varicolored plasma pockets vibrate as if they were scales from a mythical creature? Or dice of a dreamed stained-glass window, whose surface would still be trembling from the glass-maker’s fire? Personally, I can’t stop myself from seeing, in these gems, avatars from the legendary Emerald Tablet — the stone plaque that, it was said, contained Hermes’ teachings, comprised of the alchemists’ tables of the law, the enigmatic key of hermetic science. I can’t stop myself from thinking about it because Evi Keller is, somehow, Hermes-like.

Matière-Lumière, sans titre, ML-SCR-18-1116, 2018, 70 cm x 23 cm x 32 cm


Born in Bad Kissingen, Germany in 1968, she was from very early on, just like the god, a crosser of the borders that surround the indistinct worlds where invisible powers unfold: “when I was little I was already fascinated by light, and as a child I felt close to nature, to rivers and forests. I had strong bonds with trees, plants, the mineral reign, stones… My childhood was not particularly happy, my family was not particularly open to the visual arts, I had older parents who had very difficult lives that were hard to deal with. I left home when I was sixteen. But the spirits of my childhood never left me, quite the contrary.”

This is how the sapience, to intentionally use an archaic word, of Evi Keller, an avid reader of Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, and Saint Augustine, was forged: a wisdom that, like hermetic knowledge, is irreducible to the overly narrow rationalities of institutional frameworks. She did, at the beginning of the 1990s, attend the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in art history, but “I understood very quickly that an intellectual, academic path was not right for me — I felt trapped. I have a very free spirit, and have a rather wild and unsociable nature.” That did not cut her off from art history in any way. She quotes the “materialization of light” in Rembrandt, or Beuys, whom she admires greatly. It’s just that her work is not about “connections,” as it answers to a pressing call that has nothing to do with a process built on references: “as an artist one steps aside at some point, and lets that which wants to materialize within oneself be.” She then went on to get her diploma at the State Academy for Photo Design, still in Munich. She had learned the technical mastery of photography, so important for her, not so much as an artistic discipline as, following its etymology, a model of writing through light.


As if under the sign of Hermes, tutelary god of travelers, she then settled in Paris in 1994, attracted by the artistic reputation of France’s capital. A geographic move on the surface of the earth as well as on the surface of existence: true journeys, for Evi Keller, are interior and initiatory. They are “passages,” a word that also returns often to her mouth. And so I listen to her recounting her discovery of Novalis who, for her, is “someone extraordinary.” “When I was 21 I was very ill and traditional medicine had not found the source of my suffering. My health was growing worse daily. I  finally ended up in the mountains with a couple of anthroposophic doctors. I was cured and I came back into the world with a new vision of things. It was during that stay that I discovered Novalis and Édouard Schuré. This first mystical, transforming passage in the mountains probably prepared me to go beyond what was the greatest event of my life, exactly fourteen years later, when I had to go through the experience of the imminence of my down death. I’ll never be able to express with words how hard it was to go through, and also how much I suffered. It turned out to be a initiatory journey of seven years.”

So yes, in Paris, until the beginning of the new millenium, Evi Keller worked in advertising. I am naively surprised, as communications seems to me far from communication with the spirits: “Damien, she laughed, we’re on earth, and as long as we’re on earth we have to compromise!” But something else was brewing, that happened at the beginning of the years 2000: Evi Keller’s great work, a great work that is still in progress and that gathers, under the unique title Matière-Lumière (Matter-Light), everything she created, up to the Stelae that we will see at the gallery. Evi Keller summarizes it in one sentence which could be the motto of a hermetic emblem: “Matière-Lumière embodies the cosmic principle of the transformation of matter by light.” That journey, of course, has milestones: “The official departure of the journey took place in 2001 with the installation Mirror Space, that dealt with the body; I was working with dancers a lot then. That work is like the first transition space in the journey of the Matière-Lumière progression. The second space was Reconciliation, and the third Towards the Light.”

There is nothing hermetic, this time in the most strict, negative, and narrow sense of the word, and nothing abstract either in this work that is in a state of perpetual becoming: it speaks directly, and masterfully, to our senses, and to the buried, perhaps archaic layers of our being. The videos of the installation Reconciliation showed multiplying blood drops, as if in a mirror effect regulated by a vital pulsation. As for the video Towards the Light (2015), made from photos of pools of iced-over water, it is a succession, fluid like a transformation that does not know stasis, of shots as fine as engravings, with star-like cracks here and shadows there, as if they were true oriental calligraphies. From performance (the 2019 Nuit Blanche in Saint Eustache) to the use of plastic films as material (“they have the extraordinary characteristic of transforming matter through their interaction with light”), Evi Keller ceaselessly reveals the surprising mystery which the earth, as well as our bodies, are subject to: the irresistible dynamism of matter.


Evi Keller exhibition, galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger, March 20 – May 7

Matière-Lumière [Stèle] ML-V-20-1030, 2020 Mixed Technique
31 x 39 x 6 cm
Base : 130 x 39 x 6cm
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger, Paris.

Matière-Lumière [Stèle], ML-V-20-1008, 2020
Mixed Technique, 81 x 62 x 10 cm
Base : 110 x 62 x 10 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger, Paris