Observatory reveals a colourful semi-abstract view of the interior of the Einstein Tower, an astrophysical observatory in the Albert Einstein Science Park in Potsdam. Two colour transparencies (one positive and one negative) are superimposed onto a light-box. The observatory was designed by Eric Mendelsohn in 1919–1920, a German-born architect who settled in England in 1933 to escape Nazi persecution in 1919–1920 and 1935 respectively.
Catherine Yass explains:
The Einstein Tower is designed to split light into the colours of the spectrum ... The [sun] light coming through the open roof is brought down into the tower and reflected by a 45-degree mirror into a horizontal tunnel, where it is split into the spectrum. The camera is placed in front of the mirror so as to intercept the light as it turns from white light to colour. The light in the image is coloured photographically, by placing a blue negative over a positive image.... In this image [the camera] becomes part of the process of investigating light, and the view in the mirror is like the camera’s self-portrait, with one mechanism looking at another.
Observatory is one of two photographic light-boxes by Yass commissioned in 2000 by the Collection on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for the British Embassy in Berlin. The commission coincided with the construction of a new British Embassy following the reunification of Germany in 1990, to replace the historical site that had been destroyed during the Second World War.
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