Review: Big Soft Illusion

The vernissage for Big Soft Illusion, scheduled in the midst of a lockdown, was an illusion of normality within a state of abnormality. Limited to invitation only, with the artists allowed only one guest each, the evening celebrated visual art that was by necessity visual to only a few. Greeted by Wilm Danby’s human sculpture when entering the space, its melancholic expression could parallel that of the viewer during such dystopian times. Yet in reality, Big Soft Illusion’s vernissage was a beautifully bright event, leaving everyone with hope and connection. An intimate moment of celebrating collective expression and togetherness, enabling both artists and artist friends to relate to each other in a personal sense.


The nine international artists and two local artists of PILOTENKUECHE Round 45 imaginatively interact with every surface of Alte Handelsschule. Alexey Lazarev uses the translucent windows to display portraits he made by masking himself with tape. Loïc Chauvin stops viewers in their tracks as he sites his porcelain-like plates of chocolate on the floor. Standing back to back, Ján Vasilko’s geometric paintings are sculpturally freestanding and Wilm Danby’s video, in which an absurd feasting ritual is playfully depicted, is projected from the staircase. Even a wall becomes a canvas for Madeleine Dietrich, as she directly painted onto it when responding to her photography. Through an inventive physicality, this group of artists have transformed the space into an engaging, eclectic experience.

Introspection. Extrospection. Preservation. Confrontation.

As the artists worked with the expectation that no audience would see their art, Big Soft Illusion is the product of reflection. It focuses on the experience of the artists rather than the viewer, enabling the artists to question who their work is for and to contemplate the self, their surroundings and their situations in the process. Kristy M Chan’s work preserves precise experiences, from her painting about wheeling her bike across Leipzig at night to her video on an intriguing neighbour who always sticks his head out the window. Turning inward, Carolin Kölsch’s unstretched canvas hangs high as she explores notions of essence, growth and inner feeling. Turning outward, Manita Kaewsomnuk sheds light on the Bangkok sex industry in My body, I can sell and Sebastián Hermida confronts our urban reality in Landscape of Factories. The premise of no potential viewer gave the artists an opportunity to evolve and refine their ideas and perspectives. For Cyrill Rafael Vasilyev this meant successfully finding the right moment to step back from his painting, resulting in an air of lightness and transparency in contrast to his otherwise bold and distinct series.

The sensory illusion of the vernissage performance.

The voices of the vernissage were Barnabas Herrmann, Marietheres Schneider and Walburga Walde. Defying the boundaries of vocal expression, the singers’ improvised interaction perfectly incorporated the concept of a ‘big soft illusion’. Due to restrictions, the audience listened from outside the space. Hearing yet not seeing the singers, a sea of enigmatic sounds echoed through the air without context or familiarity. Blowing, hissing, chirping, screeching, whirring, the vocals resembled an array of non-human noises and, disconnected from the vocalist, engendered a dynamic sensory hallucination. The polyphonic performance was filmed by artist Norbi Kovacs. Similar to how reality is deceived in the performance, Norbi’s work for the exhibition transcends the barrier between screen and landscape as he is filmed ‘jogging along the frame’.

Big Soft Illusion is an exhibition that has had to adapt to a situation that is continually changing. In his curatorial text, Yoav Schutzer explores how the artists are collectively responding to ‘conditions of uncertainty’:

Big Soft Illusion is a reflection of the current situation.

It can be perceived as an organised mess; the representation of working under the conditions of uncertainty. Here, the concept is not an answer or description of an idea. Instead, it is the questions we want to ask and don’t get answered. Are we going to exhibit? Who can come? Are we allowed to invite guests? Are we allowed to travel? What is open and what is not? And yet even after answering some of those questions the exhibition and the situation are still vague. The conditions are still unclear and therefore create the unique experience of an exhibition that never happened.

A show that officially is happening, the paintings and prints will be on the wall, the installations on the floors and windows, the social media will promote and flyers are handed out, and yet because of the current rules it is an illusion.

The illusion of this exhibition is bigger than ourselves and the room in which it manifests, as it speaks to a time that reaches all parts of the globe. Yet this big illusion is softened by the dialogue that exists between the art at Alte Handelsschule, a dialogue that brings harmony, comfort and connection to any viewer.

You can see it

Big Soft Illusion is still open to visitors by appointment. Contact or to see the exhibition between Thur 19th Nov and Sat 21st Nov, 4 – 6pm.

Have a look at Big Soft Illusion’s online catalogue for details about the artists, their work and their words and don’t miss the final exhibition of PILOTENKUECHE Round 45, Flat Time Experience. It will be held at the PK studios from 18th Dec – 21st Dec.

International Artists

Alexey Lazarev (CA)
Loïc Chauvin (CA)
Ján Vasilko (SK)
Sebastián Hermida (CL)
Cyrill Rafael Vasilyev (RU)
Kristy M Chan (HK/UK)
Manita Kaewsomnuk (TH)
Norbi Kovacs (SK/NL)
Wilm Danby (UK)

Local Artists

Madeleine Dietrich (US)
Carolin Kölsch (DE)


Yoav Schutzer (IL)


Ella Yolande (UK)
Rosie Grant (UK)
Johanna Urban (DE)