• Issue
  • Mar 01, 2024

One on One: Isaac Chong Wai on Käthe Kollwitz

KATHE KOLLWITZ, Pieta (Mother with Dead Son), 1937-39, patinated bronze, 152 × 116 × 160 cm. Via Wikicommons. 

In the winter of 2015 I found myself sitting on a windowsill in a warm, ground-floor exhibition room at Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin. I had momentarily forgotten that it was snowing outside, and as I leaned against the window I looked out toward the back of the Neue Wache (New Guard) memorial, which was blanketed in darkness. The building reminded me that architecture typically has a front and back, like the human body. I breathed onto the glass without much thought—an automatic gesture, something one almost has to do. The back of the memorial (at least what I could see of it) fogged up for a few seconds, and I repeated this action several more times. There was then a brief moment in which I recognized my breath marks were blurring the image of the memorial. It may sound insignificant, but sometime later this led me to create several works connected to the traces of human warmth.