.... "The reality of our century is technology:
the invention, construction, and maintenance of machines.
To be a user of machines is to be of the spirit
of this century. Machines have replaced the transcendental
spiritualism of past eras."
-- Lászlo Moholy-Nagy
László Moholy-Nagy was born in Hungary and served as an artillery officer in the First World War before completing his law degree. His early paintings showed his interest in German Expressionist painting, then in the early 1920s, he was influenced by Dada (particularly Kurt Schwitters and Paul Klee) and then by the Russian Constructivists.
In 1921 he got married. He worked in close collaboration with his wife, photographer Lucia Moholy, and some of the photographs credited to him are their joint work or hers alone.In 1924, Walter Gropius, the Director of the Bauhaus, met Moholy-Nagy and was so impressed by his ideas about the future of art and society that he asked him to take over the running of the foundation course (Johannes Itten, the previous course leader, had recently resigned.)At the Bauhaus Moholy-Nagy joined some of the major artistic figures of the era, including Joseph Albers, Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer,Lyonel Feininger, Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee.
Together with Gropius, Mohloy-Nagy proceeded to edit a series of fourteen books, including his Painting, Photography, Film that defined the philosophical framework for the Bauhaus program and set an agenda for much of art education in the twentieth century.Increasing political pressure led both Moholy-Nagy and Gropius to resign in 1928. Moholy-Nagy experimented with stage design and photography. In the 1930s he moved to England to escape the Nazis, working for a while as a photographer, before moving to America. Lucia Moholy stayed in England, working as a photographer and teacher.In Chicago he was invited to direct the 'New Bauhaus' and when this failed through lack of financial support, in January 1939 he opened the School of Design (later called the Institute of Design), explicitly founded on Bauhaus principles. Shortly after his death from leukaemia in 1946, this became financially successful with the influx of former GIs. he influx of former GIs.
"Theater, Circus, Variety," The Theater of the Bauhaus, 1929
"The Theater of Totality with its multifarious complexities of light, space, plane, form, motion, sound, man Ð and with all the possibilities for varying and combining these elements must be an ORGANISM." -- László Moholy-Nagy
This treatise arose from the ferment of the Bauhaus School, founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919, where the very notion of art was being reconfigured according to its function and integration with architecture and technology. Although the Bauhaus is best known for its contribution to industrial design aesthetics, artists which included László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandisnky used the school as a laboratory to further examine principles of abstraction in such media as painting, photography and sculpture. This foray led Moholy-Nagy, along with the sculptor Oskar Schlemmer, to formulate a theater for the Bauhaus based on a reductive approach to the synthesis of its primary elements: "space, form, motion, sound and light."
In the pursuit of a theater of abstraction, or Theater of Totality as Moholy-Nagy called it, he denounced, like the Futurists, the primacy of the "logical-intellectual " literary text. Here the written word, and by extension the physical presence of the actor, was given equal footing in the larger interplay and integration of lighting, music, and stage design. The influence of machine technology, so prominent in Moholy-Nagy's work in painting, photography and film, led to the concept of the "Mechanized Eccentric," in which the centrality of the human body in traditional theater was ultimately subsumed in a mechanical rendering and abstract play of stage action and movement.
Moholy-Nagy's writings on the Bauhaus theater established new formal groundrules for the synthesis, organic unity and syntax of theater art. His ideas also profoundly challenged the relationship between the viewer and the work. He proposed that the new dynamic means of mechanized light, stagecraft, film, electronic sound, and "an enhanced control over all formative media," be used to dissolve the sacred fourth wall between stage and spectator. He envisioned fantastic mechanical devices moving across the multi-planed stage, an architectonic reorganization of theatrical space that would literally immerse spectators in 3-dimensional action. At this point of interpenetration, The Theater of Totality called for an end to the passivity of the audience, a theater which will "let them take hold and participate Ð actually allow them to fuse with the action on the stage at the peak of cathartic ecstasy."
László Moholy-Nagy is considered to be the first major artist born before 1900 to be called an "electronic artist." Moholy-Nagy taught at the Bauhaus during the 1920s where he developed his fascination for the integration of art and technology, the poetics of the machine, stating, "my belief is that mathematically harmonious shapes, executed precisely, are filled with emotion quality, and that they represent the perfect balance between feeling and intellect."
From this he infused his works with a refined, dynamic energy, in which his aim was to reveal movement through layering and spatial effects. Moholy-Nagy was influenced by Russian Constructivisim and Dadaism, combining the highly controlled geometric forms with a playful, improvised quality. Many of the motifs in his early paintings were drawn from mechnical shapes, gears, levers, and typographical characters, such as in this painting "Large Emotion Wheel" (1921). His quest to find the emotive qualities of lines and abstract shapes is revealed in the title of this painting as well in the remark, "the drawings became a rhythically articulated network of lines, showing not so much objects as my excitement about them."
To achieve the illusion of space, in such works as "Composition Z VIII" (1924), objects are foregrounded, backgrounded, transparent, opaque, light to dark. His interest in 3-dimensionality was influenced by the cubists, breaking away from the conventions of traditional perspective. Moholy-Nagy stated, "Tearing apart the old visual conception, the cubist painters originated a new means of rendering, as well as a space articulation. The cubists hoped to develop a method to penetrate reality more thoroughly than had been possible with perspective-illusion."
Not only a depth of space, but movement, floating without sense of gravity, though anchored structurally through shape.With "Construction" (1932), Moholy-Nagy had achieved what he referred to as 'vision in motion,' floating objects in space, no longer grounded, but achieving a new Òharmony in a state of equilibrium."
"This kind of picture is most probably the passage between easel painting and light display." Eventually Moholy-Nagy saw the limitation inherent in pigment on canvas and worked towards the use of light as a means of achieving new imagery and qualities of abstraction. Moholy-Nagy began working with light-sensitive technique, the photogram, in the early twenties. Exposing light to light sensitive paper, objects placed on paper were not exposed, thus revealing a transluscent shape: thus literally "painting with light."
He used the photogram in a non-represential way to achieve a sense of space and floating that he strove for in the paintings, and to create even more complex layered effects.
Infinite shades of light and transparency, a 3-dimensional virtual world made up of theshadows of reality. Moholy-Nagy felt that the composition of light was the future of painting, a prophesy come true with the advent of digital imaging.
"I became interested in painting with light, not on the surface of canvas, but directly in space. The advancement towards space, light, vision in motion was fully realized with the Light Space Modulator" (1930). Moholy-Nagy worked on this throughout his years at the Bauhaus, finally completed after he left his teaching position in the late 1920s.
A mechanically driven rotating kaleidoscope projecting ever-changing patterns of light, shadow and color in a darkened space or theater, the sculpture is not the constuction per se but rather the play of light in the space. After finishing the sculpture, Moholy-Nagy created the film "Light Display Machine: Black, White, Grey" (1932) to integrate film media achieving an even more complex, layered perspective."When the 'light-prop' was set in motion for the first time in a small mechanics shop in 1930, I felt like the sorcerer's apprentice. The mobile was so startling in its coordinated motions and space articulations of light and shadow sequences that I almost believed in magic."