Life in the digital economy of images and information can enrich us but can also induce a sense of being overwhelmed. The Bauhaus-Archiv / Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin extends Sensing the Future: Moholy-Nagy, Media and the Arts as a means to consider the impact of technology today by exploring how it was addressed in the practice of the Hungarian polymath artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), a key figure in the history of Modernism.
Though an accomplished painter, sculptor, photographer and filmmaker, Moholy-Nagy’s most original contributions are his speculations and experiments in new media such as photograms; light, kinetic, projection and sound art; multimedia, expanded cinema, interactivity and immersive-participatory installations.
Oliver Botar, guest curator and Professor of Art History (School of Art, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg) seeks to introduce this seminal figure of post-medial practices to younger generations and to consider, through responses to his ideas by contemporary artists, how his work is relevant to art now.
Moholy-Nagy understood by the early 1920s that the reproducibility of technically based media in an increasingly urbanized world has placed us in a fundamentally new situation. He felt that people needed guidance to cope with this new environment. His role as a teacher, first at the Bauhaus during the 1920s, then in Chicago from 1937 to 1946, underlines his life-long commitment to pedagogy. As if anticipating media theorist Friedrich Kittler’s dictum that “it is we who adapt to the machine.
The machine does not adapt to us,”, Moholy-Nagy attempted to place humanity back in control in light of this disheartening trajectory of modernity. But how could one be taught to cope? Crucially, he humanized technologies by regarding them as extensions of our sensory organs. These ideas informed the work of media theorists such as Walter Benjamin, John Cage, Sigfried Giedion and Marshall McLuhan, who anticipated or theorized digital culture as it emerged. Moholy-Nagy’s aesthetic engagement with the inherent tension between technology and the body broached the notions of immersion, participation and interactivity.
Underlining his belief in the power of sensory education, Moholy-Nagy held that “only the total… integration of the senses and intellect will allow an organic development of the individual. A person so balanced will be better able to face the complexities of modern life”. He promoted the notion that people should be trained to more fully utilize their senses – sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing –but also kinaesthesia and proprioception.
This implicit rejection of a sensory and therefore medial hierarchy legitimized his employment of multiple media in his own creative production. His experimental approach to media and materials, as well as his resistance to medial hierarchies, his concern with perception, and his view of art as a form of information anticipated contemporary artistic practice as well as the culture of the digital.
In addition to paintings, sculptures, films, publications, photographs and photograms by Moholy-Nagy, works by artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Eduardo Kac, Floris Neusüss and Guy Maddin are presented, some specially commissioned. Kac shows Aromapoetry, a volume of olfactory poems. Eliasson‘s includes his new “sun-tracker” technology.
Neusüss and Renate Heyne contribute photograms made using Moholy-Nagy’s Light Prop for an Electric Stage. Maddin and Development Ltd. offer an erotic “evocation” of Moholy-Nagy’s 1928 filmscript Once a Chick, Always a Chick. Lancelot Coar and Patrick Harrop interpret Moholy-Nagy’s 1925 proposal for a “Polycinema”, an anticipation of expanded cinema. Jörg Lensing and Theater der Klänge realized Moholy-Nagy’s multi-sensory theatrical script Mechanical Eccentric.
Also participating: Eduardo Aquino (Winnipeg); the team of Nike Arnold, Andreas Haus, Aline Helmcke, Fédéric Krauke, Walter Lenertz (Berlin); Naomi Crellin (Baltimore); Ken Gregory (Winnipeg); Gottfried Jäger/Karl Martin Holzhauser (Bielefeld); Erika Lincoln (Winnipeg); the team of Thomas Löscher, Guido Raschke and Sebastian Klaus (Bielefeld); Bernie Miller (Winnipeg); Javier Navarro/Javier Núñez (Madrid); Freya Olafson (Winnipeg); Peter Yeadon (New York).