Month: April 2014

Light & Movement

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#14 Light & Movement
images of László Moholy-Nagy’s Light-Space Modulator

Lumino kinetic art is a combination of light and movement. One if its earliest proponents, Hungarian born Bauhaus member László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), is regarded as one of the fathers of the lumino kinetic art movement. 

One of the main focuses for Moholy-Nagy was photography. He coined the term the New Vision for his belief that photography could create a whole new way of seeing the outside world that the human eye could not. He experimented with the (camera-less) photographic process of exposing light sensitive paper with objects overlain on top of it, called photograms.

some early photogram trials of my own
some early photogram trials of my own

In 1922, Moholy-Nagy created his Light-Space Modulator, one of the first Light Art pieces to combine Kinetic Art; a device with moving parts meant to have light projected through it in order to create mobile light reflections and shadows on nearby surfaces. With its gleaming glass and metal surfaces of mobile perforated disks, a rotating glass spiral, and a sliding ball, the Light-Space Modulator created the effect of photograms in motion. The geometric complexity of the design and the shapes created by shadows and light conveyed the dynamic possibilities of both machine and camera. Made for an exhibition held in Paris during the summer of 1930, it is often interpreted as a kinetic sculpture but, as a pioneer achievement of kinetic sculpture, it might also be seen as one of the earliest examples of Light Art.

Moholy-Nagy is also the author of one of my favorite design books – Vision In Motion. Here’s one enlightening excerpt:

“…the last step in this technique is the emphasis on integration through a conscious search for relationships – artistic, scientific, technical as well as social. The intuitive working mechanics of a genius gives a clue to this process. The unique ability of the genius can be approximated by everyone if only its essential feature be apprehended: the flashlike act of connecting elements not obviously belonging together. Their constructive relationships, unnoticed before, produce new result.

If the same methodology were used generally in all fields we would have the key to our age – seeing everything in relationship.” 



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Albumen emulsion photographic transfer onto egg interiors by Shoshana Zambryski-Stachel
Albumen emulsion photographic transfers onto egg interior by Shoshana Zambryski-Stachel

I recently caught the Art [in] Science exhibit (@ the Energy Biosciences Institute jointly presented with Science@Cal) – a fascinating multi-exhibit exploration of the many different ways science can be expressed through art.

Among the many interesting projects and their creators, I met Shoshana Zambryski-Stachel, (daughter of Dr. Patricia Zambryski, Cal Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology), artist/creator of an emulsion photographic process – an unimaginably delicate effect – created via photographic exposure process onto the inside surface of eggshells. She describes her process in more detail here.

The results are breathtaking, whimsical and utterly unexpected; a perfect example of how relatively simple scientific methods of light manipulation can be applied to create ingenious artistic effect.

In one of my own upcoming explorations of light I will also be exploring the simultaneously durable/fragile environment of the calcium cabonate crystals + protein matrix form, better known as the eggshell. Stay tuned!


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A poem to contemplate.

butterfly 5


The eye is the lamp of the body so I tried
to make a world where all I ate was light. Butterflies
complete a similar labor in the summer
garden, beating their wings slowly like a healthy
person, the kind of person who runs for fun, could
run from an attacker, eats greens in the same
quantity as the salty meats the storytelling part
of us appears to favor. I couldn’t decide
whether I wanted to stay alive or wanted to go
faster, they appeared to contradict each other, I tried
in all I did to eat light. I left the argument
about the difference between a slave and a servant
on the table though I think what I think is that
consent to servitude is as much a fiction as a butterfly
having a nervous breakdown because of the beauty
of the lavender. The longer your hunger takes
to find a shape the longer you can hold it. Consider the butterfly,
only at rest in the middle of consumption, but even
then practicing for departure, for disappearance,
closing in the middle of the landscape.
Trying to manage a world in which all you eat
is light is difficult. Labor, and the lungs should be like wings
of the butterfly beating, closing, slowly, the moonlight
tensing the edge of each, almost lifting the edge of each
towards the middle distance. So all that I consume
can make me healthy, illuminate my throat
and the interstate of my digestive tract
with what a butterfly’s been swimming in.


In Praise of Shadows

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Photo of Artist Laura Raboff's delicate wire sculptures and their shadow play.
Photo of Artist Laura Raboff’s delicate wire sculptures and the resultant shadow play.

Years ago I came across a slim book by Japanese author Jun’ichirō Tanizaki titled In Praise of Shadows (1933).  It’s a wonderful meditation on aesthetics, which contrasts Traditional Eastern vs Modern Western thought and values. One excerpt that especially resonates,

“Such is our way of thinking—we find beauty not in the in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, the one thing against another creates.”

Recently, I had a great discussion with collaborator Jen Burke on the topic of shadows. Over the past several years, she has nurtured a connection which has focused around body work, and we are contemplating expanding on that work in our collaborative art piece.

Light is energy: it brightens, warms, illuminates, reveals. In pursuing these positive aspects of light we often neglect the inverse quality – one that paradoxically best reveals light: the contrasting absence of it, or shadows.

Shadows – in a wide range from subtly muted pale grey to highest contrasting stark black – transform objects in a multitude of ways to exaggerate, distort, create mood or add drama. A crisp crescent of darkness below the fullness of an orb implies heaviness of weight physically, while the murky pallor of a mid-winter sky conveys shadows weight emotionally. They illustrate an uncanny ability to lift or subdue mood, as they come and go.

Shadows are the yin to light’s yang.