Institute of Light

Moholy's dream

Moholy is a visionary. The past is an inertia of the human spirit. To live with the familiar is to be blind to the present. The future belongs to the growing powers of the masses. The invention of the motor car and other technologies offer new kinds of experience that circumvent the narrow routines to which man has been habituated. The whirring business of industrial life promises to form individuals into collectivities that can assert their authority over the structures that once limited their horizon. The role of the artist is to capture this movement so that it might be appropriated for the collective mind. The future is communist.

Moholy's art is not something partaken in the quiet of an enclosed studio -- art is on the street, moving in the open. Art is not limited to the rare qualities of artistic genius -- creativity is rooted in the biological existence of every single person.

Light opens

Moholy's quest for new forms has a claustrophobic intensity. The whole move towards light as a medium of the future expresses itself as the opening of the black box, exposing its secrets and freeing the experience imprisoned inside. This happens in a variety of ways. In 1930 Moholy exhibits the Light Prop: a series of rotating discs whose perforations emit changing patterns of light. From a porthole in the box, it is possible for viewers to see for themselves the workings of the internal mechanism. But light art is not simply a matter of the production of new patterns -- creative labour extends to the inscription as well. In Moholy's photograms, the aperture becomes the point at which light enters the box. Cameraless photography allows light to paint itself directly onto film. And so in the development of man's creative energies, photography supersedes painting: where there was dense sticky pigment, now there is fluid evanescent light.

The apex of Moholy's project is the motion picture. Here light, sound and movement combine. The shame of conventional cinema is that it clings weakly to the theatrical stage. In doing this, the possibilities of experience are limited to the familiar pathos of `sentimental naturalism'. What is required are new conventions specifically created for motion pictures:

Moholy's project is to remove the obstacles which block the path of light: doors, walls, boxes, etc. Light opens. There is reason for thinking he would be more than happy with the kinds of public spaces designed for contemporary living, such as shopping complexes.

But that is jumping the gun. We begin, then with the dream that an institute might exist which holds onto the new without boxing it into the familiar: light is the medium that offers itself as a universal substance, capable of reflecting the operations of the collective imagination.

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