Kineticism in modern art is a term used to denominate an international trend that involves artworks of virtual and actual movement generated by human force, natural power, mechanic, magnetic, or electric devices and/or integrating light and sound effects and/or exploiting the movement of the spectator. We must specify the word movement precisely to make it adaptable to typically kinetic two dimensional, relief-like or light- or sound-kinetic works. Movement in Kinetics means not only actual or virtual motion, but primarily change and transformation.
Kinetic Art appeared around the 1920s and developed in the 1950s. In its earlier phase it was a scarce phenomenon in the avant-garde tendencies. Although its theoretical basis was formed as early as the first decades of the last century, just few actual artworks were created due to technological difficulties. However, after World War II. Kinetic Art became an international movement uniting artists into groups and organizations. In the 1950s and 60s several significant exhibitions and conferences were held worldwide, extensive essays, books and monographies were published about Kineticism. In Paris The Galerie Denise René played an especially fundamental role in its history.
Why and how did Kinetic Art appear? Modern scientific space-time concept generated the process that evolved Kineticism in the 1920s and 30s. In the course of this process open sculpture, space dynamic sculpture, moving sculpture, movement sculpture, parallel or complement to this light sculpture emerged gradually in avant-garde art. It was an attempt to produce non-representational art using the parameters of real time and motion. The first artists creating works of Kinetic Art belonged to or emerged from avant-garde movements. Avant-garde sculpture is no more about shaping the volume of mass but it is the separation of volume from mass and the construction of volume without mass. It concerns the framing of space where modern scientific space concept inferred the notion of time i.e. motion, change and transformation of the work in time. The moving object outlines and defines a certain area of space around itself creating a form or image in space. In practice the traditional full sculpture burst, admitting in itself space and then movement. It evolved as follows: hollow sculpture, open sculpture, moving sculpture, movement sculpture.
There is a considerable difference in Kinetic Art between the works made before and after the World War II. In the beginning of the twentieth century avant-garde art incorporated an important aesthetic feature: with art they wanted to occupy total reality, accomplishing a spiritual unity. The manifestation of this spiritual unity also involved the cult of technology, as the artists saw a unifying means in science and machine civilization. Many of the Kinetic artists emerging in the forties and fifties still relied on the formal and ideological results of Constructivism, Dada and Surrealism, but the utopist, unifying, “totalitarian” concept became significantly less characteristic. Real and virtual movement often appeared as separate, independent aesthetic value, and as a new sculptural element it became of interest in its own right. Furthermore, in case of artistic creation of technical nature the mechanical, technical, industrial etc. components were also considered as new “materials” completely isolated from their original context. In the fifties belief in science and technology did not altogether disappear, but fascinated certain kinetic artists who explored the scope of artistic reform by means of natural sciences. They believed that true art is always in accordance with the science of the age and they searched for ways of artistic development in the modern world. Nevertheless, even more denied, criticized caricatured modern industrial, consumer civilization, mocking the machine from an anarchistic point of view and their artworks had a much stronger impact. If we consider the approach to technology we can differentiate between two main trends, “Constructive Kinetics” and “Surrealist Kinetics”, where the first involves purely abstract forms, spatial relations and motion effects, the latter always refers to some human presence or activity reflecting emotions, fears or humour, and is occasionally cultic totem-like.
Kinetic Art reassessed the relation of artworks to their environment and the spectator. Some works were not primarily intended to museum halls, but to open spaces in modern urban environment which they were aimed at being in relevant correspondence with. (e.g. space-light dynamic constructions, kinetic fountains and light-art murals) The artists often purposed to adapt sculpture to present day architecture and milieu where traditional plastic art lost its force and validity. They wished to surmount the gap between modern art and the spectator by creating works that arise more interest and attention and even involve the viewer as a motive power in an interactive, close relationship. Moreover, some artists experimented in the mass production of smaller scale kinetic pieces and thus linking Kineticism this way to applied arts.
Several founders of Kineticism, László Moholy-Nagy, Victor Vasarely, Nicolas Schöffer and György Kepes were Hungarians who worked abroad in Germany, France, or the USA. In Hungary, however, Kinetic Art as well as other significant modern and post-modern trends appeared only in the late 1960s, after many years of socialist cultural isolation from Western artistic improvements. In a few years Kineticism became an established tendency and it was possible to find artworks representing various types, such as Op-art works, Mobiles, Mobile-machines, Sound-sculptures as well as Lumino-kineticism and Cybernetic Art. The newly discovered models were incorporated and modified according to the “East European” cultural and artistic situations and to the specific objectives of individual artists. Nevertheless, in many cases no direct connection or influence can be detected and the actual similarities arose from the corresponding artistic means of Kineticism.
In painting the influence of Vasarely and Op-art along with many other Geometric Abstract trends can be detected in certain works of János Fajó, Ferenc Lantos, Károly Halász and Tamás Hencze. The Op-art reliefs and mural works of György Z. Gács were ingenious outcomes of his research with glass, light and reflection. Dr. Antal Nemcsics and Tamás Pócsy make peculiar optical artefacts perfectly combining science and art. Some of their works incorporate real movement as well.
The first Mobile was created by Barna Megyeri as early as the 1950s, followed by István Haraszty and Béla Tilles two decades later. Megyeri, experimenting independently from earlier avant-garde achievements, created space dynamic works from folded paper and metal. He focussed on the space-time concept of (hanging) sculpture and attempted to renew art through mathematics and natural science. The metal spiral Mobiles of Tilles are based on the same phenomena. Moved by wind or ventilation, they turn slowly, in a meditative way, reflecting colour and light rhythmically. Haraszty’s ‘Play Art’ includes pendulum-like swinging, swirling Mobiles that are par excellence Kinetic in the sense that these fascinating masterpieces are about movement itself. In his oeuvre the most important sculptures are Mobile-machines among which the unique ‘Rolling Ball’ constructions are outstanding. Several of his works made in the 1990s are based on a physical paradox conveying universal, social, and moral messages.
Rezső Moder’s sculptures are large scale metal Mobiles with specific symbols (e.g. Béla Bartók’s profile) carved in the heavy hanging elements. In his performances the Mobiles become percussion instruments, adding a new dimension to his works: sound. Sound is also an elementary factor in the Kinetic works of György Galántai and Viktor Lois. They genuinely modified the foreign influences, and created surrealistic, dada-like Mobiles and Mobile-machines that have strong connection to Concept Art. Like Tinguely, they also composed their sculptures from metal technical waste. However, the criticism of consumer society was replaced by a strong political opposition characteristic of the Hungarian Neoavantgarde movement. Galántai’s main aim was to integrate accidental movement and sound into his overall communication program, whereas Lois’s kinetic sculptures bare more resemblance to musical instruments.
Hungarian Lumino-kineticism is represented internationally by Attila Csáji who started experimenting with Holography and Laser in the 1980s. Working together with the physicist Dr Norbert Kroó, his artistic objective was to explore the visual potential of Laser light and the space conception of Holography. The aesthetics of Kepes had great influence on Csáji, who founded the International Kepes Society in 2000.
A decade earlier the Kinetic Artists of Eger, László Balogh, Károly Bodó, Lajos Dargay, Béla Szatmári and Béla Tilles turned to light from a purely abstract point of view. They incorporated light and movement as constructive parts of their space dynamic reliefs, Mobiles and Mobile-machines. Light thus became a means to extend the construction in space and to dematerialise it. Following the footsteps of Moholy-Nagy, Kepes and Schöffer their main artistic ambition was to creat works that can be in close connection with its environment as well as with the public. Apart from these similarities the works of this loosely related group vary with each artist since they adapted the influences and aesthetic values to their personal styles in different ways.
Light as an artistic means became more and more popular in the 1990s and appeared in the oeuvre of such exceptional artists as Attila Csörgő, Klára Kuchta and Andárs Mengyán. Csörgő based his works on mathematics, experimenting with lines and light points that in movement can make up three dimensional geometric forms, polygonal and spherical objects. This phenomenon was a fundamental principle in one of Kuchta’s grandious light environments. Her installation also analysed space-time-movement relations and involved the restructuring of the exhibition space, a formal baroque church interior. In her smaller scale installations projected light became the only constituent of the artwork. Mengyán’s sculptures and installations are built on strict geometrical rules and scientific analyses of colour and form. In his space dynamic constructions the vibrantly coloured small rods and the supporting network of strings open up new dimensions in ultraviolet light.
As the student of Schöffer and later the director of the Schöffer Museum in Kalocsa, Dargay introduced Cybernetic Art in Hungary. His complex and professionally constructed sculptures are the advancement of Kineticsm: apart from combining space, motion and light, they are also interactive with their environment. Dargay’s constructions react to movement, light and sound and as far as his public sculpture is concerned even to weather conditions.
Although we can call Kineticsim a historical tendency there are still many young artists experimenting with movement or light. The new generation of Kinetic Art in Hungary means primarily Tibor Zielinski and Áron Dohnál who already represent the 21st century. Zielinski creates large scale glass constructions with various objects applied in them and light places emphasis on the corresponding elements. Dohnál’s Holographs and Holographyic environments are the innovative refinement, elaboration and evolution of the predecessors’ works.
Text by: Orsolya Hangyel PhD.
Layout: Gábor Gerhes
Content: 92 + 4 pages, with 54 colour-plates
No. of Issues: 1000
Date of Publication: 2008
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