Immaterial Agents of Laszlo Moholy Nagy
The years that Laszlo Moholy Nagy spent as a Bauhaus professor (1922-1928) were marked by two interesting artifacts that amplified the concept of a work of art and of the role of an artist in the realization and the control of the final form. Both continue to be valid cases in considering and analyzing a work of architecture.
In 1922 Moholy Nagy developed a series known as “telephonic paintings” which impressed Gropius. They were pieces of art that extended the artist’s role and included the industry that produced the pieces in a sign factory. The varnished compositions were elaborated over a base of previous sketches that weren’t presented but rather explained in a telephone conversation with the person in charge of the factory who had in hand a piece of square paper to take note of the lines. The compositions that Moholy Nagy laid out consisted of color maps and elemental geometry, inspired by the constructionist work of El Lissitzky, making them susceptible to the industrial production that was carried out in three different sizes.
Walter Benjamin theorized (14 years later) about the value of a work of art in the era of its technical reproduction, highlighting the loss of the aura of a unique object as the essential change that relieves art as a political action. The factory produced varnished frames marked an important point in the debate and constituted objects that were on the limit of art, architecture, construction, or decoration. What was the original object: the frame produced by the industry or the sketch that Moholy Nagy created on the square paper? Had the telephone conversation been recorded, what would have been its value in the creative process? Was the reproduction of the sketch 100% accurate or was there a certain error that was assumed as part of the productive process?
Broadening the debate, around 1930 Moholy Nagy perfected another experimental work of art that intervened in the independent space of the direct action of the artist: A modulator of light and of space was the mechanism that produced and manipulated the illumination and the shadows of a series of metallic plans of different textures and transparencies. The motor intensified the movement of the metallic plans, making them reflective, transparent, opaque, and perforated, creating in this matter one of the first kinetic sculptures. The effects on the enveloping space were not as expected: the light painted and had texture, the object mixed itself with its own shadow that blurred the limits of the surface, shadow, it’s reflection, and the background, at the same time changing the notion of the space.
When it comes to thinking about and giving value to a work of architecture, the ideas suggested in the piece are valid: the quality of communication in the process of project realization is essential to the final quality of the work, the notion of architecture as a shared effort, the indirect action of immaterial agents that ends up being decisive for the formal and spacial perception.