Artist Text

The legacies of the Bauhaus

For the Present and the Future

Luca Frei, Installation at MoMAK, with Bauhaus paper studies reproduced by Eric Gjerde, 2018.

Luca Frei, Installation at MoMAK, 2018.

Luca Frei, Installation at MoMAK, Bauhaus paper studies reproduced by Eric Gjerde, 2018.

Luca Frei, Installation at MoMAK, Bauhaus paper studies reproduced by Eric Gjerde, 2018.

Luca Frei, Installation at MoMAK, Bauhaus paper studies reproduced by Eric Gjerde, 2018.

My method of bringing new life to archival images is to look at what happens at the margins rather than the center of a picture. I am also obsessed with making links, based on the belief that everything is connected. And also with what I call “narrative environments,” mediating spaces facilitating new forms of engagement.

My method of bringing new life to archival images is to look at what happens at the margins rather than the center of a picture. I am also obsessed with making links, based on the belief that everything is connected. And also with what I call “narrative environments,” mediating spaces facilitating new forms of engagement.

When Marion von Osten and Grant Watson invited me to contribute to Corresponding With by developing a new work based on a personal reading of archival material, I responded with enthusiasm. Despite this enthusiasm, however, I was also a bit hesitant: hesitant to be thrown into a project with so many professionals and scholars for whom the Bauhaus constitutes their field of expertise; hesitant about my subjective interpretations to the ordering system of the archive. I came up with the idea of re-staging Life Construction, an experimental exhibition from 1931—building on four reproductions documenting the exhibition—through a structure inspired by Jikken Kōbō, a postwar artist group active in Tokyo in the 1950s, about which I will have more to say in what follows.

Seikatsu Kosei (Life Construction) exhibition at Bunka Gakuin (Bunka Vocational College) in June 1931. Kenchiku Gaho (Architecture illustrated), Vol. 22, No. 10, np.

One of the routes through which Bauhaus ideas were first introduced in Japan, Life Construction was designed by architect Renshichiro Kawakita together with former Bauhaus student Takehiko Mizutani. It combined the design principles and preliminary course praxis of the Bauhaus with material from the Japanese modernist movement and local crafts. One of the many challenges in this project has been that apart from this documentation and a few mentions within scholarly articles, there is little information about the exhibition—especially not in English. The potential I saw in these limitations was to use the documentation as raw material and give it a multidimensional quality.

Luca Frei, Model for a Pedagogical Vehicle, 2017, photo: Karl Isakson.

This aspect of multidimensionality has been central to the development of Model for a Pedagogical Vehicle in terms of references and materials. At present, the installation includes elements of handicraft, sculpture, and architecture, as well as the documentation from Life Construction, and reconstructions of the paper studies, which were also part of the exhibition, made for the installation by paper artist Eric Gjerde.

One of my intentions for Corresponding With was to mobilize different historical perspectives and stimulate other ways of thinking and working with archival material, which I will illustrate with three examples.

On account of the low resolution of the reproductions, I considered it necessary to treat the documentation as one element among several rather than the main focus of the display: to produce an inclusive space in which the whole assemblage would be interconnected and in flux. The documentation and the paper studies hang from the metal structure at different heights, open up different fields of vision—and with these differing perspective, different associations. The metal structure—which seen from above looks like the shape of an artificial tree—is connected by hinges and mounted on wheels, suggesting movement and change as opposed to stasis and the completion. Another approach has been to produce an excess out of the material I have worked with, finding their intrinsic generative force. For example, the diagram affixed to the ceiling within the Life Construction installation has been transformed into a set of three-dimensional textile works whose volume, texture and color suggest simple and familiar shapes reminiscent of elements from the natural environment. They are also playful forms that relate to the body, enticing viewers to explore further their sensual nature. It is important for me to create tactile works that people feel compelled to reach out and touch. It is in the desire to hold, brush and test with one’s hands that the installation’s pedagogical potential can be found.

Jikken Kōbō, Illumination from “Experimental Ballet Theatre, 1955. Photo Ōtsuji Kiyoji 

Finally, the decision to incorporate references to the postwar artist group Jikken Kōbō (Experimental Workshop), an eclectic group of visual artists, musical composers, photographers and engineers (many of whom were self-taught) active in Tokyo between 1951 and 1957, was prompted by the desire to introduce another perspective with regards to the Bauhaus’s reception in Japan. One of Jikken Kōbō’s co-founders, Katsuhiro Yamaguchi, likened the collective to a “Bauhaus without building.” They decisively turned their back on the traditional Japanese culture implicated in World War II, instead taking inspiration from pre-war European and American avant-gardes. Adding references to Jikken Kōbō was a means of linking the firsthand experience of the Bauhaus on Japanese artists, designer and architects before the war with its subsequent diffusion as a historically-bounded phenomenon after the war, conveyed through printed matter and the recollections of the few Japanese who attended the school.

During its existence, Jikken Kōbō created multi-layered installations using sound recording, photography and film, artist-designed sets, original music compositions and choreography, producing a number of works in collaboration with external actors from a variety of creative fields, including the acclaimed modern dancers Takashi Masuda and Momoko Tani, avant-garde film director Toshio Matsumoto and actress Kyōko Kishida. (The group also created audiovisual work using a slide projector synchronized with a magnetic tape recorder, with the help of technicians who later founded Sony corporation.) In my installation, I reference their practice through the design of the modular structure, the three tatami mats, the architectural elements, the use of an easily transportable structure—as were some of their set designs, which could be paraded on stage—and in the scale model figures animating the metal structure, an homage to the role scale models played in their work process.

In any case, the Bauhaus left a profound impact on Japanese art education thanks to Renshichiro Kawakita’s work in the 1930s. This carried on into the less orthodox understanding of Jikken Kōbō, whose search for a new artistic language and a new role for art took place in the context of a rapidly changing society increasingly connected to and influenced by the mass culture of the 1950s. In this sense, Model for a Pedagogical Vehicle is an attempt to connect the original dissemination of Bauhaus pedagogy and philosophy with its later transmission following World War II, and to allude more generally to processes of adaptation and appropriation of outside influences and technology that are a hallmark of modern Japanese society.

Unknown photographer, Photo of the Bauhaus metal workshop in Weimar, from: Bauhaus-Alben 2. Keramische Werkstatt, Metallwerkstatt, Bauhaus-Universitätsverlag, Weimar 2017.

Luca Frei, Workstation (For Marianne Brandt), 2018.

In conclusion, I wish to look into the future by going back to the beginning of this collaboration; to be precise, to a modular furniture object, Workstation (For Marianne Brandt), consisting of three interlocking pieces. The piece was inspired by the table Brandt used for her workstation in the metalwork studio at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Through working with this object my intention was to explore the bond between the workstation and the artist—the artist and her/his tools—more than the objects created, which subsequently became iconic expressions of the Bauhaus aesthetic. I wanted to elevate this table itself to an object worthy of attention. As with Model for a Pedagogical Vehicle, the intention with Workstation (For Marianne Brandt) was to tell a story and bring it back into circulation, together with other stories, images, objects, spaces, people: to see how it can participate in the present, and contribute in its own way to new readings, interpretations and other ways of imagining the legacies of the Bauhaus, for the present and the future.

For more information and insight into Luca Frei's artistic work, please go and visit his website:

Related Articles:

Eric Gjerde: In a new light. Bauhaus paper studies by Eric Gjerde

Marion von Osten & Grant Watson: bauhaus imaginista: Corresponding With. Exhibition at MoMAK in Kyoto

Photo documentation of the exhibition in Kyoto

Marion von Osten & Grant Watson: Interdisciplinary Symposium 'bauhaus imaginista: Corresponding With' in Tokyo

Cosima M. Grohmann, Yuko Ikeda & Helena Čapková: Focus on the Bauhaus educational principles. An Interview with Yuko Ikeda and Helena Čapková

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