His research focus was the form—as something changing, something dynamic. “My relationship to form was open from the beginning,” he wrote. “I was interested in change, where from and where to?”1 At first, film seemed an ideal medium for his artistic approach to transforming and varying forms: “Where does this thing come from? There it is now. Where will it go? And that’s cinematic thinking.”2 He arrived at the Bauhaus in 1930 with the explicit aim of transforming his previous form sequences (Formreihen), executed as lithographs, into film. Unfortunately, he was unable to realize this project before the Bauhaus was shut down in 1933. Only after his retirement from teaching in 1972, did he return to this long held ambition. The reasons behind why these film projects remained unrealized for so long will be examined in what follows. I intend to analyze Kranz’s drawings of his so-called “Early Form Sequences” in relation to their cinematic means, comparing them to the films he realized later. Finally, the filmic works are contextualized within Kranz’s broader artistic project.
I. The film project at the Bauhaus
After high school, Kurt Kranz completed a lithography apprenticeship in Bielefeld, concurrently attending evening courses at the local school for applied arts. It was during this time that he produced his first abstract form studies, including the form sequence 20 Bilder aus dem Leben einer Komposition (20 Phases in the life of a composition, 1927/28) and schwarz : weiß / weiß : schwarz (black : white / white : black, 1928/29). His main artistic concerns were already present in this early work: working with the transformation of forms and the play of variation, always undertaken in series. Both of these early studies are based on an array of forms that gradually change across a sequence of individual images. Each picture represents one phase in a transformation or variation of process. These individual pictures cannot be isolated from one another, they appear as “phases of processes that gain their narration only in the entirety of phases” (Phasen aus Prozessen, die ihre Beschreibung erst in der Gesamtzahl der Phasen erreichen).3 Although not explicitly designed for cinematic implementation, these two early form sequences are already inspired by cinematic techniques, since they indicate “the possibility of a sequence of movements.”4
In 1929, an exhibition of works by Bauhaus teachers was held in Bielefeld, with László Moholy-Nagy presenting a lecture on the Bauhaus and Constructivism. Kranz was enthusiastic, and after the lecture showed the former Bauhaus professor his first two form sequences. Moholy-Nagy recommended Kranz apply to the Bauhaus. He began his studies there during the summer semester of 1930, attending Josef Albers’s preliminary course, Walter Peterhans’ photography class, the advertising class of Joost Schmidt, as well as courses with Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. He later said of this time at the Bauhaus: “The first semester in Dessau was an opening into infinity. One lost the ground under one’s feet and gained a new goal: the Bauhaus idea.”5