Walking on a Möbius Strip

The Inside/Outside of Art in Brazil

This text investigates how the topological figure of the Möbius strip, famously propagated by Bauhaus proponent Max Bill, was used in Brazil within dissident artistic practices of the 1960s and 1970s as a tool for reflection on the subject, alterity and public space. The Möbius strip is revisited in this essay as a conduit for thinking critically about possible subversions of Eurocentric forms, as well as various appropriations of traditional popular culture by modern and contemporary art in Brazil.

Lygia Clark with Oiticica, Diálogo de mãos, The World of Lygia Clark.

A milestone in the mainstream history of Brazilian art was the presence in the country of Swiss artist Max Bill at the beginning of the 1950s and his influence on Brazilian art and design in that decade, along with the uneasiness provoked by his opinions about the tendencies in modern architecture that were then being consolidated in the country.1 In 1927, Bill entered the Bauhaus in Dessau, then led by Hannes Meyer, where he studied under Josef Albers and László Moholy-Nagy, and got to know school founder Walter Gropius. He shared with his teachers the conviction that there should be no distinction between art, handicraft and industry, believing the designer should be an agent for social transformation. After leaving the Bauhaus, Bill developed a singular career path, becoming known not only as an artist who popularized concrete art, geometric abstraction and the language of artistic universality but a designer, architect and educator as well. His pre-war fame led Pietro Maria Bardi and Lina Bo Bardi, founders of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), to hold a retrospective of his work in March 1951, the same month the couple, alongside architect and interior designer Jacob Ruchti, inaugurated Brazil’s first school of design (Instituto de Arte Contemporânea or IAC), whose curriculum was influenced by the Bauhaus teaching philosophy.2

Max Bill visited Brazil twice in 1953, the year he himself founded a new school—also based on Bauhaus ideas—the Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) in Ulm.3 The example of the HfG soon led to proposals to create a second school of design in Brazil—the Escola Técnica de Criação (ETC). In its conception, the ETC was integrated within the pedagogical programming of the Museu de Arte Moderna of Rio de Janeiro (MAM-RJ), but never came to fruition (although the proposal was revived in 1962, with the founding of the Escola Superior de Design Industrial (ESDI)). Bill’s presence at the pioneering institutions of art then forming in southeast Brazil explains the fact that his work ultimately achieved a wide and lasting impact throughout South America, informing the development of different local constructivist movements. The historian of architecture Ana Luiza Nobre suggests that “it is possible that the condition of underdevelopment these countries (of South America) were struggling to escape from offered an especially receptive context for the constructivist project that Max Bill was then aiming to rehabilitate.”4

Bill espoused the development of an art with a mathematical basis to approach the unknown spaces of reality:

"Human thinking in general (and mathematical thinking in particular) need, in the face of the unlimited, a visual support. This is where art comes in. From this point onward, the clear line becomes indefinite, while abstract, invisible thinking arises as concrete and visible. Unknown spaces, nearly unbelievable axioms, acquire reality and begin to move through regions where they did not exist previously; sensibility is enlarged; spaces that were until recently unknown and unimaginable begin to be known and imagined."5

In parallel with Bill’s retrospective at MASP was the pedagogical exhibition Vitrine das formas (“Showcase of Forms”), where objects of different origins and periods were exhibited, creating juxtapositions such as Olivetti's typewriter placed alongside pre-colonial Marajoara pottery. In a detailed essay on the steps of Max Bill in Brazil, art historian Rodrigo Otávio da Silva Paiva writes that it is important to understand both exhibitions in relation to one another, in the sense that both demonstrated MASP’s interest in “teaching the vast expanse of art, from tradition to present, from rural to urban, from metaphysical to mundane, as well as from innumerable open and horizontal fields where mixtures, ruptures, findings, losses and transformations can happen.”6 Da Silva Paiva also mentions an article published in Folha da Manhã newspaper in which Lina Bo Bardi discussed Bill’s exhibition in relation to the work of Cássio M’Boy, whose paintings portray legends and myths from rural Brazilian folklore: “the popular sensibility of folklore is purposely placed next to Swiss high-tech.”7

Bill’s retrospective at MASP featured the sculpture Tripartite Unity (1948/9), which a few months before had won the acquisition prize at the inaugural Bienal de São Paulo—an exhibition marked by a predominance of, if not preference for, abstract art; a tendency contemporary art in Brazil developed from that point forward. The prize, formulated by the two institutions which were managed by an only recently industrialized bourgeoisie, hailed the sculpture as an icon of the “transformation of national artistic culture,”8 as well as its internationalization.

bauhaus imaginista: Learning From, exhibition view with one example of the series Tecelares by Lygia Pape (2nd image from right on the wall), São Paulo, 2018.

Tripartite Unity is made of sheets of twisted and interlaced steel shaped into a Möbius strip—a topological space obtained by joining two ends of a flat band twisted 180 degrees, resulting in a surface with a single, continuous, convergent face. Bill was one of the first artists to explore the Möbius strip. In the 1930s, he created the Endless Ribbon sculpture series—essentially Möbius strips produced in granite or metal, one of which was shown at the exhibition at MASP in 1951.9 Although he has ultimately gone down in history as an artist who sought to visually represent the new physics of the early twentieth century, he was unaware that this figure had been described and explored seventy years before by German astronomer and mathematician August Ferdinand Möbius. Even after the disappointing realization came that he had not invented the strip, Bill continued working with it as a sculptural object representing the infinite and the interconnectedness of opposites.10

The recurrent use of the Möbius strip in the practice of Brazilian artists in the decades following Max Bill’s exhibitions and visits to Brazil11 suggests that, alongside introducing constructivism’s rational ideas, the Swiss artist also opened pathways for the emergence of a more phenomenological and relational version of his aesthetico-social proposition. The formation of the movimento concretista in Rio de Janeiro around the Grupo Frente (1954–1956), led by artist and professor Ivan Serpa (who was also given an award at the first Bienal de São Paulo), included artists who did not necessarily practice geometric abstraction—as was the case with Elisa Martins da Silveira, whose paintings were at the time classified as “naïve.” This was also the case with the artists/patients of the studio formed by Nise da Silveira at the psychiatric hospital Centro Psiquiátrico Nacional Pedro II (also known as Engenho de Dentro (Ingenuity Inside), due to its situation within the hospital).12 Art historian Adele Nelson reminds us that “Serpa had a reputation as both an emergent abstract artist and an art teacher for children,” so he would have also shared the understanding that art and creativity should not be regarded as the exclusive province of artists.13 This unorthodox characteristic of the Rio de Janeiro group, coupled with the interest in subjectivity and concern for the figure of the other, led it to a greater freedom in relation to Bill’s ideas and, consequently, to the formation of the neoconcreto group (1959), where artists like Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape bestowed a new direction and meaning to its premises.

In their work the two Lygias referred to the Möbius strip to approach the continuous relationships between inside and outside. Clark produced a series of artworks involving the strip, such as Caminhando (Walking, 1963), O dentro é o fora (The Inside is the Outside, 1963), Obra mole (Soft Work, 1964) and Diálogo de mãos (Dialogue of Hands, 1966), the latter in collaboration with Hélio Oiticica. Philosopher and psychoanalyst Suely Rolnik has stated that Caminhando marked a turning point in Clark’s practice, insofar as this work functioned as a proposition that needed to be experienced through direct action (in this case, the cutting of the strip with a scissors). “If I use the Möbius strip for this experience,” Clark wrote in a text on Caminhando, “it is because it breaks our spatial habits: right-left, obverse-reverse, etc. It makes us live the experience of a limitless time and a continuous space.”14

Lygia Clark, Caminhando, The World of Lygia Clark.

Rolnik uses Caminhando to argue that subjectivity consists not only of the subject (the familiar) but also constitutes a zone where we are also affected by others (the stranger). Destabilized by the paradoxical experience between the familiar and the strange, subjectivity registers the tension between the two in the effort to create a balance (homeostasis). In this unstable state, different “politics of desire” are enacted: on the one hand, a reactive movement (conserving existing modes of belief) and, on the other, active, flexible forces oriented towards the potential of life and alternative modes of existence, as well as towards the production of thought as such and possible alternatives to modern/Occidental/colonial modes of thinking and being.15

Comparing Lygia Clark’s propositions with the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan, who concurrently was using the Möbius strip in his seminars, writer and psychoanalyst Tania Rivera emphasizes how both Clark and Lacan were engaged in subverting the representational universe, turning the “imaginary inside out.” Rivera also sees echoes of the strip in Hélio Oiticica’s parangolés,16 stating that when worn by performers, “the action, the participation, far from being mere modalities of the work’s reception, are the results of the complex operation that we can call the subversion of the subject: the activation of the one’s division in relation to oneself, which corresponds to an opening to the other.”17 More than simply integrating the “spectator,” the work displays a concomitant desire to dilute the artist’s very subjectivity, undoing the separation between artist and non-artist, work and object.

Uneasiness is Ambiguous

In the 1950s, the other Lygia—Lygia Pape—produced a series of abstract-geometric woodcuts in which she utilized the wood’s grain and texture as preexisting graphic elements. In her prints, including those of the Tecelares (Weavers) series, Pape sought to organically integrate positive and negative, effecting a balance where black and white possess equal degrees of expressivity. Perhaps the tension between darkness and lightness, considered primarily as opposites, was already involved here, leading Pape to also become interested in the Möbius strip. In 1975, she wrote:

My work is developed within what I call Poetic Space. Structurally, it is based on the mathematical principle of the “Möbius strip” and it slides on any language or ideological space that interests me. … Poetic Space is a dynamic , yet ambiguous, continuum supported on the SIGN and should also set off a process of a continuum in the interior of people—a permanent inside outside, without a privileged side. Inner and outer space mingling and feeding off one another. The “Möbius strip” is a project for objective and subjective structures.18

The above passage is taken from her introduction to descriptions of some of her projects: Eat me = A gula ou a luxúria? (Eat me = Gluttony or Lust?), where she dealt with patriarchal relations in poetic and institutional space, as well as Espaço natural e espaço cultural (Natural Space and Cultural Space)—work undertaken in collaboration with students “without an artistic background,” and therefore “without a privileged position.” In her description Pape also refers to the ideas of “topological space” or “counter-readings” concluding: “the approach is ambiguous. Uneasiness is ambiguous.”

bauhaus imaginista: Learning From, exhibition view with a poster by Rogerio Duarte and Lygia Pape for Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol by Glauber rocha (red poster on the left), São Paulo, 2018.

Concurrent with her artistic projects, beginning in the early 1960s Pape also worked with design and film. She was close to the Cinema Novo movement, producing lettering and posters for films by Glauber Rocha, Paulo Gil Soares, Nelson Pereira do Santos and Cacá Diegues. These graphic works also utilized what she had learned from Bauhaus visual language to treat themes related to Brazilian reality.19

Perhaps it was this contact with Cinema Novo that enlarged her interest in popular traditions and indigenous cultural expression. Besides making her own films dealing with traditional cultures (such as A mão do povo (The Hand of the People, 1974) and Our Parents (1975)), in collaboration with art critic Mário Pedrosa she conceived the exhibition Alegria de viver, alegria de criar (Joy of Living, Joy of Creating, 1978), where the audience “would see the Brazilian Indian from the aesthetic rather than anthropological or ethnological point of view, showing the Indian as a created being, a producer of beauty.”20 In 1980, Pape also defended her MA thesis in philosophy, Catiti Catiti na terra dos brasis, at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). Here she sought to expose the crisis of contemporary art and the individual professional artist while also addressing the need for genuine, popular and collective creative actions.

An abiding concern for the popular and marginal is perceptible in the work of a generation that included, among many others, the artist Hélio Oiticica, designer Rogério Duarte, theater director José Celso Martinez Corrêa, and the architect Lina Bo Bardi. In their own way each championed (sometimes collaboratively or within Tropicália movement), the unleashing of the creative artistic act—the desire to encounter the other; the attempt to conjugate inner with outer. One prime example of this motivation is Lina Bo Bardi’s design for the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (opened in 1968), in which a tension is clearly evident between the modern and the popular, between spaces reserved for art and extra-artistic space. Through the use of glass and by designing areas of the building open to the city, Bo Bardi encouraged museum visitors to actively inhabit its premises—twisting the relationship between the space inside and outside the museum. On the floor reserved for the display of the collection, for instance, Lina created devices made of glass which allowed visitors to view artworks from both the front and back, thus breaking away from both spatial and art historical notions of temporal progression and linearity. Naming this device an “easel,” Bo Bardi suggested that artworks be presented as trabalhos,21 objects involving effort and creation rather than luxury goods to be admired by those few possessing “cultural privilege.” Seeking to distance the institution from the European colonial museological tradition, she wrote that “the Museu de Arte de São Paulo is popular.”22

Lina Bo Bardi, Exhibition civilização do nordeste, Instituto Lina Bo Bardi.

On the occasion of the inauguration of MASP’s building, Lina also curated the exhibition A mão do povo brasileiro (The Hand of the Brazilian People) featuring about one thousand objects of so-called Brazilian popular culture, mostly found at street markets, rural centers and communities in different cities of Brazil’s northeast. In Bo Bardi’s view, this popular culture, in which the hand of the people was at work, should provide the basis for Brazilian industrial design. The show at MASP was an unfolding of her previous projects, such as the 1963 exhibition Civilização do Nordeste (Civilization of the Northeast) at the Museu de Arte da Bahia, where she conceived a center to document popular art, as well as a school that would bring together designers and masters of various local handicraft traditions.23

Revisiting A mão do povo brasileiro, historian Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Junior wrote of the cultural agents of the time this way:

"Coming from the people or not, the subject of national-popular action should approach forms of life, understand customs and values, valorize popular cultural repertoires and gestures, seeking to displace them from the place of naturalization and alienation where they were found, establishing a critical and creative relationship with the forms and materials of popular expression, aiming through their use to return them transformed into mediums for rationalizing the world and raising awareness about it, as well as (suggesting) concrete possibilities of changes in the life of their agents."24

Still, incipient debates have begun to question the legitimacy of some of these “national-popular actions,” subsequently commodified and integrated into the great international art canons of the elites. Contemporary critics also point out that much of Brazilian modernist art neglected the struggles of identity groups on whose behalf they were interested and inspired, failing to treat them as protagonists in their historical becoming.25 Conversely, institutions currently continue to produce and disseminate narratives about the relevance, for example, of Tarsila do Amaral and Lygia Pape while failing to emphasize or evince care for voices from peripheral communities or threatened traditional peoples in the process of disappearing. It is possible to state that although much was produced about “the people,” this production continued to be largely irrelevant to the people.26

A response to this criticism regarding the cultural logic of appropriating traditions can be found in another text by Suely Rolnik, describing the “mode of anthropophagical subjectivization”27 known as anthropophagy. This term was first coined to describe a ritual practiced by certain indigenous groups involving the consumption of portions of their human enemies’ bodies in the belief that they would then acquire their qualities, knowledge or power. In the late 1920s, the anthropophagic thought was appropriated by the cultural elite of Brazil’s southeast, assuming a deliberate stance in relation to European culture (an external other) and, simultaneously, the diversity of the culture existing inside Brazil’s national territory. With this insight, members of the movimento antropofágico and its successors, such as the tropicalistas, demonstrated an acute awareness of contemporaneous discussions about alterity.

Artur Amora, no title, no date, MII.

It is this juxtaposition of officially separate worlds—a juxtaposition which in principle does not adhere to any center, improvising a language based on a “universe of alien references”28 in a process of continuous creation— to which Rolnik refers through the term “mode of anthropophagical subjectivization.” Depending on the degree of openness to alterity—of “perceiving and wanting the singularity of the other”—we can speak of “high” or “low” anthropophagies. High anthropophagy, as practiced by indigenous peoples, does not betray any shame or fear of contamination. In its most active manifestation it produces in the body a vibration and a happiness that perhaps corresponds to what Pape and Pedrosa called, when referring to indigenous cultural production, the “joy of living, joy of creating” and which in her propositions Clark called the “the singular state of art without art.”29 Low anthropophagy, on the other hand, is marked by a reactive facet, where narcissistic criteria prevail over ethics. This latter type involves a perverse instrumentalization of the other, serving the egotistical interests of those who incorporates him. Rolnik concludes that one has a duty to combat low anthropophagy and affirm the anthropophagic mode of subjectivization in its ethical dimension.

In the work of Lygia Clark we also find an image for this ethical dimension. In the action proposed in Caminhando, where she made a cut along the length of a Möbius strip, Clark, unlike in the exercise of cutting proposed by Lacan in his seminars, postpones the breaking of the strip, seeking to make it progressively longer and narrower each time the scissors completed its circuit round the strip. It is an exercise for creating tension with the other, referring implicitly to preserving life. It is an art in which the straight line that divides, distinguishes, distances and defines has been exchanged for an organic line that joins and multiplies. This was the goal of many of the younger generation of Brazilian artists who sought to detach themselves from the formal and cultural impositions implicit in Max Bill’s Tripartite Unity. However, their pursuit of more active, integrative artistic propositions could not be a matter of denouncing Bill, or any other foreign influence for that matter, through anthropophagic digestion. After all, as we have seen, this would reproduce the same reactive movement30 embodied in the white and bourgeois Brazilian art field. On the Moebius's strip, inside and outside are ultimately both one side.

  • 1 Regarding the controversy unleashed by Max Bill’s criticism of Brazilian architecture, see: Aleca Le Blanc: “Palmeiras and Pilotis,” in: Third Text, Vol. 26, No. 1, 2012, pp. 103–116; and Ana Luiza de Souza Nobre: “Fios cortantes: Projeto e produto, arquitetura e design no Rio de Janeiro (1950–70),” PhD thesis, Postgraduate Program in Social History of Culture, 2008.
  • 2 For more about the history of the IAC, the context of its creation and its pedagogical proposals, see Ethel Leon, “The Instituto de Arte Contemporânea: The First Brazilian Design School, 1951–53,” in: Design Issues, Volume 27, Number 2 Spring 2011, pp. 111–124.
  • 3 In his introduction to the catalog for the exhibition Tempo dos modernistas on Brazilian art, coincident with an exhibition about the Bauhaus brought through the Goethe-Institut (both held at MASP in 1974), Pietro Maria Bardi writes that Gropius visited Brazil only once, in 1954, to receive an international architecture prize: “about him, the only thing known is a joke he made, raising his right arm when he nearly hit his head on one of the branched columns in the building (one of the pavilions in Ibirapuera Park) …: – Heil Hitler!” Although various retrospectives about the Bauhaus were held in Brazil from 1950 onward, Bill seems to have had more significance for the country’s art history.
  • 4 Nobre, “Fios cortantes …,” p. 40.
  • 5 Max Bill, “O pensamento matemático na arte de nosso tempo.” In: Aracy A. Amaral (ed.) Projeto Construtivo na Arte: 1950–1962, Museu de Arte Moderna São Paulo, Pinacoteca do Estado, Rio de Janeiro 1977. Bill’s book was also translated to English as The Mathematical way of Thinking in the Visual Art of Our Time (1949), pp 5–9, in: Michele Emmer (ed.), The Visual Mind: Art and Mathematics. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London 1993. The author is unaware whether the translator used an earlier translation.
  • 6 Rodrigo Otávio da Silva Paiva, Max Bill no Brasil, Verlag 13, Berlin 2011, p. 40.
  • 7 Ibid., p. 40.
  • 8 Ibid., p. 56.
  • 9 Concerning other artworks by Bill that used the Möbius strip and his exhibitions in Brazil, see Ronaldo Calixto, “Max Bill e a Unidade Tripartida” (MA thesis), Postgraduate Program in Interunities in Aesthetics and History of Art of Universidade de São Paulo, 2016.
  • 10 Bill wrote: “Sometime later I was informed that my creation had been known to mathematicians for nearly a century, which I thought I had discovered or invented, was only an artistic interpretation of the so-called Möbius strip, and theoretically identical to it.… I was shocked by the fact I was not the first one to discover this object.” In: Eli Maor, To Infinity and Beyond: A Cultural History of the Infinite, Birkhäuser, Boston 1987, p. 140.
  • 11 It is important to emphasize here that Mary Viera’s Polivolumes, dynamic sculptures comprised of stacked kinetic strips, preceded Bill's exhibitions in Brazil. However, Mary Vieira  is mostly known to have followed Bill, having been his student in Ulm.
  • 12 Concrete artist Almir Mavignier was essential in setting up the studio, where he taught from 1946 to 1951. Influenced by Max Bill’s ideas, he moved to Ulm to study at the HfG in 1954. Mavignier stayed in Germany and remained active until his death in 2018. Art historian and critic Mário Pedrosa was another key figure in encouraging the artistic activities of both Ivan Serpa and Nise da Silveira.
  • 13 See Adele Nelson, “The Bauhaus in Brazil: Pedagogy and Practice,” in: ARTMargins Volume 5, Issue 2, June 2016, pp. 27–49.
  • 14 See Lygia Clark (1964), “Caminhando.” Available at: (accessed 15 November 2018).
  • 15 See Suely Rolnik, “The Spheres of Insurrection: Suggestions for Combating the Pimping of Life,in: e-flux journal #86, November 2017.
  • 16 The idea for Parangolés were the result of Oititica’s experiences with a samba school in Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s. These are works made of painted fabric, plastics, canvases, cords and other malleable materials. Also understood as paintings in social space, they were made to be worn or carried in public space, and are thus equally contextual and performative works.
  • 17 Tania Rivera, O avesso do imaginário:arte contemporânea e psicanálise, Cosac Naif, São Paulo 2013.
  • 18 See: Lygia Pape (1975), "EAT ME = A GULA OU A LUXÚRIA?." Available at: (accessed 15 November 2018).
  • 19 For more information on Lygia Pape’s relationship with filmmaking see: Viviane Merline Rodrigues: “Neoconcretismo e design: A programação visual de Lygia Pape para o Cinema Novo, de 1961 e 1967.” MA thesis. Postgraduate Program in Design, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, 2009.
  • 20 Vanessa Rosa Machado, Lygia Pape: espaços de ruptura. São Paulo, Annablume 2010, p. 34.
  • 21 In Portuguese, the term obra normally corresponds with the English word “artwork” or “work.” For its part, trabalho can also be used in this sense, but carries a more direct relation to the other sense of “work” as labor and toil. (translator’s note)
  • 22 Lina Bo Bardi, “Explicações sobre o museu de arte,” O Estado de S. Paulo (São Paulo), 5 April 1970. Reproduced in Concreto e cristal: MASP nos cavaletes de Lina Bo Bardi (Concrete and Crystal: MASP's collection on Lina Bo Bardi's easels), Adriano Pedrosa and Luiza Proença (eds.), pp. 135–136.
  • 23 Lina Bo Bardi founded and directed the Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia from 1959 onward and left her position there on the occasion of the coup d’état in 1964. Her museum proposal with a pedagogical and popular approach led filmmaker Glauber Rocha to state that, “The MAMB is not a Museum: it is a School in Movement,” in: Jornal da Bahia, September 21, 1960.
  • 24 Durval Muniz de Alburquerque Junior: Um povo sem cabeça: soltando arte pelas mãos: anotações históricas acerca de A mão do povo brasileiro. Em A mão do povo brasileiro 1969/2016 (catalog), MASP, São Paulo 2016.
  • 25 For example, see Sara Roffino, “Is Brazil’s Most Famous Art Movement Built on Racial Inequality? A New Generation Argues Yes,” artnet News, March 13, 2018. (accessed 15 November 2018).
  • 26 This assertion is inspired by the concern that Cacá Diegues shared with his filmmaking colleagues, documented in the film Cinema Novo, by Eryk Rocha, 2016.
  • 27 Suely Rolnik, “Subjetividade antropofágica/ Anthropophagic Subjectivity,” pp. 128–147, in: Herkenhoff, Paulo, and Pedrosa, Adriano (eds.), Arte contemporânea brasileira: um e/entre outro/s. XXIV Bienal de São Paulo. Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo 1998.
  • 28 Rolnik, “Subjetividade antropofágica ...”, p.140
  • 29 Cited in Lygia Clark (1965), “A propósito da magia do objeto,” in: Lygia Clark. Col. Arte Brasileira Contemporânea, Funarte, Rio de Janeiro 1980, p. 28.
  • 30 Da Silva Paiva called it “xenophobic simulations”. Da Silva Paiva, Max Bill …, p. 55.
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The search for the spiritual characterized Lenore Tawney’s long life, and was reflected in both the iconography and materials she used in her work. She was a regular diarist and her journals provide valuable insight into this deeply personal search. bauhaus imaginista researcher Erin Freedman interviews Executive Director of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, Kathleen Nugent Mangan, about Tawney’s approach and work. → more

kNOT a QUIPU — An Interview with Cecilia Vicuña

In this recorded interview, Vicuña describes how after she first learned about quipu, she immediately integrated the system into her life. Quipu, the Spanish transliteration of the word for “knot” in Cusco Quechua, is a system of colored, spun and plied or waxed threads or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. They were used by the Inca people for a variety of administrative purposes, mainly record-keeping, and also for other ends that have now been lost to history.  → more

Diagonal. Pointé. Carré — Goodbye Bauhaus? Otti Berger’s Designs for Wohnbedarf AG Zurich

Gunta Stölzl. Anni Albers. These are the most prominent names today when one thinks of actors in the Bauhaus textile workshop. Both had been involved in the textile workshop since Weimar times, shaping it through their understanding of textiles and their teaching. Otti Berger did not join the workshop until Dessau. Stölzl and Albers succeeded in leaving Germany in 1931–32. And they succeeded in continuing to work as textile designers and artists. Berger succeeded in doing this, too, but accompanied by an ongoing struggle for recognition and fair remuneration. → more

The World in the Province from the Province to the World — Bauhaus Ceramics in an International Context

In this article Hans-Peter Jakobson presents the various influences, both national and international, and direct and indirect, influencing the views on ceramics taught in the Ceramic Workshop of the State Bauhaus Weimar Dornburg. Based on the life paths, inspirations and influences of the few ceramists who emerged from the Bauhaus workshop in Dornburg, he traces possible worldwide developments in ceramics to the present day. → more

Reading Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Native Genius in Anonymous Architecture in North America, 1957

In the 1960s, the interest in a regional and vernacular architecture evolved into a sort of counterculture against the prevailing modernism in the USA. Sybil Moholy-Nagy’s book is an early document of this movement and today a classic of architecture history. It features buildings and construction techniques that emerge from social practices and whose builders remain anonymous. They include Amerindian settlement forms, Mexican pueblos and churches, as well as barns and houses of the first European settlers. → more

Vernacular Architecture and the Uses of the Past

In sending out the manuscript of Native Genius in Anonymous Architecture to a publisher, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy added a note on the “Genesis of the manuscript,” which is quite revealing about the intellectual trajectory that gave rise to it. She positioned herself as first and foremost a traveling observer, learning from direct contact with artefacts and buildings, curious about their histories and willing to interpret material evidence and local narratives. → more

The “Workshop for Popular Graphic Art” in Mexico — Bauhaus Travels to America

The global developments that led in 1942 to the appointment of Hannes Meyer, second Bauhaus director, as head of the workshop for popular graphic art, Taller de Gráfica Popular (henceforth referred to as the TGP), made it a focal point for migrating Europeans in flight from fascism. This essay aims to shed light on how the TGP was influenced by Europeans granted asylum by Mexico before and during World War Two, and, conversely, to explore the degree to which these exiled visual artists, writers, and architects’ ideas came to be influenced by their contact with artists active in the TGP. → more

Lena Bergner — From the Bauhaus to Mexico

The story of Lena Bergner is relevant to the history of architecture and design on account of her career passing through different ideological and cultural contexts. Here we will discuss her life and work, focusing on her training in the Bauhaus, her time in the USSR and her time in Mexico, where, along with her husband the architect Hannes Meyer, over a ten-year period she undertook cultural projects of great importance. → more

Of Art and Politics — Hannes Meyer and the Workshop of Popular Graphics

The Mexico of President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río was a fertile ground for the development of ideological questions, especially those originating from the left. The expropriation of oil fields, mining and large estates in 1938, the refuge granted Spanish republicans and members of the International Brigades in 1939, and the accord of mutual support between the government and syndicalist organizations all favored the formation of artistic and cultural groups willing to take part in the consolidation of revolutionary ideals which, until that point, had made little progress. Among these organizations was the Taller de Gráfica Popular, the Workshop of Popular Graphics. → more

bauhaus imaginista — and the importance of transculturality

What bauhaus imaginista has documented thus relates to a particular historical phase, one that opened a path to the renewal of the art situation in Morocco. And yet, although more recent generations of Moroccan art historians and critics often mentioned the period as a formative and unavoidable reference point, they never really deepened study of that period. It somehow remained in the shadows of other phases and realities. But cultural memory has its rhythms, and the moment arose when the years of the Casablanca Group called for attention, demanding its artistic accomplishments be better understood. In this regard, the bauhaus imaginista project came at the right moment and has had important repercussions. → more


I was sixteen years old when I undertook my first journey into finding a professional vocation, first in Asilah, then in Fez followed by Tétouan. 1952. Tangiers was, to me, an open book, a window on the world. The freedom of seeing, of discovering and of feeling, of weaving the narratives of my dreams. → more

The Bauhaus and Morocco

In the years when Western nations were committed in new projects of partnership, with what was then called the “Third World”, young artists and students from the Maghreb had grown up in the passionate climate of the struggle for independence, were talented, open to modernity, and eager to connect with twentieth-century international art movements, which were different in production and spirit from colonial ideology and culture. → more

École des Beaux-Arts de Casablanca (1964–1970) — Fonctions de l’Image et Facteurs Temporels

Utopie culturelle vécue, posture éthique et préfiguration de la modernité artistique et culturelle marocaine, l’École des Beaux-arts de Casablanca est, de 1964 à 1970, le lieu de cristallisations d’aspirations sociales et artistiques portées par un groupe d’artistes et enseignants responsables d’une restructuration des bases pédagogiques. → more

Les Intégrations: Faraoui and Mazières. 1966–1982 — From the Time of Art to the Time of Life

Les Intégrations exemplified a specific conceptual motif, one that acted not within a single field but rather implied a relationship of interdependence between different media (visual arts and architecture) and techniques (those of graphic arts and architecture). They thus allowed for the emergence of disciplines that were not static in formation but evolving in relation to one another. The intermedial relationship they created between art and architecture raises the question of what lies “between” these disciplines: how do they communicate with each other? What are the elements of language common to this “spirit of the times,” to the particular atmosphere of the late 1960s? → more

Chabâa’s Concept of the “3 As”

“Architecture is one expression of the fine arts” (Mohamed Chabâa, in: Alam Attarbia, No. 1, p. 36, 2001.)

Mohamed Chabâa’s consciousness of his national heritage and his interest in architecture both emerged at a young age. His concept of the “3 A’s”—art, architecture and the arts and crafts—grew out of his discovery both of the Italian Renaissance and the Bauhaus School during a period of study in Rome in the early 1960s. From then on, bringing together the “3 A’s” would become a central interest, a concept Chabâa would apply in various ways and fiercely defend throughout his long and varied career. → more

Don’t Breathe Normal: Read Souffles! — On Decolonizing Culture

The need for a synthesis of the arts and, with this, a change of pedagogical principles, was not only present at the beginning of the twentieth century (forces that prompted the Bauhaus’s foundation), but after WWII as well, during the “Short Century” of decolonization. This second modern movement and its relation to modernism and the vernacular, the hand made, and the everyday was vividly expressed through texts and art works published in the Moroccan quarterly magazine Souffles, published beginning in the mid-1960s by a group of writers and artists in Rabat, Casablanca and Paris. → more

A Bauhaus Domesticated in São Paulo

In March 1950, Pietro Maria Bardi, director of the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP, which opened in 1947), wrote to several American educational institutions requesting their curricula as an aid to developing the first design course in Brazil—the Institute of Contemporary Art (IAC), which was to be run as a part of the museum and would also be the country’s first design school. Despite being brief and objective, his missives did not fail to mention the “spirit of the Bauhaus,” explicitly linking the institute he hoped to found with a pedagogical lineage whose objectives and approach he aimed to share. → more

In the Footsteps of the Bauhaus — Its Reception and Impact on Brazilian Modernity

Through the strong German-speaking minority and its active work in the creation and mediation of culture in the spirit of modernity, the application of Bauhaus formal language, especially in the first phase of Brazilian modernity, has played a considerable role. It was only with the equation of German culture with National Socialism and the ensuing intolerance of German protagonists that these architectural and cultural activities were severely disrupted. In Brazil during this period, a style of modernism based on the principles of Le Corbusier finally gained acceptance. The impulses of the Bauhaus, however, which were not perceived for many years, were also reinterpreted and further developed within Brazil, although they remained occulted in comparison to the public reception of Corbusier. → more

Ivan Serpa, Lygia Clark, and the Bauhaus in Brazil

The art school of the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro was established in 1952, led by Ivan Serpa, who gave classes for both children and adults—including artists who would go on to form the Grupo Frente (1954–56) and later the neo-concrete movement (1959–61). Writer and critic Mário Pedrosa described the “experimental” character of these classes, but the fact this experimentation was structured through study of color, materials, technique and composition has encouraged art historian Adele Nelson to claim Serpa’s teaching method was substantially based on the Bauhaus preliminary course. → more

The Poetry of Design — A search for multidimensional languages between Brazilian and German modernists

In the 1950s and 1960s, intense debates and exchanges took place between Brazilians and Germans working in the fields of design, art, and their various manifestations—from architecture and painting to music and poetry. These intertwined lines are identifiable in myriad events: journeys, meetings, exchanges of letters, exhibitions, lectures, courses, and publications. Common modes of production emerged out of these different encounters where, more than relations of influence, one can observe how entangled realities led to a questioning of the directionality of the flow between center and periphery. → more

The Latent Forces of Popular Culture — Lina Bo Bardi’s Museum of Popular Art and the School of Industrial Design and Crafts in Bahia, Brazil

This text deals with the experience of the Museum of Popular Art (MAP) and the School of Industrial Design and Handicraft, designed by the Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, in Salvador (capital of the state of Bahia), Brazil. Such a “school-museum” is based on the capture and transformation of latent forces that exist in Brazilian popular culture. → more

Teko Porã — On Art and Life

Cristine Takuá is an Indigenous philosopher, educator, and artisan who lives in the village of Rio Silveira, state of São Paulo, Brazil. She was invited to present a contemporary perspective on questions and tensions raised by interactions between the Indigenous communities and the mainstream art system, as well as to address Brazil’s specific social and political context. → more

Times of Rudeness — Design at an Impasse

In 1980, Lina Bo Bardi began working on a book concerning her time in the northeastern part of Brazil. With the help of Isa Grinspum Ferraz, she captioned the illustrations, revised her contributions to the book and drafted the layout and contents. The latter also included texts by her collaborators who, in a truly collective effort, had tried to envision the project of a true Brazil—an unfettered and free country with no remnant remaining of the colonial inferiority complex which had plagued the country earlier in its history. Bo Bardi discontinued her work in 1981. In 1994, the Instituto Lina Bo e P.M. Bardi published this project as Times of Rudeness: Design at an Impasse. → more

Connecting the Dots — Sharing the Space between Indigenous and Modernist Visual Spatial Languages

Ever increasing numbers of design institutes note the merits of cultural diversity within their pedagogy and practice. Rather quixotically, however, Eurocentric modernist ideals remain dominant within design curricula. This ambiguity results in non-Western social, cultural and creative practice, remaining side-lined, albeit while still being lauded as of great value. Critical of this duplicity, this paper introduces three Indigenous visual spatial languages, identifying a number of correlations and contradictions these offer to the establishment and implementation of Bauhaus pedagogy and subsequent examples of modernism adopted beyond Europe. → more

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