●Edition 4: Still Undead

Vision in Motion —> Information Landscapes

From Stage Props and Camouflage Techniques to Democratic Apparatus and Cybernetic Networks

László Moholy-Nagy, Kinetic constructive system, 1928
Theaterwissenschaftliche Sammlung Köln.

vision in motion

is simultaneous grasp. Simultaneous grasp is creative performance—seeing, feeling and thinking in relationship and not as a series of isolated phenomena. It instantaneously integrates and transmutes single elements into a coherent whole. This is valid for physical vision as well as for the abstract.


vision in motion

is a synonym for simultaneity and space-time: a means to comprehend the new dimension.


vision in motion

is seeing while moving.


vision in motion

is seeing moving objects either in reality or in forms of visual representation as in cubism and futurism. In the latter case the spectator, stimulated by the specific means of rendering, recreates mentally and emotionally the original motion.


vision in motion

also signifies planning, the projective dynamics of our visionary faculties.

László Moholy-Nagy formulated these theses on vision in motion at the end of the introduction to his book of the same name: Vision in Motion.1 The first English edition was published in 1947 by Paul Theobald, Chicago, one year after Moholy-Nagy’s death. The term “Vision in Motion” appears in retrospect to be a condensation of his artistic, scientific, and institutional research approaches at the Bauhaus, as well as his freelance work in Berlin, Amsterdam, London and, finally, his work as founding director of the New Bauhaus Chicago. The concept of the targeted mobilization of perception as an educational tool for supposedly democratic seeing and thinking was further developed in various United States artistic and scientific milieus (Moholy-Nagy’s last sphere of operation), partly in close connection with the so-called military-industrial complex.

The Moving Observer in Times of Upheaval

According to Moholy-Nagy, the formation of a “New Vision” became imperative due to the massive social upheavals in the first half of the twentieth century—a combination of the rapid expansion of industrialization, the mass media and urbanization, and the traumatic experience of industrialized mass murder during two world wars:

“The industrial revolution opened up a new dimension—the dimension of a new science and a new technology which could be used for the realization of all-embracing relationships. Contemporary man threw himself into the experience of these new relationships. But saturated with old ideologies, he approached the new dimension with obsolete practices and failed to translate his newly gained experience into emotional language and cultural reality. The result has been and still is misery and conflict, brutality and anguish, unemployment and war.”2

In a world where contexts of meaning were repeatedly shifting, becoming fragmented, multi-layered and ambivalent—in combination with an increasing excess of information through mass media and urban stimuli—Moholy-Nagy tried to create systems for orientation, or at least to develop interactive models for the simulation of disorientation in order to develop the perception capacities of the new human being.

László Moholy-Nagy, Light Prop for an Electric Stage (Light-Space Modulator), 1930
Harvard Art Museums / Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Sibyl Moholy-Nagy.

Two of his central artistic works illustrate this: the Kinetic Constructive System. Structure with Moving Parts for Play and Conveyance (as written on the Moholy-Nagy Website: “Kinetisch Konstruktives System: Bau mit Bewegungsbahnen für Spiel und Beförderung,” 1922) and the Light Prop for an Electric Stage (1930), also called Light-Space Modulator.

In both works, Moholy-Nagy mobilized the viewer’s gaze mechanically. In the Kinetic-Constructive System, the viewer can move freely, in a kind of total theatre, along spiral paths arranged around a central axis with an elevator and sliding pole for the actors. In his description of the first version of the Kinetic-Constructive System, Moholy-Nagy formulated, among other things, the built-in means he had envisioned to mobilize the viewer:

“The structure contains an outer path mounting spirally, intended for general recreation and therefore equipped with a guard-rail. Instead of steps, it is in the form of a ramp. …the lower end runs into a horizontal ring-platform, the upper end of the platform is jointed, with a roller conveyor that throws the audience out through a slide while the lower end emerges on a horizontal which takes the public out by a downward escalator.”3

These rolling and sliding slides, combined with the rotational movement of the entire building, accelerate and make the entire viewing situation dynamic, while the building itself regulates the movement and perspective of the visitor.

However, Moholy-Nagy was never able to realize his Kinetic-Constructive System himself. His Light Prop for an Electric Stage, an apparatus initially conceived by Moholy-Nagy as a lighting device for theatre productions, was different. The Light Prop was produced in collaboration with AEG (which remains one of Germany’s leading consumer appliance manufacturers) and first shown in the department of the Deutscher Werkbund at the Paris exhibition of the Société des artist décorateurs in 1930. While the apparatus exhibited in Paris was almost completely concealed within a closed box with a round opening (possibly provided with a translucent pane) and subsequently received little attention, today at Harvard University’s Busch-Reisinger Museum in Cambridge there exists a version of the apparatus in which the internal mechanism is completely exposed. Here the viewer can move freely around the apparatus, immersing himself in the reflecting light rays, becoming one with the projection. In contrast to the Reflektorische Lichtspiele (Reflective Light Plays) created by Bauhäuslers Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack and Kurt Schwerdtfeger, which were realized by performers following a given score and then projected onto a flat screen, the Light Prop functions automatically and autonomously, relating the viewer to his own materiality, enabling him to interact at will with the circling rays of light, transforming the surrounding space into a multi-layered game of movement and dissolving the viewer’s spatial orientation. The simultaneous superimposition of light effects produced by the apparatus becomes comprehensible in Moholy-Nagy's film Ein Lichtspiel schwarz–weiß–grau (Lightplay: Black-White-Grey, 1930)—probably the most mature artistic examination of the Light-Space Modulator.

In his article “Taking the Kunst out of Gesamtkunstwerk. Moholy-Nagy’s conception of the Gesamtwerk,” Oliver A. I. Botar compares the Kinetic-Constructive System and the Light Prop under the concept Gesamtwerk (total work), emphasizing the participative qualities of the two works.4 In another article, Edit Tóth further elaborates on the effect of the Light-Space-Modulator, relating it to cultural practices and visual phenomena during the Weimar Republic, which resisted conventional patterns of perception while at the same time accelerating the prevailing social irritation:

“The Light Prop subtly engages, by way of its performance, with various cultural practices and visual technologies, including the jazz performance, cinema, outdated optical toys, and theater in a way that defies technological determination and conventional perception, integrating and at the same time separating image-space and body-space that tended to become momentarily confused in Weimar visual culture. Moholy-Nagy’s drive for a self-aware perception that could deconstruct and go beyond the façade of desires of the city’s light environment, however, proved insufficient by the early 1930s. As his constant resituating and reformulation of the Light Prop and with it the problem of perception suggest, he addressed, although underestimated, capitalism’s ever-adapting and controlling means of image production.”5

Seeing in Motion as Therapy for Democracy

The examination of approaches, models and strategies for a redefinition of visual culture, the control of images and the shaping of perception in times of complex social upheaval made former Bauhäuslers such as Moholy-Nagy—who founded the “New Bauhaus” in Chicago in 1937—interesting to the American establishment. Their knowledge was incorporated in the development of democratization tools that aid in the fight against fascism and, later, were strategically used against Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War. In his book The Democratic Surround, Fred Turner describes in detail this interplay between artists, designers and scientists with military and industrial interests in the United States, which President Dwight D. Eisenhower (supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during World War II) referred to publicly in 1961 as “the military-industrial complex”:

“In 1933 the Nazis closed the Bauhaus, objecting to its members’ ostensibly degenerate penchants for abstraction and collectivism. By the end of the 1930s, many of the most prominent members had migrated to the United States. As World War II got under way, the former teachers of the Bauhaus, and particularly László Moholy-Nagy and Herbert Bayer, applied these techniques to helping make the personalities of American citizens more democratic and the nation as a whole more committed to confronting fascism. Drawing on tactics first developed to challenge the visual and social chaos of industrial Europe, they built environments—in books, in museum exhibitions, in classrooms, and in their own photographs, paintings, and designs—that modeled the principles of democratic persuasion that were being articulated by American social scientist at the same moment. These environments became prototypes for the propaganda pavilions that the United States government would construct overseas throughout the Cold War. Ultimately, they helped set the visual terms on which the generation of 1968 would seek its own psychological liberation.”6

The New Bauhaus in Chicago—renamed the Chicago School of Design in 1939 and known subsequently as Institute of Design (ID) from 1949 onwards, when it became part of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) university system—received financial support from the government in order to gain insights from artistic-technical research. Initially used during the Second World War mainly for the protection of civil society, during the Cold War this research was turned towards military-political purposes. Cooperation with the military and industry was motivated, on the one hand, from the precarious financial situation of the New Bauhaus and, on the other, from the positivist belief that visual education and technology—if placed in the right hands—could make the world a better place. Last but far from least, Moholy-Nagy wanted to help put an end to the Nazi regime which had driven him from Europe.

The struggle against the National Socialists at the New Bauhaus/School of Design took place first in the field of camouflage design to conceal allied military and civil targets. In the Camouflage Class inaugurated by László Moholy-Nagy and György Kepes, visual and architectural concepts of camouflage were tested using drawings and models. Moholy-Nagy’s 1943 film, Work of the Camouflage Class, documents a series of student works presented in an exhibition of the same title and includes camouflage patterns derived from the animal and plant world applied to military vehicles and uniforms, models of camouflaged buildings, and aerial photographs of cities and residential complexes modified through abstract painting to appear invisible from the air.

The New Bauhaus war efforts were not limited to camouflage design. Other designs projects initiated at the New Bauhaus were prosthetic limbs for the war-disabled and art therapy modalities to rehabilitate traumatized soldiers. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and Victor D'Amico (the first director of the Department of Education at MoMA) played a central role in these projects:

“In 1944, D’Amico drew on a set of therapeutic and instructional practices outlined by Moholy-Nagy and transformed his classes into a national model for using art to resocialize veterans at the Museum of Modern Art’s new War Veterans’ Art Center. In 1948, as veteran demand eased, the museum turned the Veterans’ Center into a public resource, the People’s Art Center.”7

During the Second World War, MoMA developed a program for mobilizing the United States citizens in the fight against Nazi Germany and integrated other Bauhäuslers into it. Half a year after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, MoMA opened Road to Victory, a propagandistic exhibition of large-format photographs depicting life in the United States—from American landscapes to scenes depicting preparations for war—in an effort to bolster citizen support for the war effort. Curated by the then Lieutenant Commander Edward Steichen, and one of the most important photographers of the first half of the twentieth century, Road to Victory’s exhibition design was carried out by Herbert Bayer, formerly head of the Bauhaus workshop for print and advertising, and featured, among other elements, photographs that floated freely in space.8 The arrangement was based on his design principle of the “Extended Field of Vision,” which in a precursory form been used at the 1930 Werkbund exhibition in Paris designed by Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Moholy-Nagy, and had also featured the first public presentation of the Light Prop. Turner describes the characteristics and mode of action of the Extended Field of Vision as follows:

“… as the Museum of Modern Art became a central hub for the boosting of American morale, critics came to see the flexibility and independence that Bayer offered his viewers, coupled with his environmental mode of governing the viewers’ movements, as a uniquely pro-American mode of propaganda making [sic]. Bayer’s extended field of vision solved the problem posed by fascist propaganda and mass media: by granting viewers high degrees of agency with regard to the visual materials around them, and by at the same time controlling the shape of the field in which they might encounter those materials, the extended field of vision could lead American viewers to remake their own morale in terms set by the field around them. That is, they could exercise the individual psychological agency on which democratic society depended, and so avoid becoming the numb mass men of Nazi Germany. At the same time they could do so in terms set by the needs of the American state, articulated in the visual diction of the Bauhaus.”9

Bayer’s strategy was smart. While the exhibition visitor gained the impression of moving freely through the exhibition contents, following their own individual agency and maintaining mastery over their individual interpretations, the spectrum of perception and knowledge was predetermined by the exhibited images’ selection and arrangements. This curatorial concept was to be applied and further developed in the years following in various exhibition projects and media environments. Bayer also designed the exhibition Airways to Peace (1943), curated by Monroe Wheeler, MoMA’s then Director of Exhibitions, and Edward Steichen used his mediation strategy in The Family of Man, his epochal photo installation first shown at MoMA in 1955.10 The intention of the exhibition was to convey a humanist image of man and carry the message around the world that, regardless of their origin, all people are equal. In the following years The Family of Man was deployed as a central component in various American-sponsored exhibitions (including as a national pavilion at world exhibitions) held in politically strategic locations, including Berlin, Tokyo, Paris, Munich, Amsterdam, London, Kabul and Moscow—part of a global American democratization strategy.

These large-scale exhibition projects featuring America’s lifestyle and consumer culture also came to include Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes and multimedia installations by Charles and Ray Eames, such as Glimpses of the U.S.A. (1959). The latter introduced algorithm-based information systems and cybernetic principles within its design by, for example, incorporating the communication theories of Claude Shannon and Norbert Wiener. In this way, complex perceptual dispositives between control and liberalization emerged, within which the dynamic between individual choice and participatory feedback were increasingly elaborated. While visual and curatorial techniques became more mature and subtle, their underlying trick remained the same: the exhibition visitor was supposed to develop a sense of individual freedom and interpretive sovereignty, perceiving himself as self-determined within the exhibition context. Yet, these exhibition parameters and content were by no means objective but very precisely preselected, designed and curated. As long as the visitor did not see through this technique, a quasi-emancipatory impact was created. Moholy-Nagy described the psychomental process for achieving this effect in his theses on vision in motion in the very first paragraph of the introduction to Vision in Motion (see above).

György Kepes, Light installation for Radio Shack, between 1954–1959. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Washington Street, Between Court Street and Cornhill Street, Radio Shack by György Kepes, Kevin Lynch and Nishan Bichajian (Photographer), CC BY-NC 3.0

György Kepes: New Landscapes of Vision between Camouflage, Militarization and Cybernetics

György Kepes played a central role in establishing Bauhaus concepts and principles for synthesizing art, visual culture and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One of the world’s most important technical and scientific universities, MIT is located in the immediate vicinity of Harvard University in Cambridge. In addition to Chicago, New York and Black Mountain College in North Carolina, the Boston metropolitan area became another center for Bauhaus exiles in the United States following the assumption of the National Socialists to power. Gropius had come to Cambridge in 1937, where he became professor of architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He was followed by Marcel Breuer and T. Lux Feininger, as well as by modernists such as Sigfried Giedion and Martin Wagner. The unity of art and technology 1923 proclaimed by Gropius at the Bauhaus was to be transformed into cybernetics and digitization through György Kepes’ work at MIT.

Although Kepes never taught at the historical Bauhaus, for many years he had worked closely with László Moholy-Nagy. They knew each other from Hungary and had later collaborated in Berlin and London. Kepes was involved in the realization of Moholy-Nagy’s film Ein Lichtspiel schwarz–weiß–grau and also worked on his stage designs. With the opening of the New Bauhaus in Chicago in 1937, Moholy-Nagy appointed Kepes to the newly founded art school, making him director of the light and color workshop. From 1941 onwards, Kepes led the aforementioned camouflage class at the successor institution to the New Bauhaus, the Chicago School of Design, which is documented in Moholy-Nagy’s film Work of the Camouflage Class. John R. Blakinger’s publication Un camouflage New Bauhaus: György Kepes et la militarisation de l'image11 examines this militarization of visual strategies, as does his more recent book, György Kepes: Undreaming the Bauhaus, where he explores Kepes’ involvement in the “military-industrial-aesthetic complex” of the Cold War, as well as his position in the anti-war movement.

As part of his work for the U.S. Department of Defense, Kepes flew over the city of Chicago to develop camouflage strategies for urban landscapes. His findings concerning mobilized perception are described in an article from 1942, “Civilian Camouflage Goes into Action,” co-authored by John L. Scott, Moholy-Nayg and Kepes for the magazine Civilian Defense:

“CAMOUFLAGE is the art of visual deception. And an understanding of the nature of visual deception demands an understanding of the fundamentals of visual perception.

The aerial observer, whether bombardier or photographer, for whom Camouflage has to be largely considered today, is a mobile observer. Every factor involved in his vision is in continuous movement. His eye is moving. Light conditions are changing. The elements of the landscape are in motion.”12

On the basis of this quotation, Orit Halpern further classifies this experience:

“He (Kepes) wrote of an eye no longer moored in a single space or time. He was trained to trust instrument panels streaming data from radar and radio transmissions, to rely on the guidance of machines and the recordings of surveillance teams. Calling on this experience, Kepes described a new form of vision, one that was mobile, relative, nomadic, and autonomous. He began to consider designing for information flows coming from communicating machines.

... Arguably Kepes demonstrates a midcentury reconfiguration of cognition, perception, and sense into algorithm, pattern, and process. In his work, and that of his many colleagues in the computational, communication, and design fields, we witness a subtle hope that a world of static objects and pictures might become one of interactive images and pattern recognition.”13

“... For Kepes the idea of a world fully recorded pushed design toward materializing process and focusing on the relationship between subjects. Perception itself became a form of thought and created new challenges for design, science, and art; not to reveal some truth of form, of nature, of society but rather to organize the interactions between users. The focus of design turned toward the structure of organizations, systems, and environments. The remaining ethical question was what shapes these networks would take.”14

Kepes’ role in the establishment of networks between artists, designers and architects with industry, the military, communication design and educational institutions was immense, but to this day remains only superficially investigated. MIT, Stanford University and the Smithsonian Institution have extensive collections of material that to date have been examined by only a few researchers, such as the aforementioned Blakinger and Márton Orosz (a former recipient of the Kepes Fellowship at MIT) or Ute Meta Bauer (founding director of ACT—MIT’s program in art, culture, and technology and the successor institute of Kepes’ CAVS [The Center for Advanced Visual Studies]).

In 1946 Kepes went to MIT to teach visual design at the Department of Architecture. With books such as Language of Vision (published in 1944 while teaching at Brooklyn College), The New Landscape in Art and Science and the publication series Vision + Value, he developed groundbreaking approaches to the interdisciplinary interplay of art, science and society. His central concern was to convey the educational benefits of visual design, communication and culture to a broad public.

A central preoccupation in his artistic experimentation was light as a democratic medium. In 1950 he installed a Kinetic Outdoor Light Mural for a Radio Shack store in Boston, a project demonstrating his interest in working with scientific formal language in urban space, and thus carrying it into people’s everyday lives. With the term “Civic Art,” Kepes developed a concept in which art was to play a central role in the education and emancipation of society.

In 1967 Kepes founded the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) at MIT. Two years earlier he had drafted “Proposal for the Center of Advanced Visual Studies” where he formulated the role of artists and designers in creating visual social guiding systems as follows:

“In our complex confusing world it is perhaps more difficult than ever before in history for the individual to find his place; artistic images are needed as traffic signs for the chaotic flow of ideas and feelings. An understanding of the visual logic underlying all these images could help the individual to make full use of the emotional resources expressed by the artists of our time.

There is a tremendously fast-growing body of new knowledge about the visual world, and its technological implementation has to be distributed to all levels and layers of the social body. The graphic image, stationary and mobile, serves as an important tool to distribute present knowledge. There are innumerable potential, graphic idioms and techniques which could be explored and utilized by systematic collaboration of scientist, artists, and engineers.”15

Kepes’ CAVS facilitated an intensive exchange between art, design, science and industry, a project which continues to this day at MIT.

György Kepes in the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) at MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1967
Courtesy of the MIT Museum, Ivan Massar Photographer.

Muriel Cooper: Design Algorithms from the Bauhaus Book to the Information Landscape

The name Muriel Cooper is unjustly obscure today. She joined MIT in 1952 and later, as art director of MIT Press, became its visionary visual designer. She shaped the Institute’s graphic identity with the development of the MIT Press colophon, which remains world-famous today, and also designed a large number of groundbreaking publications. With the book Muriel Cooper by David Reinfurt and Robert Wiesenberger (who also wrote his dissertation on Cooper), she has been rediscovered and her references to the Bauhaus reworked.

Cooper designed the English version of the publication Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Chicago by Hans M. Wingler—which remains a basic work on the Bauhaus and New Bauhaus. The book, which for the first time included the New Bauhaus Chicago and its successor institutions in the history of the Bauhaus, was published by MIT Press in 1969 on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Bauhaus. The book has become standard reading within American art, design and architecture programs.

Cooper worked on Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Chicago for more than two years; it became a central source of inspiration for her later work as a designer. While working on the book, she designed modern typefaces and developed graphic principles based on standardization and raster, systematization and algorithms. Even after publication she was unable to let go of the Bauhaus book, experimenting with different forms of media transfer. Thus, a series of posters, an exhibition installation, and a filmic realization of the book emerged from this work, compressing the history of the Bauhaus to a single minute.

Inspired by the Bauhaus workshops, in the mid-1970s Cooper founded the Visible Language Workshop at MIT. In close collaboration with her students, she worked there on the transfer of graphic design into the digital age, becoming one of the first people to experiment with computer-generated graphics, digital printing and cybernetic design systems. One of her most important concerns was the question of how complex amounts of information can be algorithmized and graphically communicated. Until her premature death in 1994, she and her colleagues and students (David Small, Suguru Ishizaki, Earl Rennison, Robert Silvers, Lisa Strausfeld, Jeffrey Ventrella, Yin Yin Wong and others besides) developed a dynamic three-dimensional data environment—Information Landscapes—a pioneering work on digital knowledge organization in cyberspace that anticipates intuitive ways of navigating through the infinite amounts of information that have come to characterize today’s networked society.

David Reinfurt describes the participative positioning of the viewer—or more precisely, the user—in Information Landscapes in this way:

“In an information landscape, the feedback loop between a graphic instruction and its realization had finally caught up to where Cooper always wanted it to be. The gap between a user’s decisions and their consequences was more or less removed, and the tightness of this loop offered the possibilities of continuous feedback and adjustment. Perhaps the most radical consequence of this work was its collapse of the user interface with its display. These two pieces become one in an information landscape—a user is completely immersed in the data she is manipulating. The user marks a path through the landscape, and reveals its structure en route as a function of her constant readjustment within it. It is an almost total synthesis of tool and medium.”16

Even more impressive is the description offered by Cooper’s student Lisa Strausfeld of how the user experiences a mobile perspective while navigating through large amounts of data:

“Imagine yourself without size or weight. You are in a zero-gravity space and you see an object in the distance. As you fly towards it, you are able to recognize the object as your financial portfolio. From this distance, the form of the object conveys that your portfolio is doing well. You move closer. As you near the object, you pass through an atmosphere of information about your net assets and overall return statistics. You continue moving closer. Suddenly you stop and look around. Your financial portfolio is no longer an object, but a space that you now inhabit. Information surrounds you.”17

In addition to the financial portfolios described by Strausfeld, the functions Cooper and her students worked on also included a three-dimensional web browser, dynamic typographies, news programs, air traffic monitoring, video conferencing interfaces, weather analyses and a kind of early Google Maps.

Financial Viewpoints, by Lisa Strausfeld

Cooper presented the Information Landscapes at the 1994 TED5 Conference and shortly after died unexpectedly of an apparent heart attack. In his epilogue to Reinfurt and Wiesenberger’s Muriel Cooper book, Nicholas Negroponte (founder of the MIT Architecture Machine Group and the MIT Media Lab), with whom she had an intense working relationship, writes that Bill Gates was also present at the Ted Talk and immediately ordered her videos. Steve Jobs is also said to have been an admirer. Many of Cooper’s ideas for dynamic graphical interfaces are now hidden in laptops, computers, tablets and smartphones. The concept of a three-dimensional user interface that allows the user to move freely through the virtual space of a computer program is now an important tool in various design areas (computer-aided design programs such as 3D AutoCAD, etc.). As an interface for the everyday development of information on the Internet, a spatial environment such as the Information Landscapes has not yet been established.

The extent to which the Information Landscapes have been evaluated for military applications can only be guessed at. In Negroponte’s epilogue, he describes Cooper’s special relationship to the military with humorous distance:

“The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was a steady sponsor of Muriel’s, ostensibly for advanced mapping. Site visits to the Media Lab were very popular with generals and admirals, a couple of whom seemed to be in love with Muriel. She would relentlessly tease them and their entourage of minions. She fascinated the military brass with her language, manner, and bare feet. … Corporate and government sponsors adored Muriel. She was different from anybody they knew. She said things they never expected ….”18

In addition to various tech companies, (D)ARPA, a government organization founded by Eisenhower for research projects of the U.S. Department of Defense and JNIDS (Joint National Intelligence Development Staff) also sponsored the Information Landscapes project. The principle of “democratic surround” described above is also effective in the project. In a video documenting Information Landscapes, an offscreen narrator explains the deeper meaning of the program:

“The three-dimensional graphical representation of information should help our cognitive and perceptional systems to work together. Design is no longer flat land. The infinite universe of three-dimensional information is a truly dynamic interface. One that can allow the user unprecedented freedom and control, if it is well conceived and designed.”19

This is where the principles first formulated by Moholy-Nagy in Vision in Motion become functional:

“Simultaneous grasp is creative performance—seeing, feeling and thinking in relationship and not as a series of isolated phenomena. It instantaneously integrates and transmutes single elements into a coherent whole.”20

As the off-voice puts it, the user experiences unprecedented freedom and control, which only works if it is well designed. The application possibilities of Information Landscapes are described as limitless. The system networks all information with each other in a total synthesis of data. Cooper had read Vision in Motion and Moholy-Nagy’s other books and internalized his concepts. In a Design Quarterly edition entitled Computers and Design, which Cooper herself wrote, she remarked:

“It’s not hard to imagine Moholy using a Computer.”21

Information Landscapes by Muriel Cooper and her team at the MIT Media Lab is the digital translation of a vision in motion, just as Moholy-Nagy dreamed it up and György Kepes might have thought it up.

  • 1 László Moholy-Nagy: “Introduction,” p. 12. In: László Moholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion, Paul Theobald & Co., Chicago 1947.
  • 2 Ibid., p. 10.
  • 3 László Moholy-Nagy: The New Vision and Abstract of an Artist, The Documents of Modern Art, Wittenborn, Schultz, Inc., New York 1947, p. 61.
  • 4 Cf. Oliver A. I. Botar: “Taking the Kunst out of Gesamtkunstwerk. Moholy-Nagy’s conception of the Gesamtwerk,” pp. 161–163. In: Martin-Gropius Bau: László Moholy-Nagy. The Art of Light, Hirmer Verlag, Munich 2010.
  • 5 Edith Tóth: “Capturing Modernity Jazz, Film, and Moholy-Nagy’s Light Prop for an Electric Stage,” pp. 23­–55, here: p. 51. In: Modernism/modernity, Vol. 22, No. 1.
  • 6 Fred Turner: The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London 2013, p. 78.
  • 7 Turner: The Democratic Surround, 2013, pp. 182–183.
  • 8 Herbert Bayer was also responsible for the design of the Bauhaus: 1919–1928 exhibition opened at MoMA in December 1938. This first major Bauhaus retrospective was curated by Walter Gropius, Ise Gropius and Bayer, and had a decisive influence on the reception of the Bauhaus in the United States.
  • 9 Turner: The Democratic Surround, 2013, p. 98.
  • 10 Carl Sandburg and Edward Steichen: The Family of Man, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1955.
  • 11 John R. Blakinger: Un Camouflage New Bauhaus. György Kepes et la militarisation de l'image, Edition B2, Paris 2014.
  • 12 John L. Scott with László Moholy-Nagy & György Kepes: “Civilian Camouflage Goes Into Action,” p. 10. In: Civilian Defense (Published Monthly for Defense Council Director and Executives Responsible for Plant Protection), Dartnell Publications, September 1942.
  • 13 Orit Halpern: Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason Since 1945, Duke University Press, Durham 2015, pp. 79–80.
  • 14 Ibid., p. 99.
  • 15 György Kepes: “Proposal for the Center of Advanced Visual Studies,” 1965, CAVS (Program in Art, Culture and Technology) special collection, School of Architecture and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge pp. 4–5.
  • 16 David Reinfurt: Soft Copy (1974–1994), p. 34. In: David Reinfurt and Robert Wiesenberger: Muriel Cooper, The MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts and London 2017.
  • 17 Lisa Strausfeld: Embodying Virtual Space to Enhance the Understanding of Information, master’s thesis, Program in Media Arts and Sciences, School of Architecture and Planning, MIT, 1995 (cited after Reinfurt and Wiesenburger: Muriel Cooper, 2017, p. 34.)
  • 18 Nicholas Negroponte: “Afterword: The Cartesian Gypsy,” pp. 188–189. In: Reinfurt and Wiesenberger: Muriel Cooper.
  • 19 MIT Media Laboratory: Information Landscapes. Visible Language Workshop, Video, 1994, (accessed on 28 Feb. 2019).
  • 20 Moholy-Nagy: Vision in Motion, 1947 p. 12.
  • 21 Muriel Cooper: “The New Graphic Language,” p. 14. In: Muriel Cooper: Design Quarterly. Computers and Design, No. 142, 1989.
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Kurt Schwerdtfeger conceived of Reflektorische Farblichtspiele in 1921 as a student at the Bauhaus Weimar, studying under Oskar Schlemmer, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, and Joseph Hartwig. Although the work has been discussed over the years in the context of abstract film, light sculpture, visual music, and expanded cinema, it is first and foremost a work of live performance. Decades before moving image performance would make its appearance in galleries and museums as an art form—a denotation the artistic practice still struggles to attain today—Schwerdtfeger recognized it as such, perhaps due to his immersion in the all-encompassing interdisciplinary approach of the Bauhaus. → more

Lichtwechsel — An den Übergängen vom Kaleidoskopischen zum Stroboskopischen

Die Farblichtspiele von Kurt Schwerdtfeger und Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, die im Kontext von frühen abstrakten Filmexperimenten, kinetischen Skulpturen und Bühnenexperimenten 1922 am Bauhaus entstanden, gelten als Vorreiter des Expanded Cinema. Um 1964 wurden sie in einer Zeit rekonstruiert, in der die filmische und lichtkaleidoskopische Avantgarde der 1920er-Jahre von einer neuen Generation von Experimentalfilmern und -theoretikern wiederentdeckt wurde. Deren Umgang mit technischen Medien war weniger von Kollektivitätsgedanken als von individualistischen Selbsterfahrungen und psychotropisch angeregten Selbstentgrenzungen geprägt. → more

Synthesis in Language of Vision — Bauhaus Sources in Gyorgy Kepes’s Dynamic Structure Order

Many of the concepts and concerns Gyorgy Kepes presents in Language of Vision have their roots in the Bauhaus. Both Bauhaus artists and Kepes shared notions of a language of art elements, universal laws, structure, and order, linking these to their utopic hope that art would have a positive effect on mankind. However, a great physical and cultural distance separated the German Bauhaus of the 1920s and 1930s from the post-World War II New Bauhaus in America, where Kepes taught and wrote. → more

Light as a Creative Medium in the Art of György Kepes

Design works employing light refraction, fixation, and reflection were already a feature of László Moholy-Nagy’s teaching at the Bauhaus. When in the summer of 1937 Moholy followed Walter Gropius’s advice and accepted Norma K. Stahle’s invitation to head the New Bauhaus in Chicago, he lay great store by György Kepes’s help in setting up the school in the New World. → more

Interview with Filmmaker and Photographer Ronald Nameth — On filming Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable and the influence of the New Bauhaus

Ronald Nameth has been working with film, electronics, video, and digital media from the 1960s until today. In addition to Warhol, Nameth has collaborated with several key figures in the arts including musical innovators John Cage and Terry Riley, photographers Aaron Siskand and Art Sinsabauagh, as well as many other artists and performers. In this interview with bauhaus imaginista he recalls how the New Bauhaus method of teaching allowed him to explore the nature of various media to better understand the medium itself and its creative potentials. → more

Latter-day Bauhaus? — Muriel Cooper and the Digital Imaginary

The Bauhaus is a monument—a book with the physical heft to match its scholarly ambition. Published in 1969 by the MIT Press, The Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago stands fourteen inches tall, ten inches wide, and two and-a-half inches thick, weighing in at over ten pounds. It is the revised, expanded, and redesigned translation of editor Hans Wingler’s 1962 German tome Das Bauhaus, 1919–1933: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin. Muriel Cooper, the MIT Press’s first Design and Media Director, consistently rated the book as one of her proudest achievements among the nearly 500 she would design or oversee during her tenure. → more

A Cold War Bauhaus

What happened to the idea of the Bauhaus in the decades after the Bauhaus? This essay examines a key figure at the center of the global spread of the Bauhaus idea after the Second World War: the Hungarian-American artist, designer and visual theorist Gyorgy Kepes. Through his unusual experiments with science and technology, Kepes promoted ideas about interdisciplinarity and collaboration that first originated with Bauhaus modernism in the interwar period. But the conflicts and confrontations that defined Kepes’s career in the United States demonstrate how the Bauhaus became a fraught ideological battlefield during the politically contested years of the early Cold War. → more

The Design of Information Overload — A Cold War Story

In 1959 Charles and Ray Eames presented their multi-screen film Glimpses of the USA inside Buckminster Fuller’s golden dome at the American Exhibition in Moscow. This propaganda project on behalf of the United States Information Agency  was part of a series of experiments into information overload as a new form of communication and persuasion. What was radical in 1959 has become every day. We are surrounded everywhere, all the time, by arrays of multiple, simultaneous images. The idea of a single image commanding our attention has faded away. It seems as if we need to be distracted in order to concentrate. → more

Communitas … After Black Mountain College

In the wake of Black Mountain College’s dissolution in 1954, two former students Paul and Vera Williams, left North Carolina and founded Gate Hill Artists’ Cooperative about an hour’s drive outside of New York City. “The Land,” as the Coop was often called by the artists, composers, filmmakers, choreographers, poets, and potters who built their homes and studios in this rural setting, evinced many of the pedagogical lessons of the Bauhaus translated through the American educational experiment in combining art and life that was Black Mountain College. → more

Between Form Sequences and Phase Films — The film experiments of Kurt Kranz

Bauhaus student Kurt Kranz (1910–1997) was a painter, illustrator, graphic artist, typographer, exhibition designer, inventor, programmer, pedagogue, and experimental filmmaker—an explorer of form and color in motion. By combining art, science, and pedagogy, he pursued the interdisciplinary approach of the Bauhaus throughout his life. → more

Festive and Theatrical — The Mask Photos of Gertrud Arndt and Josef Albers as an Expression of Festival Culture

Costuming played a central role at the Bauhaus. Gertrud Arndt’s mask photographs (a series of 43 self-portraits) derive directly from these Bauhaus festivals. As well as a series of nine color photographs taken in direct succession at Black Mountain College in 1940 by Josef Albers. → more

The Bauhaus is dead. — Undead.Undead.Undead.

The influential post-punk band, Bauhaus, helped invent the musical genre and sartorial style of goth-rock. Formed in 1979, their nineminute-long debut single Bela Lugosi’s Dead includes a refrain that has also inspired the title for this exhibition chapter. → more

Case Studies of Modernist Refugees and Emigres to Australia, 1930–1950 — Light, color and educational studies under the shadow of fascism and war

A significant number of central European and German refugees and émigrés sought refuge from war and fascism in Australia during the inter-war and post-World War Two years. These refugees and émigrés introduced an approach to modernism that was crossdisciplinary and derived its inspiration from a systematic approach to arts education. In this paper the authors offer case studies in order to highlight some of their commonalities, such as a commitment to reform education, a systemic interdisciplinary approach to modernist art education and, finally, color-light explorations in art, design and architecture that arise as a consequence of these educational philosophies. → more

The Bauhaus Journey in Britain

The Bauhaus’s teaching approach emphasised the idea of working as a community of creatives and producers rather than merely focusing on the traditional pupil-teacher relationship. In this essay the focus will be on the Bauhaus’s impetus to bring art and design into everyday life highlighting in Great Britain’s visual culture in the 1930s and between 1960s and 70s and how it influenced youth and popular culture during the swinging sixties in London. → more

Bedsit Art in the Leeds Experiment

In the 1970s the city of Leeds was noted as home of “the most influential art school in Europe since the Bauhaus,” and a thriving punk and post-punk music scene. Gavin Butt explores a small art school milieu in which avant-garde experiments in photography, performance, film and sound art gave shape to non-conformist presentations of the body and of sexual and gendered identity. → more

Microfilm and Memex — Lucia Moholy, Photography and the Information Revolution

Considering the role of photography, and particularly, of the Bauhaus photographer Lucia Moholy, in developing and envisaging information systems during and after World War II this paper focuses on the connection between her pre-war practices and her work as the director of the ASLIB Microfilming Service in wartime London, using it to think through the direction of developments in media and information technology by drawing a comparison with Vannevar Bush’s famous essay “As We May Think” (1945). → more

Penguin’s-Eye View — Lázló Moholy-Nagy meets Berthold Lubetkin at the London Zoo

One day in September 1936, Ernestine Fantl, a curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and Lázló Moholy-Nagy stood looking at the new Penguin Pond in London Zoo. Fantl was on a research trip for an upcoming exhibition, Modern Architecture in England, that would heavily feature the striking structures Soviet émigré architect Berthold Lubetkin’s firm Tecton had built at the London and Whipsnade Zoos, among them the Penguin Pond. Realizing “that no still photograph could do justice to the pool or its denizens,” on the spot Fantl commissioned Moholy to produce a film about Tecton’s animal enclosures. → more

To train not only for, but also against something! — A plea to think politically about the interdisciplinary art academy

Art colleges where the fine, applied and performing arts are taught under one roof often refer to the historical Bauhaus. Although the institution possessed no separate workshop for music, the experiments on the Bauhaus stage are regarded as prototypical for the further development of interdisciplinary art approaches later in the twentieth century. This text deals with the interdisciplinary art academy on the slide of a deregulated present. It reviews a number of developments to which we have already become accustomed. It is precisely for this reason that we should recall the opportunities offered by interdisciplinary education in both an artistic and political sense. → more

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