●Edition 4: Still Undead

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.

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

Kranz discovered new forms of artistic expression at the Bauhaus, creating many different groups of work, such as the photographic gesture and mimic series, photo collages, typography, exhibition designs, and work using a raster process to produce large-format film advertisement posters. In aggregate, these works move in a field of tension between Constructivism and Surrealism, between single image works, collage, and pictures in series. Although Kranz’s Bauhaus work at first appears aesthetically heterogeneous, they share one structural commonality—the use of serial and generative working methods. In 1932, Kranz was offered the opportunity to present his work in a solo exhibition in the vestibule of the Bauhaus Dessau.

Kranz continued his work on form sequences, working towards their cinematic realization, later writing: “When I came to Dessau, my main concern was to turn the form series into a film.”6 Soon after arriving at the School he realized two new form sequences explicitly designed to be realized as films: Der heroische Pfeil (The Heroic Arrow, 1929/30) and Farbfilm genannt Leporello (Color Film Called Leporello, 1930/31). However, Kranz’s search for technical equipment as well as a teacher supportive of his experiments was in vain. László Moholy-Nagy had been unable to realize his idea of setting up a workshop for film art at the Bauhaus, leaving the School in 1928 to work in Berlin after Hannes Meyer succeeded Walter Gropius as director. Completely destitute, young Kranz was unable to realize his designs on film through his own financial resources. “What was decisive for me at the time,” he wrote, “was: what can I do? It turned out that I could not make film. So only the abstract pictures remained possible.”7

Already stymied by his limited financial means, Kranz’s film project suffered a conceptual setback during the three-day film and lecture series, Der gute Film, held by Hans Richter at the Bauhaus in June 1930. Kranz later recalled his shock: “My film project was really hit by a small episode: Hans Richter appeared in 1930 and on a film screening evening showed everything I wanted to do and thought I had invented at the age of 21.”8 Among other works, Richter screened Diagonal Sinfonie (Viking Eggeling, DE 1923/25), Rhythmus 21 (Hans Richter, DE 1921/23), Tusalva (Len Lye, UK 1929) and Wachsexperimente (Oskar Fischinger, DE ca. 1923–27).9 The realization that he was not the only one pursuing the abstract filmmaking, and that some remarkable pioneering works had already been produced, was a lasting irritant to Kranz. Viking Eggeling and Richter had already produced “Rollenbilder” shortly after the First World War, a film made up of “successive form phases in a juxtaposed picture strip.”10 Similar to Kranz’s early form sequence works, these can be seen as designs for or precursors to abstract film. According to the art historian Wulf Herzogenrath, the experimental film director Walter Ruttmann made the first completely abstract film, Opus 1, in March 1921,11 while the Bauhäusler Werner Graeff, a friend of Richter’s, had published a draft for an abstract film in De Stijl in 1923. In addition, Kurt Schwerdtfeger and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack had performed their light plays at the Weimar Bauhaus, “in which they investigated the variable behavioral possibilities of geometrical form motifs.”12

Despite initially being disillusioned by these discoveries, Kranz did not wish to abandon his work on form sequences. Richter recommended him to apply to work with the pioneering film animator Oskar Fischinger. However, Kranz was critical of Fischinger’s work. “He[Kranz] was not interested in the simplification or the practicability of technique,” His wife Ingrid Kranz would later write: “He had his eye on the distant goal of the animation of forms, of endowing them with a soul.”13 Despite his reservations Kranz contacted Fischinger, but finally rejected a job at his studio on account of the meager monthly payment of 60 Marks.14 He developed his next film draft, Farbfilm genannt Leporello, between 1930 and 1931, knowing full well that its realization was just a dream, as color film stock of sufficient quality was not yet available.15 Kranz received his Bauhaus diploma on 1 April 1933. In the same year, the Bauhaus was closed under pressure from the National Socialists. His plan to realize his form sequences as films never came to fruition at the Bauhaus.

When he was appointed to the Landeskunstschule in Hamburg in 1950, almost twenty years after the closure of the Bauhaus, he developed a basic course based on the pedagogical principles of the Bauhaus; in particular, Josef Albers’ preliminary course teachings. In 1955, the Landeskunstschule was renamed the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg and Kranz was appointed professor, with a focus on form transformations in various materials (Formtransformationen in verschiedenen Materialien). He thus continued to pursue his abiding artistic theme both as a lecturer and in his own art. In 1955/56, Kranz produced the form sequence Variations on a geometrical theme. According to the philosopher Max Bense, a colleague of Kranz at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg in the late 1950s (and again during the 1966–67 academic year), transforming these graphics (or his earlier form sequences works) into film hardly interested him at the time.16 In 1968 Kranz acquired a 35mm Crass animation stand for the Hamburg Kunsthochschule. He finally tackled the cinematic realization of the form sequences at the suggestion of former student Robert Darroll after retiring in 1972.17

Kurt Kranz: Die falsche Neun, 1930/31, 11 photographies mounted in 5 rows; © Ingrid Kranz.

Kurt Kranz, 20 Bilder aus dem Leben einer Komposition, 1927/28, watercolor and tempera on paper, each 22.5 x 15.7 cm. Kunsthalle Bremen – Kupferstichkabinett – Der Kunstverein Bremen; film version: DE 1972, length: 150 m, color; © Ingrid Kranz.

II. The early form sequences – between series and film18

The form sequences 20 Bilder aus dem Leben einer Komposition, which Kranz created at the age of 17, was not originally planned as a film. The series, executed in portrait format, shows amorphous abstract forms undergoing a twenty-part sequence of changes: “A biomorphic surrealism completes the form osmosis of mostly transparent shapes, until their dissolution in multi-dimensional light-spaces, through which the observer appears to hurry with changing degrees of proximity.”19 The fading of the individual phases in the film of the same name, Zwanzig Bilder aus dem Leben einer Komposition (DE, 1927–28/1972, 2'), adds a brief moment of interpenetration of one phase to another: “One picture forces its way into the other, one takes the place of the other. The penetrations reveal a new effect. The life of the composition can be clearly read from the passage of time.”20 Kranz had the paintings for 20 Bilder aus dem Leben einer Komposition bound as an accordion pleat folio (leporello in German), offering the possibility of turning one page after another or looking at the entire series side by side.

Kranz first developed the work schwarz : weiß / weiß : schwarz in the years 1928/29,21 producing the forty-part sequence with the tools of the lithographer: compass, drawing pen, and iron angle. Its central element is the circle; the geometric design is already inspired by Constructivism. The 3:4 aspect ratio of the drawings in the book corresponds to that of a film image tilted ninety degrees. The binding of the drawings made it possible to browse quickly, as in a flip book. In the course of the forty individual frames, black and white discs slide over the image field, overlap or displace each other, forming a narrative course on several levels, as noted by art historian Werner Haftmann:

What is astonishing is not only the chronological emergence of a form which develops from simple elements into complexity, but also the development of the luminosity of the Black/White and the spatial stages. Here we have not only an emergence of light—which grows to an extreme point and then loses itself again—in addition we have a dramatic spatiality which develops itself in the chronological fulfillment of the sequence.22

Kurt Kranz, schwarz : weiß / weiß : schwarz, 1928/29, 40 40 ink drawings heightened with white on paper, each 14 x 10,5 cm. Private collection Hamburg; film version: DE 1972, length: 408 m, black and white; © Ingrid Kranz.

The temporal component, as well as the relationships between black and white or light and dark, allows for reflection on the basic conditions of cinematic perception. In the details, too, there are already echoes of cinematic techniques: “Suddenly in sheet 14 the white dominant becomes the germ-cell of black ‘turning points.’ Between this and the following print is applied what film people call[a] Zoom.”23 One might perhaps speak more precisely of camera movement (a similar process can also be found between sheets 29 and 30).

While the two early form sequences were done in portrait format—and therefore had to be tilted ninety degrees in their later cinematic realization— from the outset Kranz designed the series Der heroische Pfeil (1929/30) in landscape format, with a direct view towards cinematic realization: the sixty pictures were planned as the basis for a three-minute film. “The layout of each individual print is transitory, i.e. geared to the function allotted to[go] between the earlier and the later phases.”24 By using the arrow, Kranz took up a motif that became iconic within the graphic vocabulary of the Bauhaus and was frequently used by Paul Klee as well as in Bauhaus publications—with ironic intent.25 The arrow, thanks to its directional character, is a dynamic sign: Kranz was intent on “really setting this arrow in motion.”26 Within the sequence of pictures he let the arrow experience some “adventures,” meeting both adversaries and comrades in arms: it has to break through resistances; become distracted and split; knotted and devoured. The concept of an anecdote with an abstract object as the “main actor” follows the dramaturgy of narrative cinema:

The picture story with the arrow as hero has pronounced filmic characteristics, for instance the survival over and surmounting of all difficulties against all types of resistance, with or without satellites. Practically only linear media was used. When the hero has passed a field of arrow barbs, he is cut in half by a sharp and relentless foe, thus arousing a feeling of compassion normally reserved for the personified, the living.27

Kurt Kranz, Der heroische Pfeil, 1929/30, 60 phase drawings in ink, each 5,1 x 7,5 cm. Kunsthalle Bremen – Kupferstichkabinett – Der Kunstverein Bremen; film version: DE 1972, length: 170 m, black and white; © Ingrid Kranz.

While schwarz : weiß / weiß : schwarz (DE/FRG 1929–30/1972, 2') and Der heroische Pfeil (DE/FRG 1931/1972, 4') both use rather simple graphic means, the series of pictures comprising Entwurf für einen Farbfilm is an explosion of the painterly. Forms and colors change, metallic color applications create an additional layer. Here, the temporal development takes place neither on the horizontal nor vertical axis, but in the depths of space:

Color brings a spatial dimension into action. The flowing space which it evokes cannot be pinned down to axes of perspective, nor can it pervade the picture as an ultimate spread. It changes quickly from being a cell, body, micro- or macrostructure, open on all sides or rounded in spiral form. ... What is distant is potentially near, what is minute can turn out to be a “world in a nutshell.” All this is effected by the volatile shortening and lengthening of distance.28

Later, the title Leporello was added to the name Farbfilm, after Kranz had the 32 gouaches bound with an accordion pleat. The film finally bears the title Leporello – Entwurf für einen Farbfilm (DE/FRG 1930–31/1972, 5').

Kurt Kranz, Farbfilm genannt Leporello, 1930/31, 32 phases in mixed technique mounted on canvas, each 17,5 x 15,5 cm. Kunsthalle Bielefeld; film version: DE 1972, length: 172 m, color; © Ingrid Kranz.

The works discussed here have scarcely found their way into film history. What is the reason for this? On the one hand, the drafts were only filmed many years after their creation. On the other hand, there is a question whether the versions realized in 1972 even operate within the principles of cinema. The German film encyclopedia CineGraph – Lexikon zum deutschsprachigen Film describes the process of realization as follows: “The originals from the years 1927–32 and the war sketchbooks (1944/45) were filmed image by image with a 35 mm camera, using simple means.”29 According to Birgit Hein and Wulf Herzogenrath, the individual phases indicate a sequence of movements, but the “actually necessary intermediate stages” for the appearance of continuous movement are missing.30

The individual single images, drawn or painted, were simply filmed in succession, with transition provided by using successive fades. Due to Kranz’s decision not to draw the additional intermediate steps necessary to create a flowing movement within the sequence of single frames, the films differ above all by the fades and the fixed viewing time allotted to static single frames, predetermined by the film’s duration. The result: cinematic illusion of movement is only partially created. The individual original pictures operate as still images, while appearing nevertheless as film images of predetermined length and sequence.

Why did Kranz refrain from creating the basic conditions necessary for the filmic realization of the form sequences? He was aware of this shortcoming and justified his decision by citing the enormous effort necessary to give the appearance of a continuous formulation:

Even today (1975) the drawing of the design in its individual phase would be an almost insuperable problem because of the time factor. 30-100 phases would have to be produced between the individual pictures of the storyboard. This would be technically possible for the linear picture of the arrow. But very special media, for instance a computer, would be required for the production of the phases.31

Kranz was well aware of the difference between a cinematic animation and merely filming individual images. In contrast to how he conceived the films, where he had a flowing process in mind, he later perceived an advantage in the gaps in the animation, which render the viewer more autonomous:

The phase picture is a cut, a momentary picture, a picture often hidden from the eye—something rigid. Without the sequence of phases, it is not easily understandable. The greater the gaps, the intervals, the more the observer has to use his imagination.32

When comparing Kranz’s design on paper with the principles of film, Werner Hofmann also recognizes a qualitative difference:

We continually come up against shock-like irritations and disturbing interferences which distract the form process. We see that it is receptive for sudden changes, i.e., that it is not programmed. Perhaps the series drawn by hand makes these leaps and mutations clearer than the film can for which the prints were intended as a design, for the film optic does not show the phases side by side but connects them up into a flowing, uninterrupted continuity.33

The film cross-fades from one phase-image to the next, from Kurt Kranz’s film schwarz : weiß / weiß : schwarz (1928–29/72).

Kranz’s filmic adaptations of his early form sequence works can be structurally divided into two situations. First, a still image of a phase is visible for a certain period of time (usually three seconds). Second, the film cross-fades from one phase-image to the next. This following phase-image remains for the determined period of time, before a new fading process starts, introducing a further phase-image, that stagnates for another three seconds, and so on.

The way Kranz assembled the sequence of still images and superimpositions determined the visual rhythm of his phase films, creating a field of tension between two reception situations that each refer to cinematic conditions. The appearance of a moving image in film is created, of course, by an optical illusion occurring when individual still images advance in succession at a fixed frame rate of 26 frames per second. In the case of the phase films, on the other hand, the same single image is continuously repeated for a pre-determined number of frames, before fading to the next still image. No difference between the individual images is discernible in this situation, with one exception: the projection apparatus itself creates a restlessness in the pictorial state of the film, a micro-movement caused by the film moving through the mechanisms of the projector, producing a fluttering cinematic frame. This constant movement in the frame refers the viewer to the filmic dispositive itself. The pictorial and the cinematic enter into friction as a result—reinforced by the aesthetics and composition of the drawings or paintings, which suggest a museal rather than a cinematic form of reception.

A second dynamic covers the period of transition from one phase to the next—the crossfade, a conventional film technique. Since the transitions in Kranz’s filmed form sequences do not take place between moving images but between still images, an ambivalence opens up. By fading out the previous phase while fading into a new phase, intermediate images are created with various nuances and degrees of inter-penetration. These intermediate images are not a continuous animation. Rather, they refer to difference, to the rupture of a possible continuum between the individual images. An additional detail is worth noting here. During screening of his phase films, Kranz experimented with different playback speeds in order to manipulate the behavior of the forms in time. Faster playback increased the cinematic illusion of continuous movement. Instead of a succession of still images, the individual phases became more closely intertwined. Conversely, when the film speed was slowed down, the tension between the respective phases increased. Faster or slower projection speeds created a playful relation out of the pause and movement of forms.

III. The artistic concept: the open form

Kranz’ artistic approach for the film versions of the form sequences was to not fill the gaps between the images, and so ultimately abandon the idea of a smooth cinematic continuum. Instead, he preserves the decisive quality of the form sequences:

In my sequences I have many movements: backwards, forwards, to the side, upside down, and back and forth. The secret is the belief in the mobility of these things, which do not move at all. Only pictures appear and you think them together. ... I believe that the vehicle of experience is so strong that it carries the viewer from one picture to another. By complementing it, it becomes a personal experience. ... The problem with film is, if it runs too smoothly that it becomes like the drainage of a water pipe, then you wonder why it’s over.34

The gaps in the phase film open up a communicative space between work and viewer, integrating the observer into the creative process. This participatory approach is immanent in many of Kranz’s work groups. Max Bense sees in Kranz’s work an agreement of aesthetic and pedagogical effect:

With the relationship of the aesthetic state back to the steps of its creation, the rational moments of the artistic process become visible, and these are precisely the ones that can become a way of teaching and cause the pedagogical effect; that is, the education for artistic decision-making, the education necessary for a free but conscious selection of means, the very core of creative action.35

For example, for the “elements in the grid” Kranz combined a graphical basic element with a statistical ordering principle, letting them work together. The creation process remained transparent. With the sliding pictures and folding objects, he realized movable works that enabled the viewer to participate in the process of form and color design through processes of sliding, leafing through, and folding. In the assemblages, he created transformations of real objects and graphic motifs, allowing viewing sequences that might extend in several possible directions. Herzogenrath explained Kurt Kranz’s artistic strategy by referring to the concept of the open work of art …

… because, in its sphere of application, the definite, the permanent condition is not recognized. Reduced to a single formula, included in this open art concept are all productions in which the possibilities of processed change of the accepted vocabulary of form are tried out. Thus form is regarded as a series, not as a final or exclusive end, as a dynamic process, not as a static monument.36

Kurt Kranz: Studien zu einem Film (mit Geraden) and Studien zu einem Film (mit Kurven), 1931, drawing paper, black cardboard, Indian ink and opaque white, 207 x 300 mm and 208 x 299 mm. Kunsthalle Bremen – Kupferstichkabinett – Der Kunstverein Bremen; © Ingrid Kranz.

Already during his time at the Bauhaus, Kranz appears to have had an open concept of the filmic medium in mind. The works Studien zu einem Film (mit Kurven) (Studies for a film (with curves)) and Studien zu einem Film (mit Geraden) (Studies for a film (with straight lines)), created in 1931, give an indication of this. But no extant discussion of these works, which were never made into films, exists, thus leaving room for interpretation. Unlike the form sequences, these two studies do not provide images for a film. Rather, it seems as if Kranz was concerned with structural concepts of film and had alternatives to linear film narrations in mind. One possible allusion to how the studies were meant to function exists in a passage from Kranz’s text on kinetic objects, “Constructivism: A Contribution to the Time Dimension and the Narrative Aspect”: “The observer intercedes in the visual narrative by means of aleatoric interventions, interruptions or intentional distortions of planned, limited coincidence.”37 The works can be explained by calling upon the Constructivist formal language of the Bauhaus, which Kranz was exposed to in Wassily Kandinsky’s Analytical Drawing course. Instead of a linear cinematic sequence, the filmic structure follows a zigzag or radial courses.

Joost Schmidt introduced the handling of algebraic curves such as hyperbolas and parabolas at the Bauhaus, and these concepts are found in the film design mit Kurven. The arrow, as previously noted, also appears, seeming to open up possible entries and exits within the film. These openings also suggest the possibility of physical movement by the viewer—a stroll through the film. They stand in complete contrast to the normative cinematic perception situation, which presupposes the immobility of the viewer. In retrospect, the fact that it was not the medium of film but the image sequences that became Kranz’s most crucial artistic means of expression seems consistent. However, the idea that Kranz could have combined the two concepts Studien zu einem Film (mit Kurven) and Studien zu einem Film (mit Geraden) with the image content of his form sequences are suggestive of his broader vision for a complex media environment.38

  • 1 Kurt Kranz: “Konstruktivismus. Ein Beitrag zur Zeitdimension und dem narrativen Aspekt,” in: Christian Hiller, Stephan Müller, Philipp Oswalt, & Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau (eds.) Kurt Kranz. Die Programmierung des Schönen (Programming Beauty), Spector Books, Dessau/Leipzig 2011, pp. 6–11, here p. 9. Originally published in: Bauhaus. Internationaal Centrum voor Constructuuranalyse en Konstruktivsme, ISCA, Cahere 6/7, Brussels 1987, pp. 29–39.
  • 2 Christian Weller and Wolfgang Voigt: “Verwandeln und erfinden – Form als Prozeß. Ein Gespräch mit Kurt Kranz,” in: Werner Hofmann (ed.): Kurt Kranz. Das unendliche Bild, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Berlin Bauhaus-Archiv & Josef-Albers-Museum, Hamburg, Berlin & Bottrop 1990, pp. 186–191, here p. 189.
  • 3 Bazon Brock: “Kurt Kranz … Meister der Phase,” in: Kunsthaus Hamburg (ed.): Kurt Kranz. Bildreihen und Bilder mit beweglichen Teilen, Christians Verlag, Hamburg 1970, pp. 5–9, here p. 8.
  • 4 Birgit Hein and Wulf Herzogenrath: “Kurt Kranz,” in: Birgit Hein and Wulf Herzogenrath (ed.): Film als Film, 1910 bis heute. Vom Animationsfilm der zwanziger Jahre zum Filmenvironment der siebziger Jahre, Hatje Cantz, Stuttgart 1977, p. 92f., here p. 92.
  • 5 Kurt Kranz cited in: Irma Schlagheck: “Nach jeder Seite geht es in Unendliche”, in: art. Das Kunstmagazin, November, 1987, pp. 86–92, here p. 92.
  • 6 Kranz in: Weller and Voigt, “Verwandeln und erfinden – Form als Prozeß,” p. 187.
  • 7 Ibid., p. 187.
  • 8 Ibid., p. 189.
  • 9 See ibid., p. 191.
  • 10 Werner Hofmann: “Early Form Sequences by Kurt Kranz,” in: Kurt Kranz: Frühe Form-Reihen. Early Form Sequences. 1927–1932, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Christians Verlag, Hamburg 1975, pp. 26–43, here p. 40.
  • 11 Wulf Herzogenrath: “Wer war der Erste?” in: Film als Film, 1910 bis heute, pp. 8–12, here p. 10.
  • 12 Hofmann: “Early Form Sequences by Kurt Kranz,” p. 40.
  • 13 Ingrid Kranz: “Kurt Kranz. “The Heroic Arrow,” in: Kranz: Frühe Form-Reihen, p. 172.
  • 14 Weller and Voigt: “Verwandeln und erfinden – Form als Prozeß,” p. 189.
  • 15 The subtractive color process Gasparcolor was not introduced until 1934, when it was ready for industrial use. It still had great difficulties in maintaining color stability, compare for example Len Lye’s The Birth of the Robot (Great Britain, 1936).
  • 16 Max Bense: “Für Kurt Kranz,” in: Kurt Kranz 1960, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Christians Verlag, Hamburg 1960, pp. 2–5, here p. 5.
  • 17 In addition to the film versions of the so-called early form sequences described in greater detail later in this essay, film versions of the picture series 12 Variationen über ein Thema (1944-45, sketchbook; film version: FRG 1972, 20', length: 560 m, b/w) and Variationen über ein geometrisches Thema (1955, graphic series with 158 plates of 15 x 21 cm each in mixed media; film version: FRG 1972, 20', length: 618 m, b/w) were also produced in collaboration with Robert Daroll. Together with Daroll, Kranz created two animations as commissioned works for the ZDF with the titles Spiegelung (1980, 10') and Zeit (1982, 10').
  • 18 The film versions of the early form series are available on DVD: edition Bauhaus. Medien-Kunst, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, Christian Hiller, Philipp Oswalt &Thomas Tode (eds.), absolut MEDIEN, Berlin and Dessau 2009. In addition to the phase films of Kurt Kranz, the DVD also includes films by Heinrich Brocksieper, Viking Eggeling, Werner Graeff, Hans Richter, and Kurt Schwerdtfeger.
  • 19 Bernhard Kerber: “Comments on the readability of picture sequences,” in: Kranz: Frühe Form-Reihen, pp. 46 ff., here p. 46.
  • 20 Ingrid Kranz: “Kurt Kranz. 20 Phases in the life of a composition,” in: Kranz: Frühe Form-Reihen, p. 56.
  • 21 Kurt Kranz: schwarz : weiß / weiß : schwarz ed. Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau and Spector Books, Dessau and Leipzig 2011.
  • 22 Werner Haftmann in: “Discussion between Professor Dr. Werner Haftmann and Kurt Kranz,” in: Kranz: Frühe Form-Reihen, p. 16.
  • 23 Hofmann: “Early Form Sequences by Kurt Kranz,” p. 34.
  • 24 Ibid., p. 38.
  • 25 See Kranz: “Konstruktivismus”, p. 6 and the interview with Kranz in the film Sehen, verstehen, lieben: Begegnung mit Kurt Kranz, Dir. Rolf Kallenbach, FRG 1977.
  • 26 Kranz in: “Discussion between Professor Dr. Werner Haftmann and Kurt Kranz,” p. 18.
  • 27 Ingrid Kranz: “Kurt Kranz. The Heroic Arrow,” p. 172.
  • 28 Hofmann: “Early Form Sequences by Kurt Kranz,” p. 38.
  • 29 Peer Moritz: “Kurt Kranz,” in: Hans-Michael Bock (ed.): CineGraph – Lexikon zum deutschsprachigen Film, Lieferung 19, text + kritik, München 1992, pp. 1984ff., here sheet D2.
  • 30 Hein and Herzogenrath (ed.): Film als Film, p. 92.
  • 31 Kranz: “Kurt Kranz. The Heroic Arrow,” p. 172.
  • 32 Kurt Kranz: “Observations on picture-sequences and serial technique in visual art,” in: Frühe Form-Reihen, pp. 195–213, here p. 198.
  • 33 Hofmann: “Early Form Sequences by Kurt Kranz,” p. 36.
  • 34 Weller and Voigt: “Verwandeln und erfinden,” p. 189.
  • 35 Max Bense: “Zeichenspiele, prinzipielle Reflexion über Kurt Kranz”, in: Max Bense and Dieter Helms (ed.): Kurt Kranz. Bildreihen und Assemblagen mit beweglichen Teilen, Christians Verlag, Hamburg 1970, S. 48.
  • 36 Hofmann: “Early Form Sequences by Kurt Kranz,” p. 28.
  • 37 See Kranz: “Konstruktivismus,” p. 8.
  • 38 Media artists Daniela Kinateder and Chris Jeffs have successfully taken up this approach. Their installation Formreihen was created as part of the exhibition Kurt Kranz: Die Programmierung des Schönen, which was shown at the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation on the occasion of Kurt Kranz’s 100th birthday. The individual form sequence could be selected and viewed via a touchscreen monitor. The interactive installation also made it possible to view the form sequences in individual phases and to let them run back and forth at different speeds. Remarkably, one could also create variations manually while playing through the sequence and the individual fading phases using the touch screen display.
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On the Reconstruction of Kurt Schwerdtfeger’s “Reflektorische Farblichtspiele” (Reflective Colored Light Plays) from 1922

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

Vision in Motion —> Information Landscapes — From Stage Props and Camouflage Techniques to Democratic Apparatus and Cybernetic Networks

The examination of approaches, models and strategies for a redefinition of visual culture, the control of images and the shaping of perception made former Bauhäuslers 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. → 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

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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