Exhibition // Sensory Overload: Moholy-Nagy at Bauhaus-Archiv

Article by Alison Hugill in Berlin; Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014

The latest retrospective at the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin is a fully immersive experience: a curatorial feat rarely realized in big institutions, but absolutely crucial to the nature of this exhibition. The show is a survey of Hungarian, Bauhaus heavyweight László Moholy-Nagy‘s early preoccupation with a full sensorial education, creating what he hoped to be a truly synaesthetic pedagogical model that would help to decrease feelings of alienation. The narrative begins with his time spent in a feminist women’s commune ‘Schwarzerden,’ near Darmstadt, that aimed at self-sufficiency through community farming, and espoused the principles of the 1920s Life Reform (Lebensreform) movement. Here, he harnessed the development of all the senses through new pedagogical methods.

The exhibition is designed by Canadian guest curator and Moholy-Nagy expert Oliver Botar, who skillfully integrates contemporary examples of the artist’s influence throughout the space. Moholy-Nagy’s famous photograms are presented with an explanation detailing the process of producing artworks using reproduction techniques: music created by scratching directly into a vinyl, or photographic images produced without a camera, by exposing photo paper to light in an interplay with found objects. In this section, we find a film from the 1950s by Norman McLaren, a triumph of sound and vision completed by drawing directly on 35mm film with a simple pen. The result is a strange display of animated dancing blobs, accompanied by echoing water droplet sounds.

What is most striking is the contemporary relevance of Moholy-Nagy’s early 20th century technologies and techniques, which are perhaps even more advanced, aesthetically, than their present-day counterparts. Digitalized versions of several of his works – including his Lichtspiel series and his architectural drawing ‘Kinetic Constructive System’ (rendered in 3D) – are somehow much less convincing than the originals were in the 1920s, at a time of utopian industrial innovation in the Bauhaus context.

As promised, the exhibition is a whirlwind of activity for the senses, directed at all ages and abilities: a motorized mobile hangs from the ceiling and several of Moholy-Nagy’s iconic simultaneous projections and shadow displays play against the wall, while even the floor of the exhibition space is marked out with textured tape, delineating the different sections in a visceral way. At the entrance to the exhibition, Berlin-based artist-architect Olafur Eliasson shows one of his works, rooting his oeuvre of spatial experimentation firmly within this modernist tradition.

There are many sides to Moholy-Nagy and – with the support of several institutions and collections – most of them are accessible in Sensing the Future. While much is known of his constructivist paintings and his multiform teachings at the Bauhaus in Dessau, this exhibition provides insight into the continued relevance of Moholy-Nagy’s early experiments in media and mediated life. From our technological standpoint, the results are at once charmingly naïve and shockingly progressive. As works of art, they demonstrate an almost prophetic understanding of the ways in which art practice would expand and develop in response to increased automation.


Additional Information

“Sensing the Future: László Moholy-Nagy, the Media and the Arts”
Exhibition: Oct. 8, 2014 – Feb. 2, 2015
Klingelhöferstrasse 14 (click here for map)


Alison Hugill has a Master’s in Art Theory from Goldsmiths College, University of London (2011). Her research focuses on marxist-feminist politics and aesthetic theories of community, communication and communism. Alison is an editor, writer and curator based in Berlin. www.alisonhugill.com


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