"Man as a construct is the synthesis of all his functional apparatuses, i.e. man will be most perfect in his own time if the functional apparatuses of which he is composed – his cells as well as the most sophisticated organs – are conscious and trained to the limit of their capacity."
– László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), Produktion-Reproduktion, 1922
Curated by New York-based artist Erik Wysocan—recipient of Socrates Sculpture Park Emerging Artists and Hellen Gelman Fellowships—this exhibition takes its title from László Moholy-Nagy’s 1922 essay “Produktion-Reproduktion” in the Dutch journal De Stijl. That essay identified a turning point at which photography and film transcended conventional functions of reproduction and documentation to “produce new, as yet unfamiliar relationships.”
This installation at Andrea Rosen Gallery 2 revisits Moholy-Nagy’s engagement with the Berlin avant-garde and the circle of émigrés who left Hungary following the collapse of the socialist revolution. During that period, Moholy-Nagy formulated a politicized theory of aesthetics invested with materialism. His goal? To incorporate capacities of the body by posing a model of a wholly receptive biology in which collected cells and organs are sensitized to and shaped by aesthetics.
In this capacity, Moholy-Nagy expressed deep concerns for the sensory habituation technologies and their possible impact within the body itself. In Produktion-Reproduktion, Moholy-Nagy framed his lifelong project to parse innate qualities of emergent technologies and leverage positive capacities for “productive creation.” This was in opposition to stultifying effects of market-driven reproduction. In a 1932 essay he stated: “This phase is best expressed by capitalism’s anti-biological use of technology”—causing irreparable damage, with generations becoming enfeebled in their biological functions.
Already in the 1922 essay, Fame Bauhaus pedagogue and Modernist torchbearer Moholy-Nagy sought to deploy the logic of productive creation within the still-young field of photographic imaging to receive and record various light phenomena (or parts of light displays) to produce non-figurative images through direct manipulation of light. His thinking on the subject arose from experience with that period’s emergent photographic technology. In Moholy-Nagy’s case, that meant the Leica I—the camera that first made photography accessible to non-professionals and shared a political history that paralleled Moholy-Nagy’s.
After 1937 Moholy-Nagy worked primarily with the Leica series of cameras and, as with his own biography, the history of the camera’s development cannot be untangled from that political history and its resultant upheavals. The Leica I was released in the 1920s followed by the Leica II in 1932. During this same period the Soviet Union – unable to trade with Europe – began reproducing foreign technologies within the commune factories. In this way the Leica came into existence with a double life: the German original and a Soviet reproduction known as the FED. German forces destroyed the FED commune near the end of the war and manufacturing ceased until the fall of the Nazi regime when German technologies were expropriated back to the Soviet Union to rebuild production lines (in one notable instance, relocating an entire Zeiss factory). In the postwar years Leica copies continued to develop, some embellished with Leica logos and exaggerated connotations of wealth such as snakeskin leather and gold accents. Early models were intended for the Soviet audience, but following the collapse of the USSR, FED-made Leica copies found their way into western markets. With growing awareness of the Soviet provenance amongst collectors, a final revision came to light: re-inscribed with Nazi insignias intended to indicate German authenticity – a replica of a reproduction of a copy with no referent. For Production / Reproduction an original Leica II as well as three successive FED reproductions are presented.
Over his lifetime Moholy-Nagy made strides with black and white photographic abstraction using the photogram technique, however, his longstanding ambition to do the same with color images was never realized. Made impossible by the state of photographic printing technology of the day, the project exited the darkroom to investigate the possibility of in-camera manipulation. The five abstract images in this exhibition made between 1937 and 1946, exemplify his work to directly manipulate light and color in photosensitive mediums. Moholy-Nagy died in 1946 making this late series the last of his investigation on the subject and perhaps his closing remarks with regard to Produktion-Reproduktion. The images were both prescribed and limited by the state of technology at the time they were made: the Kodachrome film employed for much of his color work was limited to producing slide transparencies. Despite significant research with color printing techniques, he was never able to achieve the color fidelity he desired in reproducing the images in print format–a project that would only be completed over half a century later by master-printer Liz Deschenes. Thus the particular technical history in this work manifests Moholy-Nagy’s nuanced understanding of technological progress.
This exhibition addresses the lineage of direct technological manipulation in Moholy-Nagy’s work and pivots on a selection of his in-camera “light painting” investigations as expressed in a series of abstract color photographs. It also presents a selection of biographical photos in their original slide format–the intimacy of the works in their inceptive medium underscores the biological imperative and the agency of desire within Moholy-Nagy’s aesthetic framework. Moholy-Nagy was driven by a Modernist ideal of human progress that he strove to achieve within his own life through self-embodiment and reproductive teleology.
Through February 28, 2015
525 W 24th Street, New York City 10011