Type of project: exhibition
Where: Green Gate, Gdańsk, Poland
When: 30 April–26 June 2011
Artists: György Kepes (HUN) and Frank J. Malina (USA)
Curators: Nina Czeglédy, Róna Kopeczky
Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdańsk;
The National Centre for Culture, Warsaw, Poland;
Cooperation: The National Museum, Gdańsk; Gdansk 2016, Poland
Organized in the scope of Art&Science Meeting Project

The Pleasure of Light. György Kepes and Frank J. Malina at the intersection of science and art

by Nina Czeglédy, Róna Kopeczky

György Kepes and Frank J. Malina’s vision is best characterized by a distinct combination of aspiration and creativity expressed through experimentation and radical innovation. While the notions of interdisciplinary philosophy date back to a renaissance synthesis of different branches of knowledge, lately, interdisciplinary concepts and their applications have received renewed interest. Kepes and Malina were already pioneers of these ideas in the mid-20th century. They shared a humanist ideal which was perceived by many as utopian. They worked ahead of their time on demolishing the previously sharp division between art and science, producing a fundamental shift and making the results accessible to common perception. Both Malina and Kepes sought to find an equilibrium, or if you wish, a harmony, between the arts and the sciences through effective interaction and a broad interpretation of knowledge transfer. Each of them felt a sense of responsibility to develop purposeful personal and public expressions of creativity. For Kepes and Malina, working with light – both in private and public space – became an important tool for improving humankind’s relation to the global environment. The creative use of light – light as a dynamic medium – preoccupied Kepes and Malina throughout their artistic careers. It is a common element in their artwork and forms a bridging concept for The Pleasure of Light project.

During World War II, both Kepes and Malina contributed to the US military. Kepes developed his camouflage theory into practice for the military and conducted seminars on the topic at the School of Design in Chicago, while Malina was working on rocket projects, providing fundamental patents for American rocketry, including the construction of the U.S.’s first successful high-altitude sounding rocket. During the Second World War, Malina felt obligated to serve the cause of his country; however, he was fundamentally a peace-loving individual whose primary goal was to bring Man closer to the Cosmos. It is no wonder then, that after the end of the War, Malina became disillusioned with space research aimed mostly at military purposes, and thus moved to Paris at the invitation of Julian Huxley – the first UNESCO director general. In his artwork, he explored issues of tension, transparency, light and movement, and in the 1950s began exploring kinetic art. In the process of these art experiments, he became conscious of the links to vision research by psychologists and cognitive scientists – this permeable art & science connection was clearly unrecognized at that time. He had his first solo show in 1953 in Paris, with numerous exhibitions to follow. In 1968, Malina founded Leonardo – a pioneering journal interweaving art and science and technology. Kepes, a Hungarian-born painter, designer, educator and art theorist, was stimulated early on by the experimental Kassák circle, and subsequently collaborated on many projects with László Moholy-Nagy. He was a visionary and a pioneer, converging art and technology in America, although he became best known for his theoretical and educational work. He summarized his concepts in The Language of Vision, his world-famed book. In 1947, Kepes accepted an invitation to teach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where in 1967, he founded the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, dedicated to advance new technologies and creative collaboration between scientists and artists. Kepes firmly believed that visual language conveys facts and ideas in a wider and deeper range than almost any means of communication, and realized this belief through his pioneering light installations. During these years at MIT, he also developed collaborative public art projects seeking new, publicly accessible interpretations.

It is an undisputed fact that Kepes’s and Malina’s concepts remain vital, and the influence of their accomplishments is strongly felt to this day. The Pleasure of Light exhibition and conference aim to present their parallel concepts, through the course of their lives, products and enduring influence.

Nina Czegledy, Senior Fellow, KMDI, University of Toronto, Canada, Researcher, Hexagram/CIAM Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, Senior Fellow, Hungarian University of Fine Arts, Budapest. International Research Fellow Intercreate Research Centre for Interdisciplinary Creativity, New Zealand Honorary Fellow, Moholy Nagy University of Arts and Design, Budapest, Hungary.

Róna Kopeczky is a curator at the Ludwig Museum and Contemporary Art Museum, Budapest, Hungary.