At the beginning of the 1950's there was a movement in Yugoslavia to reincarnate the principles of Russian Constructivism from the 1930's, the Dutch deStijl, and the German Bauhaus. This movement began with the formation of the experimental studio "EXAT‑51" in Zagreb by the architects Bernardi, Bregovac, Radic, Rasica, Richter, and Zarahovic, and the visual artist Aleksandar Srnec. Continuing their experiments from the findings and principles established earlier by Constructivism, the Bauhaus, and de Stijl, this group tried to relate its art to the needs of the new Socialist society. These artists expanded their experiments to include exploration of new materials and the possibilities of their use in contemporary life. After establishing a partnership with technology, this group did not limit itself to any single art form but showed equal interest in every aspect of art, from the "fine arts" of sculpture, painting, architecture to the "applied" arts of decoration and fashion design and the new arts of film and urban design.
In 1951, "EXAT‑51" wrote a minifesto in which they condemned the lack of connection between the visual orientation in Yugoslavia and the prevailing social standards. They proposed a concept for eliminating the differences between the visual and applied arts and advocated a creative process which would be determined by a combination of aesthetics and functionalism.1 This program gave the green light to further free experimentation and encouraged the creation of new groups of avant‑garde artists. One such group, also from Zagreb, called itself "Nouvelle Tendance." This group, international in character, has contributed toward the shaping of the present contemporary artistic outlook in Yugoslavia.
Luminokinetic art is the most significant outgrowth of these experimental approaches. It is based on the principle that the tangible components of an artistic creation are subordinate to the overall effects created through the active incorporation of light and motion. The forms manually created by the sculptor only exist in relation to the light which they reflect and/or the motions in which they participate.
The first Yugoslav artist to work with luminokinetic concepts was Aleksandar Srnec. He actively participated in forming both "EXAT‑51" and "Nouvelle Tendance." His artistic activities are widespread and indicating of his commitment to art in its broadest definition. Aside from creating luminokinetic sculpture, Srnec draws for the studio of animated film in Zagreb, writes film scripts, and paints. These endeavors which harmonize and together support one another, emphasize his concern with different modes of perception. In his luminokinetic sculpture, Srnec focuses on capturing the viewer's attention through his involvement with the properties of reflection, light, color, transparency, density, and motion, rather than with those relating to static physical mass.
Object 1111 73 (Fig. 117) consists of a vertical curved aluminum form which is constantly rotating on its fixed axis. It is powered by an electric motor not visible to the viewer. While rotating, the aluminum form projects a spectrum of images onto the highly polished mirror‑like chrome background. The images are elliptical forms that appear to overlap each other and then disappear again, constantly changing in sizes and shape. Thus, the physical nature of the aluminum ellipse is dematerialized and transformed into movement. The observer relates, then, not to the material itself but‑to the movement which the material reflects, projected to the chrome surface. The oval image repeatedly approaches, grows in size, and then vanishes into diminishing circles. It finally disappears momentarily, but quickly reappears; each time it creates a new aesthetic situation. The physical mass is justified artistically only through its ability to create these light configurations. Srnec is reluctant to verbalize about his creative process, and will only describe it as a "challenging game" between himself and the material. His participation in the play with his object involves building the physical structure, choosing the right elements for it, determining its rhythm and motion, and designing the conflicting situations, light intensities, time durations, and finally, the overall performance. Since all these fine effects are calculated by him and not by accident, he strongly believes that his art is a human art despite its untraditional and unpalpable media, and in the future be valued as such.
Also making use of light projections, some of the recent work by Ljerka Sibenik is likewise formed by a central ellipse rotated by an electric motor. These luminokinetic effects give the impressions of fusion, intensification, contraction, and expansion. Earlier works by Sibenik differ from these: they were "systematic compositions" where identical elements were rearranged to compose new spatial objects. Within both styles, however, the artist's interest has been in actively modeling the space rather than the object that fits within the space. Her object is always part of a spatial complex into which the viewer can enter. By the application of light, Sibenik eliminates the object‑like aspect of her piece and achieves a complete integration with the space. By reflecting ultraviolet rays from some of the surfaces, she contrasts dark spaces with briefly lit ones, creating the illusion of a theatrical stage setting. Viewers actually can move freely through this space, interacting with the light and thus becoming active participants in the dynamics of the piece. The glittery, seemingly ephemeral structures defined by light create a mood of instability and disorientation; the viewer is removed from the certainty of stable objects and transported into an environment where flux is the only apparent reality.
Vojin Bakic adopts a different approach to the perception of spatial arrangements. He is concerned with finding progressive solutions to the problems posed by the design of urban spaces of the future. He utilizes reflecting surfaces of the objects he creates in order to organize light and space. The principle according to which he organizes his series of convex‑concave mirror‑like stainless‑steel circles is an apparently casual simplicity. Each assemblage is a gestalt where the totality of the composition supersedes each individual piece and its position within the arrangement in importance. Light and reflections are the most important elements'; it is in relation to these features that the tangible elements of the piece have artistic meaning.
The suspended sculpture Light Forms (Fig. 118) is composed within the conceptual framework of Constructivist logic. The interest of this composition is magnified by the highly‑buffed stainless‑steel discs which clearly reflect while slightly distorting the surrounding environment. Since the mobile is constantly moving, the viewer experiences a continuous change of forms. Since it reflects the environment, each form becomes a spatial module which depends on that environment to determine the particular visual and psychological impressions it will convey to the viewer. The single elements vary very little in size and depth from one another; despite their actual differences, the overall impression is of uniformity. This is because the juxtaposition of these elements makes the open form, and the interaction of the total composition with the architectural setting, much more important considerations than the particular properties of the individual discs. The identity of the individual elements as discrete entities is effectively eliminated; it is the content reflected b~7 these surfaces which captures the viewer's attention, rather than the physical properties of the elements themselves. Because the "mirrors" are angled in all directions, they reflect countless images. One feels that the entire environment as well as the reflecting structure itself, is contained and repeated infinitely in these reflections in an active metaphor for timelessness.
The artistic concepts of Dusan Trsar are also based on light and kinetic objects. Colored lucite forms, penetrated by neon light in specially‑made frames or boxes, create visual realizations which can be located somewhere between sculpture and painting. These objects actually dissolve the traditional boundaries between painting and sculpture. Because lucite is industrially‑produced material made in regular thicknesses and dimensions, the space it defines is characterized by its own geometric harshness and precision; but the light focused through it lends a softer, more lyrical expression which offset its technological aspects.
Light Object (Fig. 119) utilizes discreet fluorescent features. The light illuminates the space with different colors which draw one's attention and visually eliminate the physical boundaries of the objects. The viewer's attention is then shifted from the fluorescent tube as object to the tube in its role as the producer of light images. One cannot help but think of the fluorescent‑light art of the contemporary American artist Dan Flavin, who uses fluorescent light tubing as his sole medium. The light articulation alters our perception of the color, shape, and size of the particular area that is being illuminated. Although this luminous box occupies three‑dimensional space, the light and color themselves make us perceive it as a two‑dimensional place delineated by the colored light images. The light has a romantic pictorial quality; it defines space in a manner similar to how the line of a particular color defines its canvas. The shape of the light is equivalent to a painted image; but the image seems to hover in a disembodied fashion rather than adhering to a fixed surface.
The sculpture of Vasa Mihic, constructed of rectangular acrylic shapes, is minimal in form but rich in color. Like Sutej, Mihic deals with light and color and encourages the viewer to become involved by allowing him to manipulate some of his multiple pieces. The viewer shares the artist's experience by projecting his personal visual preferences onto the sculpture. Some of his sculptures are elemental while others are made more complex by the multiple combinations of colors, volumes, and planes. When we consider these luminokinetic pieces whose effects are premised on the properties of certain new industrial materials, it is easy to interpret the sought‑after effect of flux through the intangible elements of light and movement as reflections, literally and figuratively, of the quality of contemporary life. In denying the value of solid form and fixed relations in preference for elusive and ever‑changing effects, these luminokinetic artists have formulated an aesthetic and an ideal out of some of the questionable qualities of human life inherent in technological society. Yet the pieces leave a spiritual quality traditionally associated with light which transcends the associations of the modern materials themselves and makes of them something mystical.
1.Manifesto by EXAT‑51 (Zagreb: Graphic Gallery, 1951), p. 3.