The productive rapport between artists and machines has a long standing tradition reaching back as far as the middle ages. While working on the representation of central perspective with a pinhole camera, the Italian Filippo Brunelleschi developed the first camera obscura — a tool which would revolutionize painting in the Renaissance. From now on, images were designed on the basis of technical-mathematical insights and the way in which the world was depicted on altarpieces and frescoes dazzle the viewer with their new serene realism. The archetype of the researching artist-scientist, as embodied by the proverbial Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci, shaped the various genres of the visual arts since the early 16th century. Around 1500, Albrecht Dürer invented sprawling optical apparatuses in order to hone his perspective drawings and produce subtle depictions of bodies and surfaces. In the middle of the 17th century, the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher worked on refracting lens systems and projecting glass images. With the projection of his magic lantern, he literally ›painted‹ the devil on the walls of his Vatican laboratory, making him one of the earliest film pioneers.

With the invention of photography, film and sound recording towards the end of the 19th century, completely new tools for the artistic exploration of the appearances of the world and their impact on consciousness came into play. In the course of the 20th century, an analytic and productive attitude towards the new wonders of expanded seeing and hearing developed, opening up a new direction in the relation between artists and machines. 

When Friedrich Nietzsche began writing little poems on his early version of a typewriter towards the end of his life, he concluded that »our writing tools contribute to our thoughts«.

This year’s lab programme is dedicated to artists whose creative production was significantly inspired by these mechanical ›writing tools‹ in the broadest sense and who translated their inspiration into experimental films. 

Using previously exposed 35 mm material as raw material in his media mediations, Peter Tscherkassy dissects, copies and repeats sequences at the optical printer until a new filmic reality emerges. He writes »›Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine‹ is the attempt to transform a Roman western into a Greek tragedy.«

James Whitney explores the possibility of manually forming the raw film material in such a way that chance and systematics appear to be balanced. In an elaborate painting and printing method, he adds grids and patterns to the film strip and in his film ›Yantra‹ he creates the semblance of early computer graphics, to which he will return in his later works as well. A subsequently added sound track with excerpts from an electronic composition of the Dutch vanguard composer Henk Bading expands Whitney’s pictorial worlds into an abstract futuristic vision.

In his animated film ›Die Pein vom Haupt entfernen‹, Felix Kubin uses pixilation to dissect time and movement for his portrait of a hyper-nervous fellow in a reality to which we commonly refer as civilisation.

The New York group League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR) around Eric Singer designs hybrid music machines that look like crosses between robots and classical instruments and are able to play complex compositions. 

Using the meta-machine of the Internet, Vicki Bennett took a deep dive into the 1950s and discovered surprisingly contemporary references to our current-day controller society. In a collage of instructional films from the Prelinger Archive, the ›Remote Controller‹ examines the strategy of praising technology as a tool for the optimisation and control of human beings in a complex reality, and the way it is sold as a comfortable version of ultra-modernity.  In the face of all knowing fridges, self-navigating lawnmowers and talking vacuum robots, it all looks like a déjà vu.

All this technological euphoria can only be fully appreciated by acknowledging the gigantic military machinery that it fuels. Thus, you can understand Robert Darroll’s film ›How Technology Saved the World‹ as an ironic commentary on the contemporary digital infatuation. 

Text & Filmauswahl Film selection Hanna Nordholt und Fritz Steingrobe

Hanna Nordholt and Fritz Steingrobe are film makers and curators.