The exhibition “The State of Images” courageously presents two Eastern European media pioneers: Zbigniew Rybczynski and Gábor Bódy
by Christiane Lötsch
Would you have known? The development of electronic images and sound started in Eastern Europe as early as the 1970s. Zbigniew Rybczynski (*1949, Poland) and Gábor Bódy (*1946-1985, Hungary), overcoming the artistic restrictions of the Eastern Block, were two of the pioneers who discovered new media technologies and used them in their innovative artworks. The travelling exhibition “The State of Images”, held in the Academy of the Arts, Berlin and in ZKM Karlsruhe presents both artists, whose works anticipate the possibilities of digital art and culture.
A blue room with three doors and a window. Tango music is playing when a ball is suddenly thrown into the room and a boy climbs through the window to get it back. A woman carrying a baby comes through the door, feeds her baby, and lays it down to sleep and exits. Following the scene with the boy and the mother is one with a thief who steals a bag, a husband who comes back home from a trip, a schoolgirl who does her homework – 36 characters keep repeating the “same gesture ad infinitum”, moving in loops, offset and in fast motion but observed by a static camera. They climb, get undressed, do a handstand, have sex, walk a dog, enter and exit the small crowded room again and again. It is almost impossible to see a bigger picture in the melee but whoever thinks that there is no inner system to the chaos, is deeply mistaken.
Beside the video screen, meticulously drawn sketches on millimetre paper give an insight into how precisely Rybczynski planned the course of events. Rybczinski states on his website: “I had to draw and paint about 16.000 cell-mattes and make several hundred thousand exposures on an optical printer. It took a full seven months, sixteen hours a day, to make the piece.” He was rewarded for his work – TANGO won an Oscar for Best Animated Short in 1983 and opened up his career. His music videos for Mick Jagger, Pet Shop Boys, Lou Reed and Simple Minds created the look of the early years of MTV.
But those times are over. When he’s not directing films in Europe and the United States or teaching Experimental Film in Cologne, he is still interested in creating new technology for High Definition television, inventing his own software for matting and experimenting with linear, spherical and geometric perspectives on objects in space. The “Perspective Box”, a three dimensional room installation lets the visitors experience the perspectives through three different pairs of binoculars. Still searching for innovative ideas in film and video making, Rybczynski is currently establishing his “Studio Ideale” in Warsaw. “A new form of a film studio” he claims in an interview that is comparable to the situation in a theatre because one can see the results straight away. His technical inventions would automate every step of a movie production – nothing less than “the most modern movie studio in the world.”
Gábor Bódy and Zbigniew Rybczynski have never met, but the former rounds off the exhibition wonderfully with his film work that creates its own narrative and poetic effect. The philosopher, semiotician, poet and playwright was the first Hungarian artist to work with video technology. Whereas Zbigniew Rybczynski sought a new visual language in programming computer software, Bódy explores the hidden semiotic meaning of the medium’s specificities. In his films, studies and experiments, he applies all kinds of cinematic tools: stylized visuals, fading lighting and surreal exaggerations, masks and inserts (cross lines are often added to the image), camera movements, electronic sounds and double exposures, always adding a meaning to the simple image and overcoming by this means the restrictions for films under Communism. The visitor can see these effects in the three versions of his monumental feature film “Narcissus and Psyche” (1980). The experimental film study “Mozgástanulmányok 1880–1980” (Studies in Movement 1880–1980) is an animation of the photographs of the American film pioneer Eadweard Muybridge. Displayed on a big screen in the exhibition hall, the human movements are sharply divided into geometric parts by inserted (cross) lines. The images stop unexpectedly and give an immanent rhythm to the movements.
Through many screens, sketches, photographs, displays and film extracts, the comprehensive exhibition gives an extraordinary insight into a field of cinematic avant-garde that is widely unknown in western European cinematic theory and culture.
The exhibition runs from 28 Jan – 6 May 2012 in the ZKM, Karlsruhe. Don’t miss it!
“Der Stand der Bilder. Die Medienpioniere Zbiegniew Rybczynski und Gábor Bódy”, hrsg. von Siegfried Zielinski und Peter Weibel, eine Publikation der Akademie der Künste, Berlin, des ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe und des Polnischen Instituts Berlin, Verlag für Moderne Kunst, Nürnberg, 2011.