An aesthetic programme of light, colour and motion

A discussion is going on in the sector of concrete and constructive art about the concept of the "universal" with which the pioneers of the second decade of our century countered "individuality". The de stijl manifesto of 1918 states: what is old is aimed at the individual, what is new is aimed at the universal. This, however, is followed up with: new art has brought to light what the new spirit of the times embodies - an even relationship of universal and individual. Virtually at the same time, in 1916, the Russian language theorist Viktor Slovskij aired the opinion that the process of perception in art is a purpose unto itself. By borrowing upon mathematical thinking, which marked the forties, and by its tendency towards scientifically oriented interpretation concepts as a whole, the founding idea of universalism was revived and carried forward successfully. The playing grounds of kinetics and dynamic light artworks were a temporary expression of this deep-lying concern. It also suffices to recall the words of Richard Paul Lohse that the change of generations is portrayed in the change from the individual form to the anonymous element. Concrete artists of our times, with only a few exceptions, consider a form of plan realisation in a universal sense to be no longer possible and also no longer desirable. They have great difficulty, however, in creating the identity of an individual, whereby, incidentally, they are happy to fall back on historical individuality. Whichever way you look at it, not just a grand motif but also a constant incentive to meet the task has been impregnated, in intention and imagination, by the early concrete artists with their idea of the universal, at which the new has to be aimed.

Anyone who takes a look in Edgar Knoop's workshop and at its extension today at this exhibition is confronted with the fundamental discussion of constructive-concrete art, both in an updated theoretical formulation as well as corresponding realisation. Initially, however, it is a meeting between objects and us, the observers, who we count as part of the exhibition because of our perceptive powers. Josef Albers, however, saw this encounter as a contradiction between physical fact and psychical effect, and saw the very origin of art in this altogether. In other words, he no longer spoke of artistic tools, of colours and forms and of ideas, of some kind of aesthetics with rules, he left everything open.

What I find questionable in his statement is the "contradiction" he sees between the physical fact and the psychical effect because we, who have taken up as working hypothesis the creative circle, the biological coherence with the cybernetic regulating circle, and in the end see the complete sensory organisation confirmed within ourselves, are less irritated by the contradiction but instead attempt to consciously experience the continuation of stimuli and reactions, sensations and experiences. The old "Bauhaus" master was nevertheless right when he fundamentally regarded the physical fact as the object, the resistance, the stimulant. A contradiction of terms is close at hand here. If we were to call the physical fact a work of art, despite the contradiction we would no longer be able to speak of art for art's sake, i.e. an autonomisation of artistic means and attitude. We are interwoven with the physical fact of the work of art in many ways, mostly with even more than one sensory mood. Our reality is always interwoven. Nevertheless, faced with the light-kinetic works of Edgar Knoop, we raise the question about art in order to bring the discussion about the universal and the individual up to date.


lichtkinetische collage 1993

lightkinetic collage 1993


Is that art anymore? Is it art again? Has art been reduced to a perception process, to an aesthetic stimulant? Is this particular concentration, which Knoop's works demand of us by placing focal points in the form of small slits and suggestive structures before our very eyes - is this particular concentration a characteristic of a perceptive art, a union of light, colour, space and sensory powers? These questions are not sought, they arise. They exist in the form of encounter, an encounter with leading examples of an art which does not rest on stored experiences but, instead, on the moment of encounter, the moment of a happening. We see the works of Edgar Knoop in another light as well. If, in defining the aesthetic standpoint, we take the old dualism of figure and background, with the optical orgy of random incidence with which we are confronted every day as background on the one hand and the artwork standing out as the figure on the other, artworks of this kind have to be virtually created as "transparent cut" - the term comes from Max Bense - in order to stand the test of time. They have to differentiate exactly and be precisely structured .

The concept, the dramaturgy of new optical art will be more important than ever and differentiates itself from the presentations of former kinetic op art in the same way as laser beams and the magic lantern. At the same time, Knoop's work is not particularly intricate. He does not produce machines, which themselves portray old functions of representation. Instead, he chooses - and this choice of materials is itself a particularly important clue - a material which is also used for purposes outside aesthetic spheres. It is the diffraction grid foil used by Knoop in precise doses which provokes minimalistic light effects according to the material.

Works as created by Knoop also stand out against their backgrounds as figures in another aspect. The biological integration is always only valid for the moment. Its reference system may be of a certain duration, but it is not a system as such. Instead - based on the Gestaltkreistheorie of Victor von Weizsäcker - it is a categorisation of biological performances in a present state. Contrary, therefore, to the physical-mathematical understanding of integration of the pioneers of concrete art, which was a constant reference point at the time, the biological integration we perceive in the interaction between light-kinetic collages and light-kinetic reliefs, is a coming and going, a natural bias in a projection mechanism; the universal which we are on the track of with the help of Edgar Knoop's artworks is suddenly made aware to us in a flash, so to speak: our aesthetic standpoint is no longer a precondition for art. This does not mean, however, to speak of or agree to the transaesthetic which unavoidably leads to the spread of a constant unchange. In the face of the flood of paintings, the surplus of paintings, artists such as Knoop are placing the focus on unique, individual stimulation which can occur again and again. The artistic performance is exerted on the verge of total aestheticisation; from the existence on this verge, however, it becomes a surprising focal point interaction for the individual participant. This was always a characteristic of art - the sudden enlightenment. The fact that we also experience originality, explicitness, differentiation in this encounter, however, allows us for a moment to become virtuous again.


eugen gomringer
wilhelm - hack - museum ludwigshafen, heidelberger kunstverein, 1993