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The Chromatic Plastic Dynamism of Abraham Palatnik: An Introduction to the First International Biennial of São Pãulo (1951)

Mario Pedrosa

Today is the opening of the first Biennial of Sao Paulo. There are several foreign delegations and some are brilliant. The Brazilian delegation is also represented by our best artists. Thus, all modes of modern art will be represented. As part of the Brazilian delegation, but without any frame of reference for classification due to its status beyond routine regulations, we will see what will be undoubtedly one of the most interesting contributions to the exhibition: the chromatic plastic dynamism of Abraham Palatnik.

Palatnik will represent in this international show the cutting edge of the modern movement. He belongs to the avant-garde of pioneer artists that employ direct light as a medium of artistic expression. Palatnik abandoned the brush and the figure and, after a short abstractionist stage, decided to paint with light---daring to try to realize one of the oldest "artistic utopias," as wrote Moholy-Nagy. Modern technological media are, for this purpose, found in more abundance today than in the past. The multiple luminous signs, the searchlights, spinning electric bulbs, the flashing electric boards, neon gas---all these already occupy the nocturnal spaces and transform the modern night into permanent artificial fireworks.

Out here we have the luminous image that projects itself, that moves, that deflects and comes forward toward us---in its desperate desire to give us duration and simultaneity, space and time, indissolubly and concretely united. Modern physics is opening an even larger venue in this sense. Until now all these experiences of industrial or commercial nature are nothing but a brutal aggression to our spirit and senses. They are not a plastic organization capable of synthesis, of self-control, of internal structure, of superior signification---in short, of formal rigor. For the artist the old pictorial metier (the brush and chemically produced pigments) does not suffice. In order to be able to control, to direct, to shape light, the artist needs new instruments and familiarization with the advances of modern optics, from the issues of colorimetry to the virtualities of artificial light. Palatnik is lined up with the researchers of the plasticity of light, i.e. of the effects of space-time upon our sensibility. Some of these researchers, such as Wallace Rimington and Scriabin (the composer), have created and designed light organs, while others worked with clavilux-like systems, as did Thomas Wilfred, Raoul Hausmann, Wetzel and Laslo, among others. The instrument of the young Brazilian pioneer projects---on a screen or any other semi-transparent material---compositions of colored shapes in motion. His point of departure was the kaleidoscope, but he found too crude the primitive system of having to look at the images with one eye while rotating a glass plate. The artist then wanted to expand vision, freeing the image from the little box in which it was confined so as to project it against the wall by means of a system of lenses. It was a revelation.

These revelations, these visions of fantastic structures, could not have gone beyond child's play if the discovery had not led him to look for a way of controlling such structures, making them return to some initial forms and therefore creating a rhythm. It is true that the kaleidoscope was already arbitrary. In it the structures are generated at random by the manipulation of the viewer. The artist could not accept this arbitrariness, which excluded him from the work. He then wanted to intervene in the metamorphoses of the kaleidoscope to give plastic direction to these forms. The forms must multiply themselves, but according to a preliminary superior order determined by the artist. The projected luminous colors are not obtained with brushes and pigments. The kaleidoscopic motion also motivated the artist-inventor to set colors in motion, so that they could combine and develop from one to the other continuously.

Palatnik's first apparatus consisted of a study of the projection capabilities of the lenses. At first, the possibilities were few: motion was determined by the heat irradiated from the bulb that activated the cylinders with the color shapes. In the first apparatus there was only one bulb and one cylinder. But with it the artist achieved his first goal: the possibility of controlling the projection, its orbits and angles, and with them to capture the ultramodern magic effects of colors and forms in motion. At last, color is freed from the constraints of its existence, from the object, from local, chemical materialism. Color becomes pure, direct, deriving from artificial luminous sources. A pigment color fixed on the canvas is an accident that can always be removed. But the color that originates from light source is at once concrete and imponderable. In fact, one or more chromatic light sources can be projected simultaneously in several places. Palatnik's new apparatus is a box with four walls; in each wall there is an opening. Each bulb can project and focus light in several places at the same time. The new apparatus does not produce only one movement---horizontal---as the first did; it also produces a second movement, which contrasts with the other in the vertical direction. This last movement acts as a kind of counterpoint.

With this new apparatus the artist opens limitless possibilities to kinetic colors. In order to create yellow, for example, one does not need cadmium anymore, because projected light can generate the kinetic mixture of green and crimson and offer us a certain perception of yellow. Light becomes a means for plastic expression due to its own properties, such as fluidity, irradiation, dynamism, discontinuity, infiltration, enveloping expansionism, cooling off, etc. In addition, light creates negative forms and spectral volumes. Moholy-Nagy used to divide all these manifestations of light creation into two fundamental groups: outdoor luminous displays, which are abstract and take place in open space, and indoor displays, realized in enclosures. Palatnik's work can be categorized as what Moholy termed light frescoes, destined to animate walls or whole buildings with the plastic dynamism of artificial light, according to the inspiration and creativity of the artist. Moholy predicted that in the house of the future a special place would be reserved for the installation of these luminous frescoes, as is the case today with radio and the TV set. With Abraham Palatnik, Brazil starts its research in a domain practically unexplored, which might become, next to the movies, the fine art of new times---the true art of the future. It is an excellent introduction to the Biennial.

Originally published in Tribuna da Imprensa, October 1951, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Translated by Eduardo Kac.

First posted November 1997.

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