Disegno 2021/1-2


Editors: Zsolt Gyenge, Olivér Horváth, Márton Szentpéteri
Guest Editor: Bori Fehér

There is nothing more natural for the scholarly journal of the only university bearing László Moholy-Nagy’s name than to edit a thematic issue to mark the occasion of seventy-five years since his death. This was an opportunity to invite scholars, researchers, and designers to present their thoughts and perspectives and thereby provide a critical assessment of one of the most important designers, educators, and thinkers of the early-twentieth century.

The title of the issue (moholy=nagy) refers to Moholy-Nagy’s signature. The siginification and importance of this signature can best be explained through Louis Kaplan’s words:

“… the significance of the signature manifests itself even as it marks and tattoos the body. … For turning to a sample of Moholy-Nagy’s signature, this hyphen has doubled over. … The painter with the strange and double name – Moholy=Nagy – always signs his name with a double mark … it motivates an arithmetic reading of the hyphen in which both marks, “-” and “=,” would count as mathematical symbols that help account for Moholy as an adept geometrician of form. … Does Moholy-Nagy = Moholy=Nagy? Does – = = ? Something might have been subtracted (-) or added (+) in moving from the first symbol to the Significance second symbol. … such a production, from – to = or from hyphen to hyphen, suspends the logic of identity which would gloss over such differences. … in the biographical writings of a graphic artist like Moholy whose artistic practice incorporates a display of signature effects, this graphic difference matters. The commonsensical explanation … overlooks the pseudonymous staging of Moholy and his signature, or Moholy (-, =) Nagy’s staging of himself and his signature, as a possible strategy for unnaming himself. No rules govern the use of this fleet and fleeting hyphen. … these signatures are joined and divided like the hyphens which compose them. Interspaced in the middle, the hyphen operates not unlike the bar between signifier and signified. The intervention of the hyphen splits the subject right down the middle or, in this case, splits him twice over – Moholy-Nagy from himself…”

Kaplan, Louis: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Biographical Writings. 168-169.

You can download the whole volume in one file here.

Table of Contents

The Editors: Introduction






The Editors: Introduction

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 6-7. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2int

Intrigue still surrounds Moholy-Nagy and the issue is also an opportunity to address some of the more evasive and hidden aspects of his character. Though he is widely known and recognized as one of the most important Bauhaus-inspired thinkers—see, for example, Alysa Nahmias’ recent documentary The New Bauhaus—many details of his life and work still need to be discovered and made available to the wider public. It is also very telling in this respect that the definitive intellectual biography of László Moholy-Nagy is still to be written. Much of this might be due in part to his early death, which left several of his projects unfinished, and also to the difficult times he lived through, when—as some of the papers published in this issue will show—the shortage of materials, lack of socio-political stability, and unpredictability of funding undermined many of his plans.

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Myra Margolin: Victor Margolin’s Early Years

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 10-21. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2mm

When I was a small child, my father used to take me to a novelty shop in Chicago called Uncle Fun. It was filled with rows of cabinets with tiny drawers that seemed, to my small self, to reach the ceiling. Each drawer contained a small wonder: little rubber chickens, stickers of Renaissance angels, woven finger traps, wax lips, kazoos. We would venture from our apartment in suburban Chicago to this shop in the city where he and I both delighted in opening the drawers and discovering small bursts of surprise, returning home with bags of treasures. We would lay these out on the dining room table, get out his big box of rubber stamps and spend hours making kookie, kitschy art together.
Another clear memory: searching with him for the perfect Chicago hot dog. First we decided it was at Fluky’s, where they gave out bubble gum in the shape of a hot dog. Then we switched our allegiance to Poochie’s, where they grilled the onions and slathered on melted cheddar cheese. When my uncles visited from New York, my father eagerly engaged them in the search, taking them around the city to sample hot dog after hot dog.
My father was a seeker of culture, someone who dove into the human-made world, be it looking at paintings at a high-end gallery, questing for hot dog perfection, or buying curios with his pre-schooler. I don’t think there was much difference in his mind. He was endlessly fascinated with material culture, engaging in innumerable collecting endeavors throughout his life. He kept catalogs of every film he had seen, had drawers overflowing with records and CDs of music from every continent, and for years devoted shelves of his university office to his “Museum of Corn-temporary Art”, his collection of cultural kitsch.

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Alain Findeli: Victor Margolin, “Cultural Provocateur” (1941-2019)

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 22-41. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2af

Since this special issue is also published in the memory of the late Victor Margolin (1941–2019),a homage to Victor’s intellectual biography is presented here in the form of a journey through his academic career as well as a chronology of his work as editor of Design Issues, the journal he launched in 1984.

#Victor Margolin, #Design studies, #Design Issues, #Social Design.

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Lee Davis and Bori Fehér: Design for Life: Moholy-Nagy’s Holistic Blueprint for Social Design Pedagogy and Practice

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 44-67. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2ld-bf

Design discourse is evolving in response to a confluence of global challenges: a pandemic; increasing economic disparities; systemic racism and social inequality; rising authoritarianism, nationalism and political division; and the urgency of the climate crisis. Designers are increasingly questioning their role and responsibility in the world and seeking opportunities to leverage their creative talents to address these intractable problems. At the center of this critique is also a fundamental reappraisal of the predominant design paradigm, the anthropocentric process of “human-centered design,” promulgated since the mid-1950s (Dreyfuss 1955). A growing body of literature has emerged, questioning the human-centric perspective in design (Benyus 1997; Norman 2005; IDEO 2014; Fulton 2019; Escobar 2018; Boradkar 2015; Weaver 2019; Hess 2020). Concomitantly, the concept of “life-centered design” is gaining attention among design educators, students and practitioners. But to refer to the concept of life-centered design as “new” would be disingenuous. László Moholy-Nagy advocated for such a revolution a hundred years ago. From the early 1920s he called for a holistic, organic, life-centered design pedagogy, practice, and mindset. Much has been written about Moholy-Nagy’s art, photography and teaching but relatively little attention has been given to his pioneering thinking, writing, and practice in “social design.” Moholy-Nagy was also a pioneer in articulating a role for designers in addressing the critical economic, social, and environmental challenges of the time. As the founding director of the New Bauhaus and the Institute of Design in Chicago, he believed designers would need to move beyond the consumerist view in favor of “a better understanding of those principles which control all life”—individual life, ocial life, and life in the natural world. Driven by his own humble beginnings and rural upbringing, his personal trauma in war, the rise of Fascism and the onset of a second world war, his itinerant life across diverse cultural, artistic, natural, and theoretical influences, Moholy-Nagy evolved a blueprint for a vision of life-centered design that is as salient today as it was a century ago.

#holism, #design pedagogy, #life-centered design, #New Bauhaus, #social design

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Edit Blaumann: Bios, Lobsters, Penguins: Moholy-Nagy’s Vitalist Thinking from Francé to London Zoo

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 68-84. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2eb

In this essay I will examine how László Moholy-Nagy’s relationship to biology evolved and how the beginnings of ecological design underlying the Bauhaus’s modernity project were outlined in two movies shot during his London years. Two documentaries, the Lobsters and The New Architecture and the London Zoo directly address the relation between animals and humans. The narrative of the documentaries, their camera work and the contemporary reception of them reveals a lot about the reconfiguration of Bauhaus ideology as a blueprint of ecological design during the emigration to the United States. We can trace Moholy-Nagy’s approach to “design according to the laws of nature” back to the impact of Raoul Francé’s concepts of Biotechnik, the notion of Bios and his monist beliefs, which were already present in his worldview during the Weimar years of the 1920s. The difference between the English edition of his design method and pedagogy book New Vision (1938) and the original Von Material zu Architektur (1929) clearly demonstrates the shift towards biological functionalism. Aiming to establish harmony between human life and the biological forces of nature and he asserted that a well-functioning biotic community is the precondition for a well-functioning human society. Even if he only indirectly argued for ecological protection in that early stage of ecological awareness, Moholy-Nagy wrote his name in the history of ecological design.

#biocentrism, #biological functionalism, #ecological design, #vitalism, #London Zoo

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Sofia Leal Rodrigues: “Vision in motion”: László Moholy-Nagy and the Genesis of the Visual Book

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 86-109. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2slr

This essay aims to analyze the ways in which László Moholy-Nagy’s concepts of “new typography” and “typophoto” were essential to the creation of a new typology of publications: visual books, which have a strong image component, resulting from the popularization of photography and cinema. New typography was defined in 1923 by László Moholy-Nagy in a short text for the catalog of the Bauhaus exhibition Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar 1919–1923. New typography resulted from a new graphical orientation by Bauhaus, influenced by the ideology of several avant-garde movements, such as De Stijl and Russian Constructivism, that celebrated simplification, geometrization and the advantages of modern technology to construct a visual language that could communicate clearly and in a universal manner. In Moholy-Nagy’s text, new typography called for an analysis of the relation between form and content through the collapsing of the “classic model” (the “old typography”) and the objective use of photography. In 1925, Moholy-Nagy introduced the notion of typophoto in Painting, Photography, Film to realize the “bioscopic book” of El Lissitzky, which is more visual than textual. In publications like the exhibition catalog Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar 1919–1923 or the Bauhausbücher series, Moholy-Nagy puts both principles into practice, converting the book into a space of visual exploration, endowed with a cinematic dimension that comes close to his notion of “vision in motion”. Through the use of a qualitative research methodology, and based on a critical review of literature and the direct observation of case studies, this essay aims to show how Moholy-Nagy’s multidisciplinary legacy contributed to a paradigm shift in book design.

#Bauhaus Books, #bioscopic book, #typography, #typophoto, #visual book

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Rob Phillips: Communal Response(s). Designing a Socially Engaged Nature Recovery Network

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 110-140. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2rph

The 1940s New Bauhaus professor Moholy-Nagy was the pioneer of the concept “design for life”, promoting communal methodologies and technological alliances. He also fostered empathy and new models of citizenship. Today industrial and individual actions are the cause of dramatic environmental consequences, which require us to transition to sustainable, communal, ethical, and circular designed interventions: interventions which consider their own end of life, repair, and circularity. Authors typically interpret Moholy-Nagy’s “design for life” metaphorically in “life around us” and create design interventions which foster new behaviors and communal approaches. Distributed design approaches enable communities to have agency over environmental challenges that impact them, meeting their contextual needs. Communal Response(s) (that is when a community responds to something it affects it) presents and discusses a design-led vision, coalescing Open Design, Engaging Design, Nature and Ecological Citizenship. Communal Response(s) collectively empower societies as digitally amassing environmental data will become more commonplace. These “public interest technologies”, which accrue data/evidence, are known as Citizen Science (CS). We present projects, literature, and conceptual practice(s) to signpost scalable and communal opportunities. The article consolidates “preferable future(s)” through narratives, and is validated by leading wildlife experts. This design-led and “socially engaged” Nature Recovery Network seeks to empower dispersed communities through their alignment in a design space. The “design space” moves beyond conventional models, delivering communal design(s). The narrative proposition(s) empower local environmental and cooperative responses, with the potential to scale. The construct presents an embedded vision of socially engaged design in relation to Moholy-Nagy’s “design for life”, with legacies that impact the natural world. Its audiences are design agents, ecological parties, communities, and strategists who are committed to “communal design for transition” to sustainable practices.

#Communal Legacies, #Socially Engaged Design, #Design Ecologies, #Ecological Citizenship

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Joseph Malherek: Moholy-Nagy and the Practical Side of Socialism

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 144-153. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2jm

For László Moholy-Nagy, socialism was about progress, and industrial design was a way to incorporate technological progress into the everyday lives of ordinary, working people in the interest of achieving “social coherence”, as he put it in his magnum opus, Vision in Motion. If the economic and social structures of capitalism presented obstacles to progress, they were to be opposed; however, if the competitive incentives of businessmen could be channeled in the interest of progress, the capitalistic framework presented not an obstacle but an opportunity. This pragmatic approach to political economy aligned with the applied-arts ethos of Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus, where Moholy-Nagy first established himself as an innovative teacher, but it contrasted with the starker ideological commitment of leftist artists with whom Moholy-Nagy would associate over the years, such as the Hungarian Activists and the circle around the Ma magazine and gallery. The idealistic elation of the immediate years after the Great War soon gave way to the rise of fascism and the geopolitics that would define Moholy-Nagy’s life as an émigré in Berlin, London, and Chicago. This migrant life of making do in frequently changing circumstances and foreign cultures made Moholy-Nagy more amenable to adjusting the shape of his politics according to the constraints and possibilities of wherever he was. This approach allowed him to thrive as a commercial designer in London, and as the leader of the New Bauhaus/School of Design despite the constant threats to that institution’s survival. Moholy-Nagy’s partnership and friendship with Walter Paepcke—an ardent capitalist if there ever was one—is in many ways emblematic of the ways in which Moholy-Nagy creatively found ways to keep to the ideals of social democracy within a world of industrial capitalism.

#socialism, #capitalism, #design, #Bauhaus, #Chicago

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Apol Temesi: Raw Material-Centric Didactics: Multi-Sensory Material Knowledge in Design Education

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 154-163. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2at

The raw material-centric and holistic designer attitude has become a subject of design education in recent years. This approach is expanding and has adapted itself to the full scope of advanced capitalism, including consideration of the use of raw materials, market reception, and the environmental aspects. The pedagogic roots of the new perspective, such as the DIY approach and the origins of the expressive sensory atlas, can be traced back to the Bauhaus foundation courses. Tactility is today the starting point for examining consumer behavior related to the market success of raw material developments. The pilot courses, launched in collaboration with Italian and Dutch technical and art universities, are based on the methodologies of Itten and Moholy-Nagy and examine our relationship with raw materials and their unexplored possibilities. Moholy-Nagy’s approach of seeking solutions to life’s problems not in isolation but bearing the community’s interests in mind was revived by Victor Papanek in the 1970s and has recently been renewed in Alice Rawsthorn’s expression “attitudinal design.” The raw material-centric pilot courses of the previous years have now become permanent at European art universities. This article introduces the methodological approaches to raw material-centric design, that are built on my own experiences and innovative solutions. The holistic view of these approaches combines Moholy-Nagy’s “material-form-function” unity with the motivations behind consumption and the sensory properties of materials.

#attitudinal design, #DIY approach, #methodology, #raw material, #sensory dimensions

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Sofía Quiroga Fernández: Moholy-Nagy’s Light Prop for an Electric Stage. Design, Copies and Reproductions

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 166-177. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2sqf

László Moholy-Nagy worked on the prototype for Light Prop for an Electric Stage for eight years, from 1922 to 1930, developing several sketches and designs. The final drawings and model were made with the collaboration of the Hungarian architect Stefan Sebök (István Sebők). The device was built by the AEG company, and it was displayed for the first time in the Werkbund exhibition held in Paris in 1930, where it appeared as an autonomous aesthetic object. This was clearly captured in the film Light Play: Black-White-Gray, in which Moholy-Nagy recorded its kinetic quality in the spirit of the abstract films developed at that time. The film clearly shows the motion of the lighting device as a formal exercise of abstraction using double exposures, special effects and close-ups. The Light Prop underwent several alterations over time to keep it working in a variety of exhibitions around Europe and America. In 1956, after Moholy-Nagy passed away, his widow, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, donated it to the Harvard Busch-Reisinger Museum, where it has remained ever since. After further damage caused by inappropriate restoration and its mechanical instability, the Light Prop was reconstructed in 1969 for the exhibition From Pigment to Light, celebrated at the Howard Wise Gallery in New York (Tsai et al. 2017). The idea of a copy emerged during the planning of this exhibition to preserve the legacy of Moholy-Nagy’s knowledge. Sibyl Moholy-Nagy finally approved this idea in 1970, allowing the production of two copies, one for the exhibition and the other for the 35th Venice Biennale (1970). Both reproductions were kept and sent to the Bauhaus Archive in Darmstadt and the Van Abbemuseum, where the original device had suffered repeated damage during the KunstLichtKunst exhibition (1966). The essay attempts to trace the timeline of modifications from the original device to the reproductions.

#copies, #electric stage, #exhibition, #Light Prop, #reproduction

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Attila Csoboth: Man with a Light Projector: László Moholy-Nagy’s Cinematographic Toolkit

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 178-188. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2acs

The Light Prop for an Electric Stage—also known as the Light–Space Modulator—is a major piece by László Moholy-Nagy, yet its intended use has remained subject to debates. Does its importance lie in being a stage lighting tool, a three-dimensional mobile sculpture, or conversely, a projector which shows its full glory in Light Play: Black–White–Grey, the film Moholy-Nagy created with and about it? As a cinematographer, I will argue in this essay that the Light Prop stages an elemental engagement with light by someone constantly tinkering with the kind of lighting props that are still very much in use in photography and filmmaking today.

#cinematography, #lighting, #light props, #projection, #re/production

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Márton Szentpéteri: Attitudes of Design Leadership. An Interview with Guy Julier

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 192-200. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2gj-msz

Guy Julier is credited with having established design culture studies as an autonomous territory of academic study and research. In this interview with editor Márton Szentpéteri, he discusses the current state of the field and the meaning of design leadership.

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Ágnes Anna Sebestyén: Beatriz Colomina: X-Ray Architecture

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 204-210. https://doi.org/10.21096/disegno_2021_1-2aas

“The bond between architecture and illness is probably my longest preoccupation.” The first line of Beatriz Colomina’s book entitled X-Ray Architecture has never been more relevant than now, during the coronavirus pandemic in 2021. The renowned architectural historian’s book was published in early 2019, before the outbreak of the disease, and it turned out to be quite timely as the pandemic determines our interaction with the built environment and other people. A book review.

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About the authors

Disegno 2021/1-2, page range: 214-217.

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