Invited by the Fine Art Research Unit led by David Ryan at Anglia Ruskin University, Reg Gadney – one of the originators of the 1964 Exhibition of Concrete, Kinetic and Phonetic Poetry held at his then college, St Catharine’s – gave a public talk this week that included showing a very rare film on 16mm by Nicolas Schoffer and numerous images of Frank Malina’s work. Gadney wrote very influentially in the early 1960s about the potential revolutionary impact of the then emerging electric light-based and kinetic work and for this talk had gathered together many anecdotes and reminiscences as well as a handout with a timeline of key developments in kinetic art lineage and ancestry along with a rather special letter from Mike Weaver, catalyst behind the 1964 exhibition, helpfully situating and summarising his involvement and his related preoccupations before and after this event. In the Graphic Constellations exhibition in the gallery I also draw on documents – catalogue and correspondence from Malina’s archive – to reveal links with Cambridge such as the talk he gave for students on 11 February 1966. The postcard below from forty nine years ago which coexists with Malina’s lecture notes mentions Reg, who as he explained yesterday to fascinated listeneners, was to go later that year to MIT in Boston to work with Gyorgy Kepes. Also rather amusingly, below, from Malina’s archive, a rather timeless cartoon relating to public response to the Art and Movement exhibition which toured to Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1966 and which included three of his works.
From the text panel in the exhibition:
The Properties of Space
“I am convinced that the ‘new’ landscapes provided by science and technology are at the bottom of what we call ‘abstract’ art”.
“The real question is how to use the moon once the ferries are in operation”..”for all we know its craters may be covered with diamonds”.
Frank J. Malina
The inclusion of a work by Frank Malina in the Graphic Constellations: Visual Poetry and the Properties of Space exhibition connects together themes of inner and outer space.
Born in 1912 in Texas of Czech parents, Frank was a leading figure in development of the first rockets in California before leaving the United States after the second world war to live in Paris where he worked for Unesco, made a large contribution to International Astronautical cooperation and married Marjorie Duckworth who was born in Yorkshire. During the 1950s, Frank became a keen painter and then invented his own system for making pictures using light, rhythm and motion which he called lumidynes. He was fascinated by the role of electricity as a medium for making art: his ‘kinetic electric light paintings’ were experiments in pictorial composition and pattern-making combining dynamic rhythm with elements of stasis. Spring II is a lumidyne created in 1959, the same year as Oui et Non a work by Frank included in the first exhibition of concrete, kinetic and phonic poetry held at St Catharine’s College in 1964.
Reg Gadney who co-organized the exhibition at St Catharine’s was a close friend of Frank and, with Frank Popper, a primary advocate of the potential revolutionary significance of kinetic art as articles published while he was still a student in London Magazine in August 1964 and February 1965 (shown in vitrine 9 in the exhibition) convey. The journal Image (vitrine 1) was also a vital platform for promulgation of this thinking.
In November 1964 John Kirwan of the Cambridge University Society of Arts wrote to Frank to invite him to come to give a talk as “the subject of Kinetic Art is causing considerable excitement in Cambridge at present, especially since the Image devoted to it, came out” concluding his letter by telling him, “our general theme is to be concerned with 4 dimensional art, which includes movement and weathering”. Malina eventually gave the talk in Cambridge on 11 February 1966, the same year that KINETIC ART – Four Essays by Bann, Gadney, Steadman and Weaver was published by Motion books (vitrine 1).
Correspondence shown for the first time in this exhibition from the Malina archives reveals an intricate series of exchanges during 1964-1966 between Frank and Paul Keeler who was advisor for an Arts Council of Great Britain touring exhibition called Art and Movement which toured to Edinburgh, Glasgow and internationally during this period and which included Oui et Non as well as two other works by Frank. Writing to him in 1964 Keeler tells Frank of his enthusiasm for organising “a very fine show of say 20-25” of his works in the new Signals “showroom in Wigmore Street” which he thinks will be “very beautifull” (sic) and which was due to open on 20 November. He proposes an exhibition of Frank’s work for the following February-March. He sends plans of the new space and tells Frank that “one idea is that if architects and industrialists wish to commission an artist they will be able to have a variety to choose from”. In February 1965 Keeler writes to Frank to say he would like to delay the show until the autumn.
Posters and catalogues found in the Malina archive reveal regular inclusion of his work in various European festivals with concrete-kinetic associations. As touching correspondence (vitrine 2) reveals Ken Cox also tried to secure “Oui et Non” for the Arlington Une festival in 1966 (but failed to secure a loan from the artwork’s owner). It had been sold to a Mr E. W. Golding who worked for the Electrical Research Association and who had loaned it for the Cambridge show and Art and Movement earlier.
Unfortunately of Oui et Non we can find no trace…
Bronac Ferran, 2015
Sincere thanks go to Alan and Roger Malina for their loan of Spring II, as well as access to family archives. We thank also Rob La Frenais and Fabrice Lapelletrie for help with bringing Frank Malina’s work back to Cambridge.