The Bauhaus as Projection
Over the past 30 years, a lot of nonsense has been written using catchphrases such as “electronic Bauhaus“, which are supposed to suggest that the relationship between art and technology as pursued by the Bauhaus in the 1920‘s in the area of mechanical industrial production, is or ought to occur in today‘s electronic media. If anything has become clear from all of this, it is above all that there will be no “electronic Bauhaus“. Today‘s new media no longer “build“ (which is the essence of the German word “Bauhaus“). And the age of the functional monument of steel, glass, and concrete has been surpassed precisely due to these new media. One need only travel through the center of Dessau, ruined by socialist prefabricated buldings, (sic.) to witness a prime example of this. What had in GDR times been a typical forest of television antennas on rooftops all directed to the west has now become superfluous due to the West German programs now broadcast over the former East German transmitters. (1) In place of the antennas there is now an increasing number of satellite dishes which have made cable hook-up according to the standards of the west unnecessary even before an attempt had ever been made to do so. Especially in Dessau, the infamous socialistic prefabricated buildings appear as an outright symbolic warning against the dismal and delayed consequences of Bauhaus misunderstood as areal utopia. The disappearance of the state which had cemented its ideology in such buildings may for now only be noted externally in the change of antenna type. Thus, the fundamental change that occurred in the former GDR took place first and foremost in the media — the same fundamental change will only be able to conquer everyday reality in a slow progression of building.
In the former GDR the “West“ was, to use the stylish phrase, a “virtual“ entity, since the majority of the GDR population only knew the FRG from the electronic media of TV and radio. And as a matter of fact it has also been the media which have changed most radically since the change in government, in that the western media have almost completely replaced the media of the east. But is this really such a drastic change if one considers that 90 percent of the GDR population had already been watching only West TV anyhow? It would appear that the “West“ will remain a “virtual“ entity in the forseeable future. In fact, it had obviously only become clear after the breakdown of the old system, that the West was not only “virtual“ in nature for the GDR citizen who had been limited in his travels, but that it would indeed remain totally “virtual“ despite its reality.
There is thus a far-reaching aspect which social change has in common with the political change in the “New Federal States“ due to the “new media“. In both cases the new contents have been able to fit smoothly into old “casings“. It is not the case that “form follows function“, but rather function adapts to the form at hand. The Bauhaus platform of 1919 which demanded “the gathering of all artistic creation towards a unity, the reunification of all artistic disciplines — sculpture, painting, arts and crafts and handicrafts“ failed to mention either photography or film, thus omitting precisely those areas of the media where today one sees the continuation of these aspirations. It took another “reunification“, that of the two Germanys, in order to show the GDR population which was using TV to look westwards just how little the media adhere to what they promise.
As mentioned before, there will be no “electronic Bauhaus“, firstly because the new media no longer build — but above all, because they no longer offer or promote utopias. The new media no longer create anything which presses for a realization in steel and concrete. They only offer opportunities, they present offers of new contents which are projected nearly imperceptibly into the old forms. Just how forceful these projections are despite all their seeming unobtrusiveness is shown by the central role West TV played for the breakdown of the old system in the GDR.
In this context it may either be seen as a strict or a fatal measure that a young artist from West Germany has been the first to put the Bauhaus in Dessau through a basic selfreflection after the change. By adapting his method of working to the principle of the new media, Mischa Kuball has given evidence of his subtle treatment of this exacting place and difficult time: actually he leaves everything just as it is and merely projects new contents onto the old forms. The fact that in doing so he does not make use of the high-tech electronic media, but rather only uses a good old slide projector does not detract from the matter.
Slide projection is the art historian‘s trusted instrument for the portrayal of history. There is hardly an institute of art history which does not possess a large slide depot as a reserve of history. In some of his installations Kuball approaches an art historical method of working. An example of this is when he projects onto the ceiling of Gropius‘s former study the only existing photo of how the room had been furnished at that time (“Reprojektion“). And in doing this he goes so far as to delve into the contemporary research concerning original Bauhaus paint since he projects the normed RAL paints onto the famous staircase (“Projektionsraurn 1: 1: 1“). Even the didactical element of slide projection plays along when he places a projector at every student‘s desk and uses the title “Repeat!“. The three aforemen-tioned pieces were developed especially for the exhibition and live totally from the “genius loci“ of the historical location. Finding one‘s way through the exbibition also continuously makes clear the relationship to the location. Lacking the customary “direction signs“ the visitor must use photocopies of the Bauhaus floor plan which contain the sites and titles of the installations in order to orient himself. As a result, the visitor automatically informs himself of his location within an architectural context. Using the floor plan as a projection of the building onto a surface serves to coordinate Kuball‘s individual projections. But despite this close historical link, Kuball is not only concerned with a retrospective view of history. By showing a range from government subsidized housing to the industrial norm doors which, aptly enough, stern from a building supplies store called “Bauhaus“, he reveals the continuous influence of Bauhaus up to the present in our everyday lives. And, using the old medium of slide projection, he symbolically portrays the way the new media functions in our world which has been so stamped and influenced by the delayed results of the Bauhaus.
Kuball shows us the essential principle of the new media; they are equipment for projection. Only in the event of political extremes, such as when the GDR joined the FRG, does the content change together with the media. Otherwise, to a large extent, the new media serve the purpose of spreading and recycling old contents; video games lead us through a maze of a medieval fortress and, amidst the big stars of the music clips and computer animation we find Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe along with their numerous digital clones. The new media very simply leave everything as it is externally; in reality, they do not change either the historical packaging or the contents, they only change the ways the contents are copied and spread. The whole question concerning the “danger of the new media“ boils down to the issues of to what extent the meaning of information changes as a result of the radical acceleration in its transmission and spreading. The new media are considered to be destructive to history because they treat and spread old and new contents without differentiating between them and then reproject them back onto existing structures. This is precisely what Kuball makes clear with his art-historically burdened instrument of slide projection: He uses the historical Bauhaus building as a surface for his projection to show his attests to history and above all to show the results of Bauhaus all the way down to government subsidized housing projects. In doing this, he follows the principle of the new media which continuously subjects to recycling the historical attests of the existing culture by reprojecting these selfsame attests back onto the culture which has produced them. This is where the “virtualizing“ effect of the new media comes from: Old and new contents are available everywhere, at all times, and without differentiation; the digital, loss free multiplication causes the difference between old and new contents to disappear — there is no longer any patina. And therefore, there is no need for the foundation of a new “electronic“ or even a “virtual“ Bauhaus. It has already been in existence for a long time due to the worldwide spread and copying of the Bauhaus with all its consequences. Meanwhile, it has almost been forgotten that the historical Bauhaus still exists in Dessasu (sic.). Perhaps Kuball had first to “virtu-alize“ the Bauhaus building relic by reprojecting the historical attests and results back onto its historical casing so that we, with our media-influenced way of seeing, could even notice that in addition to the ever-present “virtual“ Bauhaus of our every day lives, the old historical building in Dessau really still exists.
(Translated from the German by Elizabeth Volk)
(1) Though in the GDR the reception of West TV was officially tolerated following failed attempts to prohibit this, nevertheless western programs were not fed info the central TV reception network of the apartment complexes. Therefore apartment in habitants had to install their own West antennas on their windows or balconies. After the GDR joined the FRG and after the end of GDR TV, the West program was broadcast over the existing transmitters.
In: Mischa Kuball: Bauhaus-Block, ed.: Lutz Schöbe, in order of Bauhaus Dessau Edition Crantz, Stuttgart 1992, p. 101-105.
© all rights reserved by the author