A two-part show at Oslo’s Henie Onstad unearths Norwegian connections to the Bauhaus and demonstrates the joy of artistic discoveries.
The Bauhaus might have closed in 1933, but the schools ideas are ringing true in a powerful revival 80 years later. At Oslo’s Henie Onstad museum a two-fold exhibition looks at the Bauhaus stage experiments, as well as the schools influence on their Norwegian contemporaries.
The first part of the show “Human-Space-Machine. Stage Experiments at the Bauhaus” tells the story of the Bauhaus’ investigative approach to stage and theatre design. Originally shown in Dessau from December until April this year, it has travelled to Oslo where curators Milena Hoegsberg and Lars Mørch Finborud presents how the stage would be used as an active site of display, where design could become embodied. Showing works from Bauhaus pioneers, including graphic design, sketches, stage props, architectural models and costumes, the exhibition pose questions around technology’s effect on the arts and how human existence can be mixed with a machine rational – questions which again seems relevant today.
Xanti Schawinsky’s so called spectodrama (an early inquiry into the “total theatre”), Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mark’s recreated light installation and Oskar Schlemmer’s light and shadow play projection, all build on the schools 1923 motto “Art and technology – a new unity”. Together they demonstrate an inquiry into a new era where technology was a method of questioning beliefs, but also a way to enhance them through the use of new tools.
The stage department at the Bauhaus was one of inquiry through playfulness and form, a sentiment mimicked in the display. Large colour blocks guide the viewer through the exhibit with small quirky touches, such as the photo of a student on the roof of the school, which sits mounted high up on the wall. A contemporary installation encourages visitors to dance while the movements are displayed on a screen transformed into a stick figure – presumably in homage to Kandinsky and his decoding of the movements of the dancer Gret Palucca’s, which are also on display at Henie-Onstad.
Effectively the show demonstrates the interdisciplinary approach of the Bauhaus stage department. We are included in an inquiry of form and colour, of tools and techniques, not reliant on discipline, but rather on beliefs. Something we also see happening today. Contemporary practitioners are, as in the time of the Bauhaus, capable of moving between disciplines by use of a conviction to process and intention, instead of material and space. Perhaps this is one of the allures of the Bauhaus, and one that has resulted in several large show about the schools in recent years (the Barbican’s 2012 show to name one who executed this task very well). Their search and eagerness for new tools and technology seems to excite both practitioners, as well as art and design aficionados today. The exhibition sits as a historically relevant backdrop in a society where digital tools are available for “everyone” – it is the handling of them, the dissemination and conviction that sets the artists, designers and architects apart from the user.
The influence of the German school on Norwegian creatives have yet to be documented, and the second part of the show at Henie Onstad seeks to unearth the connection between the two nations with particular focus on fine art, design, architecture and pedagogy. The wide ranging name of the show, “Bauhaus in Norwegian”, was picked as a way to acknowledge that the schools ideology coincided with several modernistic and other artistic movements of the time. A rigorous research has been made into the connections, from the travel diary of Ola Mørk Sandvik, a student at the Dessau, to Marianne Brandt’s marriage to the Norwegian painter, Erik Brandt. Much of Norwegian design history has yet to be uncovered and documented, and as such this exhibition offers an important contribution.
An obvious excitement from the side of the curators is evident, but instead of the show becoming a supplement and a way to link back to Norway, the two parts of the exhibition seem to jar and finding it hard to integrate with each other. Their reasoning and intentions are very different, united more by objects and time, than of the ideas that they are trying to communicate. Where the Human-Space-Machine embeds the sentiment of the practitioners they present, Bauhaus in Norway feels more as an archive display than an exhibition. The lack is not of enthusiasm and important discoveries, but of doing what the Stage exhibition does so well: freeing itself from the constraints the Bauhaus might still impose on our way of understanding form today. Instead the exhibition lets the joy over artistic discovery once felt at the school itself be a guide to presenting a sophisticated, informative and enjoyable story.