The Light Experiments of Antun Motika


“For self-denying Motika, especially during the war in the forties, his studio was a place of creative and cognitive, but lonely life. This was his laboratory, a refuge that protected him from the de-humanized world. Only a few close friends were allowed to take a peek into it, among them Josip Seissel. It is therefore no wonder along with this recognized poetic oeuvre emerged this experimental one, unknown and weird, highly esteemed only within a narrow professional circle.” – Exhibition text, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb

Antun Motika: Expirements at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, explores a relatively unknown part of the work of this Croatian artist, who is better known as a member of the Gorgona group. Slide machines and projectors look as dated as you would imagine, but in the context of 1940s Croatia this kind of technology was rare to possess and rarer still be used as as a means to make art . In an artistic laboratory that he shared with few, Antun Motika (Pula, 1902 – Zagreb, 1992) experimented with the possibilities of light projection, creating lyrical series of images unmoored from reality and begging for comparison with outer space, magnified natural patterns, and abstract expressionist canvases. This temporary exhibition shows a large body of this rarely seen slide- and projector-oriented work, creating a more well-rounded art historical view of the artist in the process.

“It is monstrous how little things can seem large with the help of technical means. When I was transferred into the Arts and Crafts school, I found that Seissel, at that times its principal, had a projector. I put a key into it and it appeared large as a building. Then followed experiments with bugs, liquid, solid and transparent matter…

I was so ‘mesmerized’ by this that I bought a similar device in order to the able to do such projections at home as well. I used to put matter between two pieces of glass and dye it in different colors I added crystals, powder, glass, in the end I used perforations, pure light…” -Antun Motika

Motika treated this aesthetic inquiry as a scientific one about the possibilities of presenting matter through light. As you can see in these images, Motika inserted all kinds of different materials between glass slides. Organic matter like flowers, man-made buttons, simple paint and water colors that swirled together, and even what  seems to be the skeleton of fish, came into his experiments.  Possessing a curious mind temptingly akin to the ‘mad scientist’ stereotype, Motika faithfully recorded the results of his experiments with scientific “readings” in notebooks and journals.

In addition to these slides, Motika toyed with ways to add motion to his light images (they remained moving images rather than film) as well. In this video, you can see how he illuminates the four walls of a room with changing images blown up to an enormous size, creating an impressionistic environment.

Antun Motika room installation

 

He does something similar with the elaborate slide projectors he makes and that, with the aid of fans and tubing/sheeting, create a moving shadow layered over a changing image. This immersive, dynamic play with light and technology is a remarkable thing to have created in isolation at this time.

Images like this one show the fundamental appeal of Motika’s work to be a simple one; organic, lyrical composition created with an imperfect, handmade aesthetic even while the technology and methodology are remarkably futuristic, ad hoc, and idiosyncratic. Only now do these projections appear so dated. Because Motika did this work in relative isolation, it has not before been connected to the lumino-kinetic experiments of the 1950s and 1960s, with such notables as Lazlo Maholy-Nagy and György Kepes, but the fascination with technological advancements and light and movement place the artist squarely there, as one of the unknown forefathers of new media art.

 

Linnea West writes about contemporary art, culture, and travel–all subjects she feels passionately about. She lives in New York City–except for those times when wanderlust gets the better of her. This happens often. Fortunately her laptop travels well. She is finishing her first novel.