Remembering Lines of Light

Two years ago, the UN General Assembly declared 2015 as the International Year of Light. This “global initiative” is to highlight the “importance of light and optical technologies” in the lives of the world’s citizens. Which technologies?  Consider the laser. I’ll bet there’s one within 30 feet of you – in a CD player, a computer mouse, a checkout scanner. Maybe you’re using one to amuse your cat.

Invented – perhaps more than once – in the late 1950s, a decade later lasers were still a novelty. Many people, at least those who were not physicists, probably saw one for the first time when James Bond was almost bifurcated by a laser beam in Goldfinger (1964).

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“No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”

An advertisement in an industry journal a few years before Ian Fleming’s novel became a blockbuster film asked the question: “Where does the laser go from here?” One of the places it went was the artist’s studio and the art gallery.

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1962 advertisement

The laser’s light – pure, bright, and steady – captivated a small group of artists who began to explore its aesthetic potential. This wasn’t easy to do. In the mid-1960s, lasers were delicate pieces of equipment, often requiring one or even several experts to make them work properly. They were also expensive – a small commercial unit could cost as much as $700 (about $5500 in today’s money).

Given the cost and complexity, getting access to and then being able to work with a laser was not always easy for artists. Carl Frederik Reuterswärd, a Swedish artist, recalled learning about the laser just a few years after it was invented. But it wasn’t until 1965, when fellow Swede Billy Klüver, an engineer and co-founder of the seminal group Experiments in Art and Technology, brought him to Bell Labs to show him one in action. The artist recalled, “My mental perceptions changed. Here was the tool that broke with all traditions…It looked like the halo of Leonardo da Vinci, but straightened to infinity.”

Even more debatable than which scientist invented the laser – the story is complicated and, unless one has a commercial stake, it’s not a particularly interesting historical question – is which artist first used lasers for art’s sake. During the short-lived but remarkably fecund Art & Technology Movement of the mid-to-late 1960s, many such experiments were done. Some were done by physicists – like Caltech’s Elsa Garmire – who wanted to expand their careers in new directions. Other efforts were made by artists wanting to explore a new medium.

While many people experimented with the aesthetic possibilities of lasers, far fewer persisted with it as their preferred medium. One possible reason might be the ways in which lasers were incorporated into light shows and rock concerts – high art of a very different nature. Remember Laserium?

One artist who started experimenting early with lasers and maintained this focus for many years to follow was Rockne Krebs. Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1938, Krebs got a B.A. in sculpture from the University of Kansas in 1961. After a stint in the Navy, Krebs settled in Washington, DC and started his art career in earnest. Photos of him early in his career show him with his hair still cut in near-Navy fashion.

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Krebs, 1968 (Photo: ©Joe Cameron)

By the end of the 1960s, Krebs looked less like a Navy officer and more like a slightly heftier Robert Redford. As carefully planned and executed as his art works were, the ruggedly handsome Krebs – ubiquitous cigarette in hand – cut a path in his personal life somewhat less straight than a laser beam.

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Krebs, in his studio, 1977, with his daughter Heather (Photo: © Ray Lustig, 1977 for The Washington Star)

Krebs started making his early works from more traditional materials – a show in January 1967 at the Jefferson Place Gallery in Washington, DC featured pieces of Plexiglas, aluminum and steel that the Washington Post called “starkly courageous.”

By spring of 1967, though, Krebs had begun to shift to the ephemeral medium of laser light. At first he experimented at home with a laser he had “panhandled.” Then, at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Paul Haldemann, a technician from the University of Maryland’s electrical engineering department, assisted Krebs in combining red laser beams with artificial fog and mirrors. As he later said, Krebs was prompted by “the possibility of reversing the proposition by which we normally view sculpture.” The result was best explained by the show’s name – Sculpture Minus Object.

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Krebs in Sculpture Minus Object (1968). (© Estate of Rockne Krebs/Licensed by VAGA, New York)

Along with Sam Gilliam, his longtime friend with whom he shared a studio, Krebs secured a growing reputation for his works which used lasers and other light sources in innovative if dematerialized ways.

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Krebs, with his friend and fellow DC artist Sam Gilliam, 1984 (Photo: Carol Harrison)

This was enhanced considerably when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) selected Krebs as part of its controversial Art and Technology Program. Conceived in 1966 by LACMA curator Maurice Tuchman, the idea of A&T was to pair artists with various companies, primarily based in southern California. Working in collaboration with company engineers and supported by modest stipends from the corporate pay chest, artists would create pieces for an eventual show at LACMA.

Most of the participating artists were big names in the New York avant-garde art world – Warhol, Oldenburg, Serra, Rauschenberg. Krebs, barely 30 years old and from Washington, DC (hardly seen at the vanguard of the 1960s art scene) was a relative outsider. Nonetheless, in March 1969, prodded by “gonzo curator” Walter Hopps, a recent transplant from Los Angeles to DC, Krebs wrote LACMA to express interest in the A&T effort. He proposed making two works of art, one to be set up outdoors and shown at night and another to be installed indoors.

One of the companies Tuchman had approached about being partners in the A&T Program was Hewlett-Packard, a long-established Bay Area firm. Krebs flew out to California and met with Hewlett-Packard engineers and managers. Krebs was especially interested in H-P because, after “several years of ideation and attempts to visualize pieces that were beyond my resources,” H-P could offer both technical skills and the money for him to pursue more ambitious works.

Krebs began to collaborate with Larry Hubby, a physicist at H-P, who helped him resolve issues with the power output of lasers, light scattering, and how to focus the laser light. (Authorial aside: If any readers have contact information for Mr. Hubby, please write me!) Hewlett-Packard featured the artist-engineer collaboration in its magazine, highlighting technical input the company was providing. Here, we can still see shades of the famous “two cultures” divide. According to the H-P writer, Krebs, although “attired…in the informal style conventional to artists” still managed to impress H-P employees as “serious, talented, and pleasant to work with.” One of the engineers’ main contributions was developing a complex beam-switching sequence as Krebs wanted to use green and blue light from an argon laser as well as red light from a helium-neon laser.

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Krebs, 1969, working with engineers Bruce Ruff (left) and Larry Hubby (right) at Hewlett-Packard (from A Report on the Art and Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1971)

Meanwhile, LACMA’s Tuchman negotiated with Jack Masey the United States Information Agency to put a selection of works by artists involved with the A&T Program in the official pavilion the U.S. would have at the Osaka ’70 Expo. Krebs was one of eight American artists invited to bring their collaborative art work to Japan where it would be displayed alongside sports memorabilia, and moon rocks brought back by Apollo 12 astronauts.

In January 1970, Krebs flew to Osaka for a 6-week stay. Working mostly alone at night, he installed the delicate and complex electro-optical system that would generate his light sculpture.

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Krebs in Osaka, 1970, installing his artwork. (from A Report on the Art and Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1971)

It included three argon beams that would flash off and on, changing color at times throughout a seven minute cycle. In addition, red laser light formed a “static beam network” providing a sculptural armature.

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1969 drawing by Krebs showing layout of his Osaka piece (© Estate of Rockne Krebs/Licensed by VAGA, New York)

The technical help that H-P engineers provided was critical to success of the piece. As Krebs told The Washington Post, “They’d build the things I dreamed.” His artistic vision was to “weaken the psychological persistence with which laser beams are perceived as apparently real matter. He wanted to do this by having the beams appear and disappear in different configurations to “convey both the transiency and relativeness” of the piece the Los Angeles Times called “Infinity Reflection System”.

Still photos can’t convey the visual effect of seeing Krebs’ piece in person. Remember that for many visitors to Expo ’70, this was the first time they had ever seen a laser in person. Unlike Krebs’ earlier static works, his Osaka creation changed over time. One reviewer wrote that the viewer “is confronted with a red wall of light above the floor which forms a nonphysical curtain through which he passes.”

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Still image of Krebs’ Osaka piece ( © Estate of Rockne Krebs/Licensed by VAGA, New York)

As one entered the “periphery of the large mirrors used in this experiment, the walls appear to open as the mirrors reflect a laser beam structure that can be seen in real space.”1 The effect was to generate structures and walls of light which changed color – “green…and then without warning, nose or movement…the brightest sort of blue” –  and winked into existence and then away. Krebs designed the piece so that pace would gradually increase, creating a “kind of silent visual crescendo.”

Critics’ reaction to the high-tech art on display in Osaka – it was a big theme that year with the Pepsi Pavilion built by Experiments in Art and Technology standing out as the most ambitious attempt to marry art and engineering – was mixed. Krebs’ work received a positive response. Perhaps not surprisingly, a critic from Krebs’ hometown was especially positive, calling him the “most important innovative sculptor” that Washington DC had ever produced.

The Osaka Expo and, a year later, LACMA’s Art and Technology (which featured another ambitious laser installation) brought Krebs national attention and prestigious commissions. Before his death in 2011, Krebs designed and built more than 30 large-scale public art works which all involved light, optical effects, and, often, lasers. In addition, he exhibited in dozens of solo and group shows.

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Krebs’ Day Passage; made for 1971 LACMA show ( © Estate of Rockne Krebs/Licensed by VAGA, New York)

Krebs’ public works were generally without overt political messages. However, in 1988, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, responding to political pressure, canceled an exhibition of artworks by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe who had recently died of AIDS.  Krebs – implementing an idea curator Andrea Pollan proposed – sent a light-based “fuck you” to censors and prudes by projecting haunting images of Mapplethorpe and his works on the building’s façade.

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From 9 October 1989 issue of Newsweek (photo by Frank P. Herrera)

Although millions of people saw Krebs’ work during his lifetime, the realizations of his artistic vision were  necessarily ephemeral. When the electricity is turned off and the laser light disappears, what – besides an impressive volume of sketches, drawings, and diagrams – is left? Memories and impressions.

  1. Harry J. Seldis, “The Art of Tomorrow,” Los Angeles Times, 7 June 1970 []

Frank Malina’s Cosmos

Frank J. Malina had three careers. His first, the one he is best known for – but not nearly well enough – was as an aeronautical engineer. Although Werner von Braun received the press attention and Time magazine covers, it was the American-born Malina who researched and developed the U.S.’s first space-capable rockets.1


Malina, handsome as a young man, Caltech days.

Jules Verne’s classic book De la Terre à la Lune inspired Malina to think seriously about space exploration. He read the book in Czech when his family relocated from Texas back to Europe when he was a young teen. After returning to the U.S., he attended Texas A&M as an undergraduate – he paid for his tuition, in part, by bugling reveille to the student body – before a graduate fellowship brought him to Caltech in 1934. He stayed in Pasadena for 13 years, designing and building rockets and the motors that propelled them. Then project started small – the original team is shown below – but, driven by wartime concerns, expanded quickly into a multi-million dollar effort employing scores of people.

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Iconic image of the early American space program. 1936 – Malina – third from left – with other members of the Caltech rocket project at the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena. A rocket engine test stand is behind them.

While based at Caltech, Malina worked under the tutelage of Hungarian-born research engineer Theodore von Kármán who became his close friend and business partner – the two of them helped start a soon-to-be-very-profitable company called Aerojet. The two engineers also started the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with Malina serving briefly as the lab’s first director.

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Malina, left, with von Kármán, 1961.

The apogee of Malina’s rocket career happened at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The site was close to where Robert Goddard had once tested his rockets and, more ominously, only about 70 miles from where the U.S. Army had exploded the Trinity device three months earlier. Malina visited the Trinity site, in fact, soon after the test and the experience sobered him about the realities of future wars.

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Malina (left) with the WAC-Corporal, 1945.

In October 1945 at White Sands, a yellow and black sounding rocket called the WAC-Corporal roared from a launch pad.2  Radar tracked it as it soared to about 230,000 feet. Malina’s rocket was the highest a human-made object had flown to date and also the first vehicle to escape the confines of the earth’s atmosphere.

Despite technical accomplishments and considerable military interest, the deepening ideological tensions of the Nuclear Age distressed Malina. Ironically, the success of Aerojet, catalyzed by Cold War funding and military demands, would also make him quite wealthy, free, in fact, to pursue other more peaceful paths. In a few short years after 1946, he left Caltech, moved to Paris, got divorced, and remarried. A strong believer in international cooperation, Malina also joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), eventually becoming head of its Division of Scientific Research.

Malina could not escape the Cold War, however, and its McCarthy-era suspicions. He had colleagues at Caltech with pink, if not red, pasts and his own FBI file was of considerable heft. Government harassment coupled with financial independence prompted him to quit the UNESCO post in 1953 and start a new career as an artist.


Malina in his studio, a few years after he transitioned to being a profession artist.

In this, Malina resembles another Frank – Frank Oppenheimer. Younger brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Frank O’s encounters with the national hysteria state were much more severe. After losing his post at the University of Minnesota, the younger Oppenheimer wandered the wilderness, literally, before reinventing himself as the founder of the Exploratorium, an innovative art-science institution, in 1968.

Malina had long been interested in art – his parents were both professional musicians – and he put himself through school by sometimes doing engineering drawings. Malina started his new career with traditional painting and quickly secured a one-man show at a Paris gallery. Less enthused about painting as a medium, around 1955, he turned his attention to making light-based and kinetic art works.3


Malina in his studio, circa 1957.

Malina was especially keen to introduce material from science and technology, particularly space exploration and astronomy, into contemporary visual arts. Even his early forays into painting incorporated “shock waves and fluid flow and paintings of airplanes and rockets.” As he moved away from traditional art techniques, Malina spent considerable time experimenting with new ways to create novel visual effects. In the mid-1950s, for example, Malina worked with a French electronics student to create what he called his Lumidyne technique. He made his first pieces using it in 1956.

Lumidyne, which Malina described in scientific-like style in journal articles as well as patent applications in the U.S., France, and the U.K., gave him a systematic approach to making art using movement and light.

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Illustration from one of Malina’s patents for Lumidyne.

The Lumidyne system was based on several interrelated parts: Light bulbs and electric motors were fixed to a wooden backboard. There were moving parts, which Malina called “rotors”, made of Plexiglas that he painted and connected to a motor. Fixed pieces of Plexiglas – the “stators” – were also painted. These parts were sandwiched between the backboard and a diffuser screen that faced the viewer.

When switched on, a shifting subtle effect was created by the painted parts moving slowly in concert with the static pieces with light shining through them. The title of a 1961 patent application describes the resulting visual effect with Malina’s characteristic terse style: “Lighted, Animated, and Everchanging Picture Arrangement.” As was the case with his other techniques, the titles and topics of his art works using Lumidyne reflected his persistent engagement with scientific and space themes. The Arc, Orbiter, Sun Sparks, and Jodrell Bank are among the nearly 200 works Malina made using his Lumidyne system before he passed away in 1981.

Voterx and 3 Molecules (1965)

Still image of Malina’s Vortex and 3 Molecules (1965)

In 1965, the flamboyant millionaire (and socialist MP) Robert Maxwell commissioned Malina to make a statement piece for the entrance lobby of his company, Pergamon Press, a fast-growing British publisher of scientific journals based on Oxford. The result was a massive lumino-kinetic work Malina called Cosmos. Weighing several hundred pounds, Cosmos’ sheer size –over 70 square feet – commanded the attention of Pergamon’s visitors and staff.

1965 Malina CosmosMalina began crafting Cosmos with sketches in his Paris workshop in the spring of 1965. A video has even survived which captures the process. Aided by a few technical assistants – the whole team signed their names inside the piece – Malina completed Cosmos in early July.

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Signatures inside Cosmos

Two dozen moving rotors slowly turned each of the rotor parts painted by Malina slowly. 120 fluorescent tubes and light bulbs lit up the work. All of this was encased in a relatively thin wood and metal frame.  When Malina had achieved the visual effects he wanted, the entire piece was disassembled and shipped to Oxford for a week-long installation at Pergamon’s building. And it’s still there today…

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Installing Cosmos at Pergamon, 1965.

In September 2015, I went to Oxford to see Malina’s Cosmos. It’s not an easy thing to do. Pergamon is no longer in business, Robert Maxwell is dead, and the building housing Cosmos is now part of Oxford Brookes University. The artwork resides in a small room, partitioned off from the original main lobby. It’s used – from what I could tell – as a storage place for the campus radio station. Since it’s in a locked room on a private campus, I needed help getting access. Roger Malina, Frank’s son, put me in touch with Chris Jennings, an art professor at Brookes. Jennings knew the right people with the right keys and after a heroic effort with little advance notice, he met me at Brookes’ gate on a grey windy afternoon lightly whipped by rain.

Imposing even when turned off, Cosmos is hardly recognizable at first as an art work. An electrician from campus came to switch Cosmos on for us. The lights switched on and immediately the many small electrical motors inside began to turn the painted rotors. For such a giant mechanical piece, it was surprisingly quiet. All I heard was the slight hum of fluorescent lights and an occasional click as one of the gears proved momentarily obstinate.

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Interior detail.

Frank Malina made Cosmos at the height of the Cold War-era space race. Gagarin and Shephard had flown four years earlier and a satellite-based infrastructure was beginning to take shape. Astronomers were looking forward to an era of space telescopes observing across wavelengths inaccessible from earth and giving unparalleled resolution. This new techno-scientific activity meant that people were, as Malina wrote in 1966, “more conscious of the universe, both intellectually and visually” than at any other time since the Copernican Revolution. Malina imagined Cosmos as a reflection of a universe that he knew as neither static nor quiescent.

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Malina making Cosmos, summer 1965.

The controlled motion of light and motion reflected a view of an orderly Cosmos, however, one knowable to humans who were slowly starting to explore it. Malina abstracted his design from celestial shapes starting with the band of color at the bottom which Malina intended to represent colors seen by astronauts when orbiting the earth. Nine painted circular shapes represent the planets – Neil deGrasse Tyson & co. hadn’t yet killed Pluto – which hover below an abstracted sun presented in slowly changing shades of red, white, and orange.

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Cosmos, detail.

Sitting between the sun and planets are three “nebulae,” executed in a manner similar to some of Malina’s earlier works – filaments of light moving back and forth. Finally, above the sun are scattered star clusters, another theme from Malina’s prior pieces, that slowly oscillate and pulse. The overall effect is elegant, continuous yet stately motion and shifting color.

Malina wanted the piece to be an “expression of a ‘peaceful Cosmos’” while noting, of course, that the universe is anything but. “Events of cataclysmic proportion are constantly occurring” yet people were still willing to dare to “venture forth farther and farther” from the “planetary cradle,” he wrote. This profound shift in position and perspective was something that should challenge the artist. Either they would “find aesthetic significance” in explorations of space or “mock them in despair.”

We also opened up Cosmos to inspect its interior. 1960s-era lights and switches share space with parts added during occasional repairs and upgrades. Malina had signed the various rotors and stators that he painted.

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Looking inside Cosmos.

But their paint is beginning to flake and peel, presenting a challenge to the art conservator. And few of the rotors weren’t turning well.

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One of the signed parts of Cosmos

The complexity of the art work – an ensemble of gears, chains, lights, switches, fuses, plastic disks, with wires running everywhere – surprised me. Compared with the quiet, contemplative mood the piece fosters, the inside of Cosmos is a very busy place.

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Author inside Cosmos, September 2015.

Malina created Cosmos as “silent almost static” panoramic view of the universe centered around our solar system. I stood in front of it for several minutes, watching the colors slowly form, dissolve, move, and shift. I took some last photos. And then, a flick of the switch and Cosmos was dark again.

  1. MG Lord’s excellent book Astro Turf discusses the historical injustice of a former Nazi getting the attention while American Malina’s accomplishments were sidelined during the McCarthy era. []
  2. “WAC” stood for “Without Any Control” or, since it was the “little sister” of the larger Corporal rocket, which followed an earlier rocket named Private, “Women’s Auxiliary Corps.” []
  3. A catalog, compiled by Fabrice Lapelletrie, of Malina’s artwork is here. []

Shifting Gears and Changing Rooms

(Bloggy Note: I recently appeared on the radio show Science Friday. Host Ira Flatow and I spoke about the history of another collaborative artist/engineer effort. This was the Art and Technology Program that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art ran from 1966-1971. After a 50 year hiatus, LACMA has recently rebooted the program. Although very different from the original incarnation, the new program brings artists, engineers, and corporate sponsorship together to jumpstart aesthetic experimentation. This seemed like a good coming out party for a new research project I’m starting…)

Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly interested in collaborations between artists, engineers, and scientists from the 1960s onward. Regular readers of this blog will have noticed the recent posts about laser art in its various formsDNA origami, and so forth.

I’m planning on exploring the art-technology/artist-engineer nexus further for a new book project. It’s exciting as well as challenging/intimidating. There’s a huge amount of art history to get a handle on. But I think that every so often, it’s good to take one’s research in a brand new direction…and my timing is good. Starting in a few weeks, I have the good fortune to hold the Charles Lindbergh Chair at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. This will give me a good opportunity to jump start this project.

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Frank Malina , engineer of space and art.

While serving as the Lindbergh Chair, I want to examine the “art and technology movement” by focusing on the experiences and activities of engineers and scientists. One of the main topics I’ll be researching while in DC are the activities of the American rocket engineer turned artist Frank J. Malina.

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Malina (center) with Theodore von Kármán, 1941

Prior to the U.S. entry into World War Two, Malina helped develop and test nascent rocket technologies in the dry arroyos of Pasadena. After the war, Malina helped get the Jet Propulsion Laboratory off the ground. However, Malina became disenchanted displeased with the pursuit of advanced rocket technologies for military purposes. (M.G. Lord’s super book Astro-Turf highlights the historical hypocrisy of former Nazi Werner von Braun being seen all too often as the “father” of the U.S. space program while home-grown heroes like Malina are neglected.)

Malina left California for France where he joined the Division of Scientific Research for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Malina could not, however, escape Cold War allegations of Communist associations and he quit his UNESCO post in 1953. Long interested in art, it was at this point that Malina decided to pursue it as a full-time career.

It is Malina’s career path after this point that especially interests me. After first experimenting with more conventional media, Malina turned to more experimental tools and technologies. Malina’s experiments with kinetic, audio, and electronic art depicted the new landscapes that rapid advances in Cold War science and technology – exemplified by the Bomb, the rocket, the computer – revealed. The launch of the first satellites and then the first people into space profoundly influenced Malina and his art. “Because of man’s first steps in exploring extraterrestrial space,” he wrote in 1966, “we are more conscious of the universe, both intellectually and visually.”

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Malina at work in his Paris studio, c. 1965.

In 1968, with backing from controversial British publishing tycoon, Robert Maxwell, owner of Pergamon, Malina launched the journal Leonardo. It’s still published today.Malina imagined the journal as a forum in which humanists and scientists could communicate and collaborate. Malina made it a point to emphasize that Leonardo was neither about art criticism or aesthetics (he disparaged both often and Leonardo included no advertisements for dealers or galleries).

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Some space-themed covers of Leonardo

Instead, the focus was on the process of creating art. Under Malina’s editorial guidance, the early volumes of Leonardo provided a forum for artists, scientists, and engineers to interact and collaborate. Malina purposely adopted the format of scientific journals and published articles by artists and scientists that described their artistic experiments with digital computers, cybernetics, holography, and lasers.  Malina often approached the creation of art as an experiment that could be amenable to research, something which makes a perspective from a historian of science especially useful.

Looking more broadly, artist-engineer collaborations were seen as experiments in creativity that could benefit the art world as well as industry and university labs. For engineers, subject to vociferous attacks about their complicity in the arms race, environmental destruction, and other global ills, the art and technology movement presented them with an opportunity to humanize technology and re-define their profession, if only on a personal level.

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Artist Robert Whitman (left) with engineer John Forkner, c. 1969, as they collaborated on the Art and Technology Program that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art ran.

I’m hoping this new project shifts the focus from the artists by giving more attention to their under-recognized partners in collaboration – engineers and scientists. Many of the artists these professionals worked with were big names in the modern art world. But art critics largely ignored the technologists who partnered with star artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Lucinda Childs, Robert Whitman, or John Cage. These accomplished engineers and scientists from elite institutions like Caltech, MIT, or Bell Labs were typically reduced to “invisible technicians” doing the artists’ bidding. I want to bring the engineers and scientists, who were central to the era’s artistic collaborations, to the foreground.

I’m super excited to be starting work on this new project. Malina’s papers are at archived at the Library of Congress so I’ll be parked there for many days, slowly making my way through the collection. Per aspera ad astra