28: Moholy´s Edit

SHORT review


“Had the ship foundered during the night a good slice of art history might never have been written” - Sigfried Giedion

The title of this publication refers to fellow artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy being commissioned by Sigfried Giedion to document the 4th CIAM congress* titled The functional city, held in Athens in 1933. As a result, Moholy-Nagy delivered a 16mm 29-minute silent film called Architect’s Congress that still exists to this day, surely an invaluable document for scholars of the CIAM conferences not only for the shock-value of having such famous people on film, but as this publication shows very well, for the way Moholy-Nagy took this enterprise and did exceptionally good in making a documentary that spoke to his filmic talent.

At that point Moholy had already quit the Bauhaus back in 1928 and was starting to form a reputable film portfolio: Berliner Stilleben, Marseilles Vieux Port, Pont Transbordeur and Gross-Stadt Zigeuner are examples of this. In Architect’s congress the director armed with a hand-held Zeiss Kinamo shows audacity in capturing successfully the mundane fleeting moments of the remote-island Greek life of a pre-World War II Europe, and initiative in trying to use experimental shots in pursuit of artistic story-telling.

Moholy's Edit is an explication and reconstruction of an eventful four-day maritime journey spent at the Aegean sea by the artistic intelligentsia of the time: Le Corbusier and his brother Albert Jeanneret, theorist Sigfried Giedion, painters Ghika, Amédée Ozenfant, Fernand Leger, urbanist Cornelis van Eesteren, philosopher Otto Neurath, to name a few.

“From the viewpoint of the Parisian avant-garde, Leger was the artistic ‘anchor’ of this event. A deflationary heavyweight, though, whose tongue-poking is an indication of his affection for Moholy. Both men loved machinery, and the painter of The City, -one of the greatest paintings of the twentieth century- must in turn have admired Moholy if nothing else, for his spectacular kinetic Light-Space Modulator” - Chris Blencowe and Judith Levine

Fernand Leger - The city

Fernand Leger - The city

The authors Chris Blencowe and Judith Levine are in fact very resourceful in gathering information from the scarce archival documents: beyond the aforementioned silent film by Moholy-Nagy, most of the research is based on a 6-page letter that Moholy himself sent to his wife Sybil upon his return from the boat excursion (unveiled miraculously by Hattula Moholy-Nagy more than half a century later), as well as selected pages from Le Corbusier's B5 carnet which contained nothing more than quick sketches and personal annotations.

Le Corbusier - Moholy's Edit.jpg

Aphaia temple


Le Corbusier

The four day journey was in fact a spill-over of the 4th CIAM congress, in which selected attendees boarded a boatliner called Patris II to visit the islands of Aegina, Poros, Seriphos, Santorini and Ios. Beyond its primary vehicular function, the Patris II hosted discussions and exchanges of the highest level imaginable.

The authors of this book, Judith Levine and Chris Blencowe, make sure to revisit each of the attendee’s artistic timeline and status providing plenty of context for everyone’s character, contributions, artistic influences and subsequent work.

They act like ghosts hovering the Patris II trying to imagine possible conversations and guess possible interests among passengers. They study with scholar devotion the lasting effects that this journey might have had on each atendee's mind

“There are many parts of the ocean where the water is transparent right down to the bottom. But here its limpidity was of a different order. The sun penetrated it with such power and brilliance that the bronze glint of the ship’s screws was heightened to a positively unreal intensity. Light as a material and the consummate achievement of form, sought and striven for, was what Greece brought home for us” - Sigfried Giedion

“Every man who is in love with life, tortured by the slow shipwreck of conscience in the tempest of early mechanisation, should embark at Marseilles and head for Greece…It is there that is the point of departure for our Occident. It is, in an exceptional simplicity an integration of design with the landscape, quality of light, adequate vestiges of a human civilisation, earth, sun and ourselves“ - Le Corbusier


Architect’s congress on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/283726259

Berliner stilleben: https://www.moma.org/multimedia/video/310/1554

Marseilles Vieux Port: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-Sbywbl7Yo

Pont Transbordeur: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/285944

Gross-Stadt Zigeuner (Urban gypsies): https://vimeo.com/184673163

*International Congresses of Modern Architecture



authors: judith levine, chris blencowe

Publisher: lars müller publishers