In 1925 Marcel Breuer, one of the youngest members of the original Bauhaus generation, had a flash of inspiration. A keen cyclist, he was fascinated by his bicycle’s curved handlebars made from tubular steel. He realised that this material, which could carry weight without breaking, could be used in furniture. The result was the classic ‘Model B3’ chair which has become an icon of 20th century design. He described it as “my most extreme work … the least artistic, the most logical, the least ‘cosy’ and the most mechanical”. But it ticked all the Bauhaus boxes, being lightweight and easily mass-produced and designed with a clarity that spoke directly of its structure and purpose. Another lecturer, the artist Wassily Kandinsky admired it when he first saw it in Breuer’s studio. This chair subsequently became known as the ‘Wassily’, after the artist. Art and design joined at the hip – it’s there in that moment.
Today it is the Bauhaus, rather than the flamboyant gestures of radical artists, which is regarded as having one of the most significant impacts on the way we live into the 21st century. The Nazis closed the Bauhaus down in 1933 but ironically this act of suppression was a gift to the world, as lecturers and students emigrated from Germany during the Second World War to make livings as artists and teachers or establish their own schools based on Bauhaus principles. Adelaide was one of the beneficiaries of this ripple effect. A significant component of SA School of Art pedagogy in the late 1960s to 1970s, particularly related to art education, drew heavily on Bauhaus-inspired systems with a particular emphasis on problem-solving and experimentation across a wide range of media. The artist-teacher-student nexus that defined the Bauhaus dynamic has underpinned JamFactory’s working philosophies from its establishment in 1973 to the present day. As a Materials Matter release states, “Put simply, without the Bauhaus, JamFactory as we know it would not exist. In the words of Frank Bauer ‘… [we are] just part of a long, continuous chain, with a long accumulation of techniques and wisdom. We are always constantly building on that, and we should acknowledge that. We should give homage to predecessors.”
Materials Matter showcases the exceptional talents of designers, makers, craftspeople and artists and alumni of the Associate program who have an affiliation, both past and present, with JamFactory: Frank Bauer, Kay Lawrence, Christian Hall, Susan Frost, Gabriella Bisetto, Lex Stobie, Liam Fleming, Lilly Buttrose, Jake Rollins, and Ebony Heidenreich. This might have been a dutiful exercise and, on first encounter, the minimalism and cool aesthetics of the layout and works appears to confirm the usual stereotypes of Bauhaus being a fun-free zone. There were some philosophical heavy hitters in the original Bauhaus line-up but theorising always appears to be balanced by a playful approach to creativity and to life. “Tell me how you party and I’ll tell you who you are,” said Master of Form at the Bauhaus Theatre Workshop, Oskar Schlemmer. His most famous work, Triadic Ballet, incorporated costumed actors as geometrical representations of the human body in what he described as a “party of form and colour”. The regular series of Bauhaus parties were designed to build a strong affinity between the artists and the community at large. This principle of ‘creative play’, which explains the ongoing attraction of another Bauhaus teacher and artist, Paul Klee, informs a number of works in Materials Matter.
Jake Rollins has made two prototype seats from ‘lost’ golf balls. Drilled out and held together by a continuous length of elastic cord, these humorous objects express a spirit of infinite possibilities – or, one snip and it’s back to square one. Kay Lawrence has been harvesting a trove of 1960s tea towels inherited from her grandmother and great aunt. There’s a stack of neatly ironed towels on display as verification of source. Alongside are small weavings (Lineage) inspired by the deceptively simple warp and weft grid designs and basic colours to be found in the originals. With a hint of drop shadows and some Klee-like extrapolations, these are enchanting little worlds within worlds. Christian Hall’s small steel towers inspired by Flinders Ranges geological structures are reminders of the capacity of Bauhaus thinking to see relationships between nature, science and art. Frank Bauer takes his own Klee-ian lines for a walk in a number of finely calibrated minimal structures. Ebony Heidenreich’s engaging Poolside objects look straight from the original Bauhaus less-is-more playbook. Susan Frost’s tight-knit families of porcelain objects whisper with shared confidences in the form of subtle patterning and designs on offer for the disciplined viewer. This spirit of play and experiment is shared by all participants but, like one of those comedians’ conventions where jokes are only told in catalogue numbers, this exhibition is no plastic ball pit. No diving – just tune in. Missing in action – a Bauhaus-inspired audio soundscape. Is it too late to feed in a few gothic-rock Bauhaus tracks?
Materials Matters: A Bauhaus Legacy
Until July 14, 2019
Liam Fleming, Graft Vase, 2018. Glass 400 x 100 x 100mm (Photo: Courtesy of the artist)
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