Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack (1893-1965)
Farbenlichtspiele (1923)
Two pieces (of 4 in total) from the "Farbenlichtspiele (the Coloured Lightplays) by Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack" video, reconstructed and produced by Corinne Schweizer and Peter Böhm in 2000 for an exhibition about Hirschfeld-Mack's works:

- Sonatine II (rot), 1923/24
- Kreuzspiel, 1923

The Coloured Lightplays

The artist Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack developed the coloured lightplays at the Bauhaus during 1922 and 1923. Following the principle of greatest possible reduction – the basic units are the circle, triangle and square and the colours blue, yellow and red – a carefully composed sequence of moving images is brought into being, colour and form flowing into each other to the rhythm of a specially composed score.

Practical realisation is effected through a mechanically operated lightbox, with six specially constructed spotlights with changable colour filters, the intensity of which can be regulated by means of switches and resistors. Towards the front of the lightbox are two layers of stencils defining geometric figures whoose forms can be moved and changed by two operators. The lightforms animated by the operators are then projected onto a transparent film of paper, where the transformations of the geometric figures appear in glowing colours.

After months of work the film-maker Corinne Schweizer and the composer Peter Böhm have succeeded in reconstructing this machine-art from sketches and the fragments of scores. Important insights were gained from the Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack's grandson, Kaj Delugan and from the Viennese art historian, Peter Stansy. Together with a team of operators and two musicians, Schweizer and Böhm have prepared five pieces with a total playing time of fourty minutes.

The Step towards Modernism

The coloured lightplays are Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack's most important work and anticipate the tendencies and developments of much 20th century art. His moving images of projected light stand in a line of similar endeavors, not only in the realm of colour/ light /music but also in abstract film and in theatre, where it was sought to unite the gestures of the actors with their movements on the stage, so as to create an overall, total effect.

The idea of constructing an apparatus in which elementary forms, colours and movements could be combined on different levels and thus put in relation to each other, anticipates action painting, animated film, light- and laser shows. Light enters into fascinating dialogue with painting and technology, a dialogue which through the developments of the accompagnying music, can be rhythmicaly structured to become the signifier of emotion.

Hirschfeld Mack described his creation as: "a play of yellow, red, green and blue fields of light, developing in organically defined units from darkness to maximum intensity. Set: a transparent screen. Elements of design: colours, forms and music: in cornered, sharp, pointed forms, in triangles, squares, polygons and circles, curves and waveforms; upwards, downwards, sideways in all possible rhythmically controlable movements, the elements of the coloured light play being brought into an artistically planned, orchestral presentation. Combined with the interactions, combinations and overlayering of the colours and forms, are the musical elements to which they give rise and from which they become inseperable."

Chance as the Instigator

The coloured light plays were developed in the experimental enviroment of the class for stage design at the Bauhaus and are the summation of Hirschfeld Mack's studies in the theory of colour and form. They reflect the design theory of Johannes Itten and the work of Paul Klee as well as being a reaction to the films of Lyonel Feininger and the shadow plays of Moholy-Nagy. Oskar Schlemmer's ideas were also influencial.

The immeadiate precusor was a shadow play presented at a latern party held at the Bauhaus in June 1922. As an actyline lamp was being changed, Hirschfeld Mack noted that, "through the combination of the chance doubling of the shadows on the transparent paper and the different coloured actyline lamps, a warm and a cold shadow became visible".

After experiments inspired by this accidental discovery, he arrived at the principles of his Farbenlichtspiele: it is not the shadow of the stencil that appears on the projection screen but rather the unmodified light itself that passes through the modifiable opening of the neagtive form of the stencil and can thus be made to take on various forms.

"A total composition in fairy-tale metamorphoses"

Hirschfeld Mack's invention was of great interest to his contemporaries. Performances took place not only at the Bauhaus but also at the Volksbühne in Berlin, in Halle, Celle, Hamburg and Nurenberg as well as in Leipzig where it was shown after a lecture by Wassily Kandinsky.

"A total composition in fairy-tale metamorphoses and shiftings," was the verdict of one reviewer, while another proclaimed "this incomparable addition to the world of theatre, whose dimensions and possibilities defy estimation". In September 1924, shortly before the Bauhaus' dissolution, the coloured light plays were performed in Vienna at the Konzerthaus, during the city's festival of Music and Theatre.

After the Second World war, a revival of the coloured light plays was initiated by Hans Maria Wingler, director of the Bauhaus Archive in Darmstadt. During the Sixties he invited Hirschfeld Mack to reconstruct his light playing apparatus, together with some of the light plays from the Twenties and during Hirschfeld Mack's last trip to Europe a performance was held. This reconstructed light playing apparatus was however lost, when the Bauhaus Archive subsequently moved to Berlin during the Seventies.