Conclusion

A summary of the work of Ostoja-Kotkowski

Date

Biographical information

1922

Born in Golub, Poland

1940-45

Student of Painting and Drawing with Olgierd Vetesco in Poland

1946-49

Student Academy of Fine Arts, Dusseldorf, Germany

1949

Migration to Australia

1950-52

Studied at the National Gallery School of Victoria, with William Dargie and Alan Sumner

1951

Introduced Abstract Expressionism to Staff and Students, National Gallery School of Victoria

1954-55`

Worked as a miner and house painter in Leigh Creek Coalmines in South Australia

1954-5

Produced Seven Australian Artists film

1955

First one man exhibition of paintings in Adelaide. R.H. Morrison opened exhibition

1955

Quest of Time Film

1955

1955 Architectural Film. 16mm Film

1955

Slide Presentation, forerunner to Sound and Image.

1956

Sets for The Prisoner The Hut Theatre, University of Adelaide.

1955-6

First Experimental film in Australia

1955-74

Designed scenery for more than 50 plays, ballets and operas.

1957

Became an Australian citizen

1957

Cornell Art Prize Adelaide (Form in Landscape)

1957

Set design King Lear. University of Adelaide

1957

Theatre Set. Six Characters in Search of an Author, Pirandello

1958

Elixir d'amor, Elder Conservatorium of Music.

1958

Theatre Set. Waiting for Godot Beckett

1958

Opera Theatre Set, Elixir of Life Donizetti

1959

Cornell Art Prize Adelaide

1959

Set Design, South Australian Ballet Theatre

1959

Theatre Set Design, The Egg. Adelaide University Theatre Guild

1959

Theatre St Workshops, Elder Conservatorium of Music Adelaide University. Cavalliera Rusticana

1960

Theatre Sets Moon on a Rainbow Shawl Errol John

1960

Theatre Sets, Tea House of the August Moon John Patrick

1960

Sound and Image production. Orpheus, Union Hall Adelaide

1960

Theatre sets for Intimate Opera

1960

Set Design, Marriage of Figaro

1960

Set Design, Turn of the Screw

1960-70

Designed and produced Sound and Image productions for Adelaide Festivals of Arts

1960

Joint winner with John Dowie, Royal South Australian Society of Arts festival Prize

1960

Mosaic for ETA Factory Adelaide

1961

Exhibition, Whitechapel Gallery London

1961

Stained Glass Window, Adelaide University Refectory.

1961

Theatre Set, The Ham Funeral, Patrick White, World Premiere.

1961

Theatre Set Design, Swamp Creatures, Alan Seymour

1961

Opera Theatre Sets, Don Carlos, Elder Conservatorium of music

1962

Art Exhibition, Raymond Burr Gallery, USA.

1962

Theatre Set Design, J.S. Archibald MacLeish

1962

Vitreous Enamel and Acrylic painting Exhibition, Argus Gallery, Melbourne.

1962

First Electronic Images, with Philips Industries

1962

Theatre Set Design. Cousin from Fiji

1962

Slab Glass mural for National Mutual Building, Adelaide.

1962

Iphigenia in Taurus sets for Elder Conservatorium of Music

1962

GentlemanŐs Island, Intimate Opera Group, Adelaide

1962

Prima Donna, Intimate Opera Group, Adelaide

1962

La Voix Humaine, Intimate Opera Group

1962

The Bald Prima Donna,Ionescu, Adelaide University Dramatic Society

1962

Madama Butterfly, Elder Conservatorium

1963

Oedipus Rex, Adelaide University Theatre Guild, Adelaide University Dramatic Society

1963

Sound and Image with Derek Jolly and Graham Milne, Elder Hall, Claimed to be the first "visual concert",

1963

Relief metal sculpture, Nailsworth, Adelaide

1963

Altar St Joseph's Roman Catholic Church Adelaide

1964,

The Bartered Bride, Smetana, New Zealand Opera Company

1964

Op Art exhibition, National Gallery of Victoria

1964

Sound and Image, Adelaide Festival of Arts

1964

Light Mural Mosaic Victoria Square, Adelaide Festival of Arts

1964

Macbeth, Verdi, Guiseppe, Australian Elizabethan Theatre

1964

BP House Mural Melbourne

1964

Electronically generated Image exhibition, Argus Gallery, Melbourne, Claimed to be a world first.

1965

Australian Film Institute award for Sound and Image

1965

Kinetic Light mural for Dollar Club Restaurant, Glenunga, Adelaide

1965

Vitreous enamel mural St Peter's College, Adelaide.

1965

Invented process for Electroplated fibre glass mural, BP House Melbourne

1965

Man and a Mural film made about BP House Mural

1965

Exhibition of Contemporary Australian Art, Palace of Fine Arts, Krakow, Poland

1965

The Flying Dutchman, Elder Conservatorium, Adelaide university

1965

The Heavyweight (The Honour of a Nation)Elder Conservatorium of Music

1965

I Pagliacci, Elder Conservatorium of Music

1965

Light Kinetic Mural design

1965

Theatre Set Design, The Balcony, Genet.

1965

Op Art Exhibition, Gallery A, Sydney.

1965

Op Art Exhibition, South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne

1965

Dance and Electronic images on Melbourne television with Elizabeth Dalman.

1966

Awarded Churchill Memorial Fellowship

1966

Vitreous Enamel mural Unley Shopping Centre, Adelaide

1966

Montreal Expo kinetic mural Australian Pavilion.

1966

Font and Stained Glass windows, St Matthew's Church Bridgewater, South Australia

1967

Murals World Expo, Montreal, Australian Pavilion

1966-80

Electronic light murals for BP House, Melbourne (Christmas decorations)

1967

Churchill Fellowship travelling to Poland, USA, Holland, Germany, France, Italy Japan, and England. First saw and studied Laser beam technology.

1967

Awarded Excellence in A.F.I.A.P. for photography Berne Switzerland

1968

Returned to Australia and began research at Weapons Research Establishment in Salisbury, South Australia. Used lasers in conjunction with voice and music during his Sound and Image production for Adelaide Festival of Arts. Claimed to be the first use of Lasers in any artform.

1968

Relief sculpture Refectory, Luther Seminary, Adelaide.

1968

Fountain Victoria Square shopping centre

1969

Penderecki's Passion Sound and Image production "Audio-visual" concert. With Davidson

1969

SA Government Trophy design London-Adelaide Air Race.

1970

Relief mural ANZ Bank Adelaide.

1970

Director of Design, Adelaide Festival of Arts

1970

Chromasonic Tower, Adelaide Festival of Arts

1970

Sound and Image - Aboriginal Dreamtime theme. Photographs by Ostoja and Davidson

1970

Designed chromasonic dome for Expo 70, Japan. Commissioned by Robin Boyd

1970

Mural Adelaide Airport (Demolished in late 90's)

1970

Relief Sculpture Chapel of Imanuel College Adelaide

1971

Creative Arts Fellowship, Australian National University. Designed Chromosonic laser unit

1971

Designed Tapestry, St Matthew's Roman Catholic Church, Bridgewater South Australia

1971

Chromasonic Tower, Aquarius Arts Festival, Canberra.

1971

Infrared photochrome mural, Ciba Geigy Building, Melbourne.

1971

Stainless steel sculpture for Churchill House, Canberra

1972

'Cymantics' Sound and Image workshops.

1972

Synchronos 72 Canberra and Sydney with Don Banks, Don Burrows Larry Sitsky et al. First concert using laser projections reacting to live music.

1972

Relief Sculpture in steel, Tokyo Service Complex, Adelaide

1973

Study trip to USA. Australian-American Educational Foundation Travel Grant.

1974

Opera Set Design Excursions of Mr Brouceck Janacek, State Opera SA. First opera using laser projections. First Opera production in new Festival Theatre.

1975

Theremin, Vitreous Enamel Mural, Earth Science Building, Melbourne University.

1975

Vitreous Enamel Mural South Australian Public Buildings Department Adelaide.

1975

Laser Chromasonic Tower (Mk III) , Civic Centre, Canberra, (Purchased by Gough Whitlam)

1976

Bas Relief Mural, Fibreglass and Resin. Nauru House, Melbourne

1978

Laser Chromosonic Tower (Mk II), Royal Adelaide Expo

1979

Vitreous Enamel and Op Art-collage images, some with Theramins, Barry Stern Gallery, Sydney

1979

Laser Chromatin Exhibition, Barry Stern Gallery

1980

Laser Kinetics, Adelaide Festival of Arts in conjunction with Museum of Holography, USA (now MIT)

1981

Jade window commission Melbourne University. Prof. Nina Christesen

1982

Laser performance, adelaide Festival of Arts.

1983

Barry Stern Gallery exhibitions in Sydney.

1983

Donation of personal papers etc in the Baillieu Collection, Melbourne University.

1984

Vapuor lasers produced by Quentron, Adelaide.

1984

Laser Kinetics concert in Ballarat Festival

1985

Computer and Laser generated images fpr Grand Prix concert, Adelaide.

1985

Australia Post set of stamps using laser images.

1986

Laser Concert for SA Jubliee 150 Celebrations.

1986

Laser exhibition at Brisbane Expo.

1986

Solaris Solar kinetic mural experiments with CSIRO

1987

Solaris redesigned

1987

Theramin and Light exhibition at SciTech Discovery Centre, Perth.

1988

Koskiusko Memorial, Cooma New South Wales.

1988

Mandelbrot's Beauty of Fractals. Ostoja began computer generated Fractal images.

1991

Synchronos Concert with the National Phillharmonic in Warsaw, Poland

1992

Adelaide Festival Performance.

 

 

Explorer in Sound and Light has presented a study of the works of Joseph Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski within the period from his early family life, through his development as an artist to the year 1975. He was a pioneer within the Australian context in most areas of the visual and performing arts in which he was involved. He was an eclectic artist who excelled in painting, and was especially recognised for his contribution to Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, photography, film, theatre and opera set design, sculpture, mural design, electronic painting, and the use of laser beams within the arts. He should be recognised as an artist of considerable stature and of continuing influence within the world of art. The ephemeral nature of much of his experimental output, however, has meant that there are few actual records of the performances beyond the memories of those audience members who were present (and often awestruck by the brilliance) and the critical reports of the performances contained in the print media of the time. His legacy is perhaps the knowledge that others, who were observers of his work, still derive inspiration from it.

Ostoja was above all an artist with an ability to see beyond the walls of convention and into the future. He indeed fulfilled his often-expressed desire to free the imagination from the impediments of traditional media. He was able to harness the knowledge of others when his inspiration was not matched by his technological knowledge, and by doing so, extended the freedom of the artists who were to follow who found themselves no longer bound by convention and form. He was indeed the man with light in his eyes.

The study has presented not only an account of the works of Ostoja but also those of the author who has derived much from personal observation and study of the work of this artist. Although not intended to reproduce the works of Ostoja, much of the theatrical and musical improvisation involved in the examples of my work evolved from this influence and from the examples that he gave.

Perhaps the common thread that permeated Ostoja's frenetic search for new means of expression was the often-articulated search for the light that the Australian continent itself impressed in his eyes. His quest to produce this brilliance enabled him to experiment with many forms of light and images until he discovered the equivalent in the intensity of the laser projections.

As a pioneer of sound and light, Ostoja is perhaps remembered most for the Sound and Image productions that were presented at several Adelaide Festivals and beyond. It is, however, his contribution to what is now termed multi-media, but which he modestly called electronic painting, and his experimentation with laser technology for which he should be recognised as a pioneer of unequalled eminence.

The Importance of Observation

The study of an individual and his work should primarily be of value to the person making the study. If in the process there is light cast on the subject's importance within a wider context and the information presented is of value to a wider circle of interest, then the study can possibly succeed on more than one level.

The initial purpose of this study was to discover, or perhaps rediscover, the importance of the life and work of Josef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski within the Australian cultural ethos. As can be seen from the preceding pages, which merely touch the surface of his extensive output, Ostoja was a formidable worker within eclectic genres. He moved readily from one art form to another as invention made his personal progress possible. He was renowned firstly for his painting then theatre work, sculpture and photography, film and kinetics, Sound and Image productions, laserbeam presentations and finally for beautifully crafted computer generated images. However, he did not separate the different areas of his expertise from each other; they were all interrelated and of equal importance and only when one was of prime concern to a particular project did he allow that one to dominate.

It was felt therefore, that the initial purpose should be tested in a practical way, within the body of work that is presented in parallel with the discussion and description of the extensive work of the subject of the study.

The question of the value of observation of times past and the study of a particular individual's work that has allowed for and encouraged a point of departure by another individual to occur becomes important to this study. If there is an opportunity for an artist to progress within his or her particular genre, or collection of genres, by the observation of the inspirational work of another, then there is value in that observation. It has recently been suggested to me that many of those being trained as artists, whether within institutions or by their own volition, are discovering techniques that have been discovered by succeeding generations of artists time and time again. Although an action can be individually original, those who have the luxury of observation from without, and especially those who have come from a preceding era, often become the teeth-grinding critics who can honestly say that they have seen it all before. The reinvention of the wheel does not make the wheel any rounder nor the vehicle which it supports more practical. It does not make the progress from one generation to another smoother, nor does it allow progress to be made when its own fate is to be recycled by those who do not understand that it has been invented before.

From the earliest times Ostoja knew that he was different from the people with whom he associated. This often earned him the reputation of arrogance and aloofness. This in turn meant he was often misunderstood within an art fraternity that was, all too often, slow to accept difference and too readily critical when that difference wasmisinterpreted. He was indeed impatient with those who were settled into convention or content with materials, techniques and common means of expression. To Ostoja this was a boundary that needed to be jettisoned for the unknown. It was imperative that he could explore new materials, techniques and genres and develop new forms as invention and artistic necessity allowed.

He was also aware of his personal limitations within the technical demands of the projects he initiated. He enlisted the highest expertise that was available within Australia at the time. These included the collection of television scientists and technicians of Philips Industries at their plant in Hendon, South Australia. It also included the band of scientists employed at Weapons Research Establishment in Salisbury, near Adelaide. Their expertise included the invention of the photocopier and much of the highly technical knowledge and development of the early space exploration. They readily shared their knowledge and applied their lateral thinking when Ostoja needed expertise in laser technology. Later he was associated with similar expertise with the CSIRO scientists and those at the Australian National University. This reflects that Ostoja was able to enthuse those in authority within those institutions for, without their approval, the technicians and scientists' valuable time would not have been made available. There was a company in South Australia, Quentron, whose function was to support the technical aspects of Ostoja's work with laser technology and equipment.

Not all of the technicians and experts found the time with Ostoja easy, but it is to their credit that they were eager to achieve the results he envisaged. It was their belief in the practical possibilities of Ostoja's dreams and perhaps their own enthusiasm to explore the unusual and the unknown that allowed them to persist. It was only the art world peers that thought this arrogant immigrant to be a little crazy! It was often, however, those outside the world of the arts who were Ostoja's most enthusiastic supporters and this, to some extent, is still true today. There are still those who worked within the visual arts in South Australia who are ready to dismiss his work and inventiveness.

The criticism that he was sometimes considered too commercial in his work reflects the fact that the general public were eager to see his presentations before those who were considered his peers. It is perhaps a misunderstanding of the cross-nature of Ostoja's work that encouraged the criticism of the ogre of commercialism. Those who were painters perhaps did not understand the theatrical nature of Ostoja's work. They were used to working within a narrow field of endeavour and could not see value past their own considerations. He was indeed sometimes vocal in an attempt to reverse the criticism with expressions of insularity and, what he perceived to be, old fashioned techniques and materials. He would have encouraged them to absorb the observations of the past masters, to produce new pigments, new media, and to generate original thought. He was always prepared to be controversial and to discuss his dreams with those who would listen. Often those listening were outside the authority of artistic journals, gallery walls and accepted convention. Perhaps this encouraged the criticism of commercialism.

Ostoja's works were not necessarily canvases on walls with a price tag to provide the artist with funds both to live and produce more of the same. He was experimenting with new forms that did not necessarily have a ready market. He was using new materials that were seen as being out of context in the art gallery. He and his colleagues in the realm of photography had fought a hard battle for the acceptance of their prints as art works to be hung on gallery walls. 1 For the contemporaryart world in a conservative town such as Adelaide, there would be a marked reticence to accept photography as a serious artform. It was after all a commercial and mechanical process that produced the images!

Ostoja's enamels were also considered to be the bi-product of an industry that had been producing signs for advertising for many years. By extension the use of techniques in this medium must therefore be commercial. His intention to produce abstract designs in vivid colours, reflecting his search for the Outback light and colour, was likewise a process that was considered an artisan's technique rather than a painterly skill. His statement of the fact that American architects had been using enamel panels for the decoration of buildings for many years indicated his frustration at the criticism. Coupling the metal plates of the enamel works with Theramins to produce sweeping electronic sounds, dependant on the presence of an observer, were perhaps to take acceptance even further away from the convention. With the advent of these works he was disturbing the hushed atmosphere of the galleries with sounds that were unfamiliar and, to many, unacceptable. The medium was dictating the opinion rather than the content. 2

His work, however, appealed especially to the young who were entering their own worlds and who were eager to experience the unexpected and the fantastic. He was to make the observation that the lines of students waiting outside the exhibitions and those lining up like birds on electricity wires were eager to see the aspects of original experimentation that twenty first century youth take for granted.

Ostoja's appeal still lies with the young. In the documentation lodged in the Mortlock Library Collection there are several letters from a young student, John Heuzenroeder, in the Barossa Valley in South Australia (1992). In his matriculation year in high school he had the choice of artists, whom he was required to study, using the subject as a primary source. He chose Ostoja and carried out several personal interviews and maintained a correspondence with the artist until the study was completed. This would be of little remark except for two factors. Firstly, Ostoja was on the list of artists on the South Australian Education Department's art curriculum and, secondly, his father, also John Heuzenroeder, was one of the critics who, in 1960, wrote damning reports of Ostoja's first major excursion into the Sound and Image genre in On Dit, the Adelaide University student newspaper. The newer generations have been more receptive and supportive, finding value in Ostoja's work.

 

Ostoja's Australian Theatre Ethos

As an immigrant to Australia, Ostoja joined an exclusive fraternity of painters who had arrived in this country with European eyes discovering a fresh and light riddled landscape, without the impediment of time's acclimatisation. He discovered a light that was pure, ever changing and bold. He had dreamed of endless, ever changing colours, shapes and movement. It was the combination of these and the discovery of the outback, with its singularly Australian light, that provided him with the inspiration to move eventually from the canvas in the gallery to the canvas of the sky. Each project that Ostoja undertook was a glimpse of his continuum from canvas to computer, from shade to light. Like his paintings, which he described as having no top or bottom because they were part of his continuum from one place to another, each exhibition, experimentation, film, photograph and production were incomplete in themselves as they were always leading somewhere else.

Ostoja's knowledge of theatre in Europe before he immigrated gave him an interest and advantage in access to modern theatre concepts and presentation. He tried acting in Melbourne upon his arrival in Australia but perhaps his accent and lack of familiarity with English prevented him from doing so again. Within the theatre genre and in the formative years of his set design output, Ostoja worked in a very painterly manner. Set design was an expression of his need to move from the studio to a larger canvas and to adapt and combine his expertise in painting, photography and the movement available to him through film production, whilst retaining the immediacy of live theatre.

It is important to mention that theatre work in Adelaide at the time when Ostoja was involved with the Adelaide University Theatre Guild, the South Australian Ballet Theatre and other companies of his early associations, was largely carried out for the love of the art and the need for theatrical expression. No-one was able to make a living on the local scene. With characters like Collin Balantyne and Francis Flannagan, however, who were in constant contact with the theatre scene in Europe and America, the theatre standards in Adelaide were as up to date as far as contemporary play productions were concerned.

Max Collis's ballet company allowed a great deal of freedom in the presentation of the sets that Ostoja was to produce. His Swan Lake and many of the other productions allowed light projection combined with painted cloth to foment in Ostoja's mind. His expertise as an "engineer" also gave him the practical knowledge both to design and produce the sets himself or with his circle of volunteers.

Ostoja was not, however, content to restrict his expertise to painting and theatre but his large scale sculptural works took him from conventionally constructed works to the large scale works of BP House and Nauru House in Melbourne. The former required new technology to be developed and, with the adaptation of techniques he had seen in the USA, he was able to develop the electroplating of metal onto fibreglass thus making the process much cheaper than a solid metal construction, easier to manufacture and to transport from the workshop to the studio.

It was the confidence in Ostoja's ability on the part of the Professor of Music at the Adelaide University that Ostoja was able to experiment with light and projection as part of the sets for the operas. This allowed him to go beyond the conventional and into the realms of the imagination that was the hallmark of the productions for which he was the designer at the time.

The advent of the Sound and Image productions within the South Australian theatre programme marked a uniquely Ostoja genre. Here he was the master, with the productions depicting more of his expertise than many of the other theatrical events where he was employed to design extant works. Still requiring the assistance of others, he began in 1960 with Orpheus. Sound and Image indeed enabled Ostoja to combine all his acquired skills in art, theatre design, sculptural scale, kinetics and light into the one art form. It also allowed him to choose the music, text and style of the productions as the director and producer. In sections of the productions where there was room for improvisation in the reaction of sound to image, he was able to physically manipulate the machinery to suit his artistic sensibilities.

Light and Image

In the search for the pure light of the Outback, it is ironic that his first major experiments in painting electronically were in black and white. The electronic paintings exhibited in the Argus Gallery in Melbourne in 1964 were firsts. There seems to be little evidence that there were others producing electronic images in a manner similar to Ostoja either before him or at the same time. Paik in Germany (and then in the USA) and Mann Ray in the USA, were experimenting with similar media, but their intentions were different and the results divorced from the intentions that Ostoja was pursuing. Mann Ray was exposing objects on photographic paper, but from the result it was obvious what the process had been; Ray's motifs were mechanically produced and looked like photographic time exposures of objects. The means of manufacture, in this case, were there to be observed. On the other hand, Paik was experimenting with the use of many televisions as the means of expression. They were on display as objects with the transmitted programmes modified electronically to produce abstract images. Paik's display was a kinetic performance. Indeed, his intention was to show the means as the means.

Ostoja, on the other hand, applied the cutting edge technology produced by the scientists in the Philips Workshops, to produce kinetic patterns that were captured by means of conventional photography. The results on the walls of the Argus Gallery in 1964 did not betray the means of production. The works were photographs presented as artworks, depicting abstract shapes of permanent beauty. The means of production, although innovative and original, was not important to the finished object. He was beginning to achieve a personal freedom of himself as the artist from the impediment of means.

Ostoja's electronic images and the method of production of them, were used in a film and television programme on GTV9 in Melbourne in 1965 and as such were, perhaps, the first of their kind. This production included live projection of the kinetic images produced by his television controller, in combination with the dancing of Elizabeth Dalman (Cameron-Wilson) and, at the time, was billed as being a unique event. Had this event taken place in Europe or America it may still be noted as a pioneering use of technology in art.

In Ostoja's continuum he was recognised for his production of the electronic paintings with an F.I.A.P. Award (1967) for excellence in innovative photography. This achievement was awarded in Berne, Switzerland rather than by his adopted nation. With this, and published articles in journals in Europe, he indeed received international recognition for his innovation. His achievement, however, is not generally noted as part of art history where he could stand alongside others of equal innovation.

International Access

Recognition, in the form of a Churchill Memorial Fellowship, allowed Ostoja to travel and to investigate innovation in technology within the arts in many international centres. This Fellowship introduced him to the laser technology that had been developed without specific purpose in the Bell laboratories in the USA. He saw, for the first time, a light which could rival the light of the Australian Desert. Instinctively he knew that this was the technology with which he could produce a new world of kinetic images. Through the adaptation of the technology he had used in polarised light in producing photographic images, he was able to experiment with splitting the laser beams and projecting them onto large screens, creating images at first not unlike those of the electronic paintings of the Argus Gallery exhibitions.

In 1968 he was able to use the projections before the public in his Sound and Image production for the Adelaide Festival. This, he adamantly claimed, was the first time lasers were produced as part of a theatre production. With the inclusion of the technology to produce kinetic projections that danced to the pitch, volume and rhythm of live or recorded music, he was able to create a new art form with which he was engaged for more than two decades beginning with Synchronos '72, with Don Banks et al at the Australian National University and later in Sydney. The splendid use of lasers within the concerts of British popular music groups, such as The Who and Pink Floyd out-shadowed the smaller Ostoja works, but their claim of first presentation was carefully noted by Ostoja to be some two years after his own.

With the opening of the Adelaide Festival Theatre in 1974 Ostoja once again combined his use of laser beam projection with innovative set design for Janacek's opera The Excursions of Mr Brouceck. The director of this production was John Tasker who had been the young director of Patrick White's choice for the world premiere of his The Ham Funeral more than a decade before. The kinetic images of his set design using, firstly, rear projection of light and photographed images, and then combined with laser technology, culminated in this memorable production which signalled many landmarks of theatre performance in Australia.

It is now commonplace to see laser beams used in public entertainment, whether as competition for fireworks displays, where the beams project onto clouds or smoke, or as part of the lighting of discotheques, where the constant beat of the music creates startling and mind numbing combinations of sound and image. It is seldom remembered that Ostoja was one of the pioneers of the use of lasers in the art industry. This recognition is diminished even more by remoteness from the centres of art in Europe and America where money, expertise, access to technology and publicity, combine to ensure that due recognition is, at least, achievable.

As a synesthetic, Ostoja was fascinated by the connection between sound and colour. In parallel with his search for the intense red light of the desert he was fascinated by the search to make sound visible. He read American entertainer, Shirley McLaine's book, Out on a Limb, in which she begged the question I wondered if it would ever be possible to see music and to hear the colours of the rainbow. Ostoja wrote to her that As long as I can remember I have seen in my mind, colours and shapes, movement and colours. I have imaginings and corresponding sound. 3 It was this ability to see sound and hear images that prompted Ostoja to develop the techniques and equipment to allow him to share his abilities with his audiences. This ability was countered by the fact that he did not receive formal musical education as a young student in Poland, and as such he was reticent to use sounds of his own making and relied on the experimental and conventional music of others to trigger his images. He did, however, gradually increase his confidence in the medium and eventually was able to produce original electronically generated sound as the basis of some of his works. 4

Personal Explanation.

It was the importance of the international standard Festivals in Adelaide, and then in other centres, that finally allowed Australian audiences to see, first hand, performances by international companies in conventional and experimental genres. Highlights in the experimental included a visit by Stockhausen to the Adelaide University and performances by vocal acrobat, Cathy Berbarian. Their presentation of radically different works from those to which exposure was common was refreshing. The New York Contemporary Chamber Ensemble performed in a series of concerts including the New York soprano Jan DeGaetani. She performed George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children, based on Garcia Lorca's poetry and written for the performer in 1970. This extraordinary work combined close musical elements and the haunting textural images contained within the words. The music experimented with techniques such as singing into an amplified piano, bending the pitch of the piano strings and the offstage singing of DeGaetani's twelve year old son. I was able to observe, at first hand, rehearsals and performances that were ground breaking within the Adelaidian experience. The reception of these groups by Adelaide audiences was exceptional, with the musicians from New York stating that their concerts there often attracted smaller audiences than the nearly full houses in Adelaide. It is perhaps the ground work of those of Ostoja's ilk that served the purpose of training audiences for many years, that enabled this comment to be made.

It was through Ostoja's work as a set designer in opera at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, that I first came into personal contact with him. I was a music student at the University and was the timpanist in the orchestra for several productions. Having seen many of Ostoja's Sound and Image productions including Penderecki's St Luke's Passion, his Chromasonic Tower in Victoria Square, Adelaide, and the very much earlier contact as an audience member of the South Australian Ballet Theatre when on tour to regional South Australia, I was to develop an interest in theatre that has stayed with me since. Ostoja was a constant presence within my personal theatrical and performance cultural development. 5

It is the consideration of the different aspects that Ostoja combined, his experimentation and his passion for the experimental that initially interested me in the production of experimental music and theatre. I had seen the Sound and Image productions and was one of the young, lined up like birds on a wire. I was able to stand in awe at the rhythmic patterns of the 120ft tower in Victoria square, to hear the music and to see the instant reaction of the giant leaf-like structure. I saw the behind the scene activities at the Union Hall Theatre at the Adelaide University. I found myself in the same circle of theatre enthusiasts as Ostoja and his colleagues. This was the beginning of my technical work in theatre and I was eager to learn from those who had experience and were willing to share their knowledge with those who were eager to learn.

In 1968, Derek Jolly purchased the Moog Mark III synthesizer directly from the inventor and, under the teaching of Peter Tahourdin, lecturer in composition at the Elder Conservatorium, I began an interest in electronic and experimental music composition and performance. I was present at the rehearsals when Tahourdin and Ostoja worked on a production, based on aboriginal legends.

I worked on the South Australian Theatre Company's production of Ionesco's Exit The King, composing the music in collaboration with Martin Wesley-Smith. Later, I was to produce sound tracks for several of that company's productions using the tape splicing techniques learned in the composition and editing of electronic music. I wrote the music for George Ogilvy's production of Shakespeare's Corealanus, the main drama production of one of the Adelaide Festivals.

I was developing an interest in experimental music theatre, live improvisation with performers who were willing to participate using their own musical and theatrical skills within a discussed and researched format. Aleatoric music was of particular interest with the refreshing freedom of John Cage contributing a major influence. With the construction of the Little Theatre at the Adelaide University we instigated a series of experimental music/theatre performances that began attracting audiences filling that versatile space. It is interesting to note that concerts of experimental music that took place in the hallowed Elder Hall, a vast barn of a concert hall that could seat many hundreds, attracted very few audience members. There were few who were interested among the conservative Adelaide music patrons.

We moved to spaces in the new Union building above the refectories and found that there were hundreds who were keen to see the new and experimental works we were presenting. The Little Theatre in the same complex allowed excellent light control and added the element that had been missing in Elder Hall. It allowed a sense of the dramatic, a sense of theatre and of intimacy that the larger space could never provide. Here we were able to discover for ourselves the connection that music had with theatre. We were producing works that used projected films as the trigger for improvisation, works based on the six senses, and such things as rhythmic patterns based on bouncing balls. We used as text any words we were attracted to, especially haiku poems. We divided the words into vocal elements and displayed them on graphic scores. We discussed and experimented with the relationship between shapes, colours and sounds, often producing graphic scores that allowed aleatorically elastic works that were satisfying to perform. We were attracting audiences in relatively large numbers and engendered a feeling within the performers that we were involved in an artform that was as musically justifiable as the conventionally high art we had been trained to perform. In addition the works had the theatrically visual element that provided a completeness that is limited in the relatively static conventional music performance.

Having had a classical training as a percussionist, I was keen to develop performance techniques that would allow freedom of expression and to follow Ostoja's intention of freedom from the impediment of convention. With experience of high standard performance with the Seymour Group in Sydney, for which I was a founding board member and concert manager, I found more interest in the freedom of improvisation than in the attachment to written scores and conventional techniques of performance. Modern musical works often have a degree of musical difficulty that, in some performers, creates a nervous uncertainty about the act of performance. On the other hand, some performers thrive on the adrenalin "rush" that such difficulty engenders and on the sense of achievement that the conquest of the score allows. Personally, the reliance on perfection of the score, the written instructions from the composer to the interpreter of the musical intention, can cause attention to be diverted from the creative process. With the aleatoric nature of the music which I compose there is the same feeling of achievement in performance without the danger of playing the wrong notes, losing the place or suffering the scorn of critical audience members who may know all the aspects of the music perfectly.

It was with this in mind that I created a series of performances, often for a combination of voice, percussion and electronics. Since the beginning of the present study, I have often incorporated a theme of social conscience. These include a work called Beyond Conscience, and another called And Heaven Fails, based on the plight of the Timorese in their struggle for independence. In addition to these I have composed a series of pieces for percussion ensemble that formed part of the training of the young percussion ensemble that performed in "In the Hands of Children". For my Master's degree, in the mid 90's, I composed and presented a work entitled Silent Prisoner, which was the forerunner of the two performance works Meditation and "In the Hands of Children", that have been detailed in the preceding pages. Within an extremely limited budget, I produced a calico "tent" with vertical walls, eight metres long and two metres wide. With several movements based on the life stories of prisoners of conscience in Tibet, Chile and Timor and on the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the work included the elements of text, sound dance, mime and intimacy with the audience. The observers were seated in two rows on each side of the "tent". They were able to see the performance on the inside through narrow, horizontal bamboo windows along both sides. The audience was seated within a metre of the performers, allowing intimate eye contact between the actors and their often emotive observers. I was able to use my past experience within theatre to produce a work that was concise, emotive and with a social conscience. This work with "In the hands of Children" would be ideal for further performance. The Aleatoric nature of both works allows for the possiblity of updated material being included.

The two works presented on DVD with this study, and discussed in the preceding pages are, the culmination of the performance art works that have been influenced by the works of Ostoja. They have the elements of soundscape and visual presentation that can be attributed to the early exposure to the Sound and Image genre but presented within my own expertise and culture.

It is perhaps fitting to quote Ian Davidson for the final word on the the work of Ostoja-Kotkowski. Davidson states:

Stan Kotkowski's work will remain represented in the more permanent media - painting, sculpture, theatre decore, book illustration, sketches of work including mechanical design, and literally thousands of photographs held in the Mortlock Library, Adelaide.

Unfortunately a great deal of his work were displays of slides and lasers synchronised to music. Although the slides and tapes exist there is no way of being able to reassemble the original presentations.

I know of only one early computer operated assembly "Time Riders" which was produced and stored on a prototype computer and stored by the then Elizabethan Theatre trust; but it is doubtful whether such a presentation could be reassembled. It may be possible that a video tape has been made of a performance, even in Poland. 6

Such is the impermanence of the medium.

 

 

There were many Sound and Image productions and Ostoja was still planning others when he died in 1994.

 

 

Ian S Macdonald
October 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Footnotes

 

1. My own photography teacher, Dr Frank Drew, a colleague in photography of Ostoja and Davidson, won many awards for his abstract experimental images, but few within Australia.
2. Perhaps it is appropriate to mention that there is a large mural enamel that was commissioned by the Earth Science Department of Melbourne University. It is in the foyer of the building and in a situation where the passageway generates considerable foot traffic. When I saw the mural the Theramin mechanism had been disconnected, probably as a result of the constant production of "noise" within the busy space. A promise to me that the mechanism would be reactivated may have, I fear, fallen on deaf ears!

3.Mortlock Collection

4.He collected machinery and when I was in his studio in the early 70's I saw and used an AKS Synthi synthesizer that was ideal for the production of the types of sound he required. This synthesizer included (like its less portable sibling the VCS3) a simple system of patch pins that could be programmed to create sequences of sounds of high versatility.

5.In 1988, when I was Executive Director and designer of the Australia Day celebrations for the Bicentennial Celebrations in the Australian Capital Territory, I contacted Ostoja to inquire about the possibility of a Sound and Image production for that event. He offered such a presentation for the sum of $15,000, guaranteeing at the same time that my organisation would make a profit on the one-day event. This is perhaps a measure of his confidence in his understanding of the genre and the expectations of his audiences. Sadly, he was ill at the time and negotiations did not continue. This was my last contact with him.

6. Davidson, Ian. Art Theatre and Photography. Davidson 1999.