Artistic development
Polish Origins

Page Index

  1. The Young Joseph Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski

  2. Childhood Experimentation

  3. Arrival in Australia

  4. Ostoja: Beginning Multimedia.
    The other side of silence.
    Collaboration with technology

  5. Sound Sculpturing

  6. The evolution of Ostoja's Electronic Painting 1955-1966

  7. Beyond the Gallery Walls

 

 

 

The Young
Joseph Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski

 

Josef Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski was born on the 28th December, 1922 in Golob, a little over one hundred and fifty kilometres from Warsaw, Poland. His family was middle class, with his father, Stephan, the managing director of a Polish bank and his mother, Jadwiga, controlling a series of libraries in Poland. His grandfather was considered upper class and this perhaps explains the impression of aristocratic bearing that Ostoja carried throughout his life and which often produced the impression of arrogance. The grandfather was described by Ostoja as:-

 

one of the lords of the village - he owned the village, including the people in it. One of the old laws of this part of Europe that the owner owns not only the village, the mill, the buildings, but also the people on it (sic).1

Ostoja's father had an interest in the arts having some skills in drawing. This ability, however, as far as the young boy was concerned, was only ever demonstrated when showing the young Stanislaw how to draw, which he did "with considerable persistence". While encouraging the youth to learn this skill he did, however, try to dissuade him from the idea of a career as an artist.

Having finished high school, Ostoja was encouraged by his father to enter the local university-level school where there was a combination of university academic studies and technological studies. There was considerable competition for acceptance at this institution and the entrance examinations were severe. He was accepted but his preparations to begin were disrupted by the beginning of the Second World War and the subsequent arrest of his father as a prisoner of War in Germany. He avoided conscription into the Nazi army by working for a German doctor as a driver, probably employed because the doctor had a love of art. He drove the car by day and studied his art at night. It is rumoured that he was an active member of the Polish underground.

During the War his mother, sister and the young Ostoja lived in the small town of Przasnysz, 120 kilometres north of Warsaw. Here he met an artist and his teacher, Ubriel Vilesco. He had been developing his study of art by copying old masters and under the guidance of this teacher, who described himself as an "early expressionist", he was encouraged to experiment with landscape and portraiture and to gain an understanding of the heritage of the industry he was soon to enter. The end of the war found Ostoja in Germany having fled, with millions of other refugees, before the advancing Russian army.

Contrary to his father's advice, Ostoja was determined to further his art studies. The Dusseldorf Kunst Akademis (Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Art) was accepting students but there was, once again, great competition for the six places available. With over one hundred potential entrants he was successful in gaining a place and was awarded a scholarship, without which he would have been unable to begin his studies. Between 1946 and 1949 he found himself part of a vibrant exchange of ideas as the Academy was closely associated with art movements in France, Italy and England. With the school being close to the many European cultural centres, there was a constant interchange of thought and exhibitions between artists, galleries and institutions. Encouraged by the Academy these connections allowed the young students to experience much of the movements that were happening in
the visual art world of Europe. Unlike his Australian equivalents who had to travel considerable distances to the world centres in Europe and America, Ostoja was in the centre with all that that proximity entailed.

Ostoja described himself in this period as having been "the odd man out", an expression which would often be levelled at him in different ways throughout his career. He "always seemed to be doing different things than [sic] the rest of the class". This difference and his persistence were the origins of the ability to see things differently, to see beyond the surface and texture and to be able to picture, with intense detail, the end product before even the working processes had been clarified. It was from this starting point that he began the search, subconsciously, for new ideas, new concepts and new art-forms far beyond the knowledge or practice of his peers, even in the centre of ideas and technology in which he studied. He developed a methodology of experimentation, gleaning new techniques and styles of painting from his experience and his observation. He always knew that there was something in his future that he had to discover and to achieve. He understood that the process to his personally perceived success would be a step by step progression and that it would, perhaps take many years.2

 

Ostoja's interest in optical art is not merely technical: to him his optics represent the essential energies of contemporary urban life: people, buildings and the subtle processes of twentieth-century living are present by implication in all his works - in a manner as vital, and as relevant, as they are in the work of, say, John Olsen.

 

Childhood Experimentation

Ostoja-Kotkowski described many of the important childhood thoughts that developed his artistic curiosity and that would remain with him to the end of his days. As a small child he would often wander around the large family home and discover sounds produced by squeaking doors with which he would experiment to the distraction of his family. He found these sounds quite fascinating. He was amused, years later, when French composer Pierre Henry composed a work for amplified and manipulated door squeaks. His family culture ensured that he was exposed to more conventional musical forms but he never excluded these "noises" as a possible source of musical and artistic attention for the future. He was developing a sense of the importance of all sounds as useful expressions, contrary to the cultural acceptance of conventional "musical" sounds. He later expressed disappointment that he was not encouraged to study music as a child.

Ostoja's sense of visual experimentation he attributed likewise to childhood experimentation. He would, when lying in bed at night, squeeze his eyes tightly with his hands until he would start to see images of constantly changing colours and shapes, inside his eyelids. In the day he would look at the sun then shut his eyes to glimpse the after image. He often continued these actions until his eyes hurt and he could no longer cope with the pain.

In discussing his boyhood dreams Ostoja described a purposely developed ability to detach himself from reality, travelling at will, beyond the restrictions of his body. He presented the idea that many people dream about being able to fly. Most of us can fly in dreams, he stated. As a young boy he consciously expanded this dream and adapted the feeling of falling and flying. He described the dream he often had of walking in a jungle and suddenly finding himself falling down. Most people, he states, at this stage wake up in fright. He also woke up when this dream occurred, until one day he made a conscious decision that he was not going to wake up and that he determined to control what would happen when he again fell in his dreams. After several months of trying, he managed to be on the verge of sleep and consciousness, which he describes as the place where you can half feel that you can do and half realise that you are asleep. It was in this state that he decided that he did not need to fall and that he could fly. He then practised the flying until he could be where ever he wanted to be. When interviewed for the Australian National Library De Berg Tapes for the oral history collection, he describes this flying process with great clarity. It was the inspiration for his art works over the many years that followed.

 

I can still fly every time I think that I should fly, because in my dreams I am in danger of something, or I want to reach something, and there is no other way except through the air. So I take off and fly, and over the years I was practising flying and trying to get higher and higher, including getting out of the earth's atmosphere. The first place I was able to reach was half way between here and the moon. That was, of course, long before any projects of flying to the moon were ever realise It was definitely not an after image from happenings around the world. I dreamt about things before the War, during the War. I was able to stretch my journey always, but every time I think that I can stretch only to a certain extent - I have to stop at one point and turn back, otherwise I wonÕt be able to find my way back to the earth.3

This ability to "fly" had a major effect on his art. When discussing his life for the National Library's De Berg Tapes in 1969 Ostoja explains that he was still, frequently having these dreams and that the ability to fly was something which naturally reflects in my painting. He describes this reflection of his journeys in the paintings and explains that:

 

My paintings....in most cases have no top and bottom. It would be like an artist being borne in space where he has no gravity. To this artist there would be no top and bottom because there would be no gravity, and I have felt that for a long time, therefore, why not have paintings which did exist in a non-gravitational field, like they'd been painted in space. 4

In Ostoja's work this ability to see from beyond the practical existence became obvious when he experimented with techniques of abstract-expressionism that he had observed and explored in Dusseldorf and which he brought with him as a new immigrant upon arrival on Australian shores in 1949.

Early childhood experiments of a more practical nature were also important in developing an essential ability for his work as a designer of opera, theatre and, later in his career, when working with cutting edge technology. Ostoja developed an ability to foresee practical solutions to design problems. The designing of innovative theatre sets requires a practical, visual imagination and Ostoja attributes this ability to his childhood attempts to make and repair objects. He was the type of child who liked to pull things apart, but his ability to visualise how to put them back together again probably made him the exception to the general rule.

He found this developed ability useful during and immediately after the War when he was able to earn some money by repairing phonograms and radios (providing that the problem was not too complicated). Expand this ability into the theatre and you have a useful tool in the practical design and building of scenery, whilst ensuring that both the restraints of the budget and the soaring imagination are both satisfied. Expand it into the realms of technology with electronically generated images, the projection of laser beams, Sound and Image productions and eventually computer generated images and the need for technical assistance from appropriate technicians and scientists becomes obvious when the need was indeed too complicated.

Ostoja's interest in music and theatre was nurtured in Dusseldorf by the fact that, as a student, he was able to attend the theatre and opera at least once a week, for little cost, and that the productions were of an exceptionally high standard. Having branched into semi-abstract and abstract painting, while at the Fine Arts Academy, Ostoja suddenly, in his third year, discovered that music should be part of the painting, or that painting should be part of music.

He describes his personal connection with the ability of musicians to express themselves:-

 

Musicians very often describe paintings or they describe nature with sound, but I always felt that the sound should be expressed strongly, in some kind of a form or shape. 5

As a result, Ostoja spent many hours listening to music and drawing at the same time.

 

I was trying to draw music, just pure, sheer, clean music, or tone, or form; the musical form.6

Ostoja's decision to come to Australia came from the need, after graduating from the Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Arts, to explore the world and to find new directions and new horizons for his work. He began a search for something, something he could not define and something that did not become clear for several years, something that was to prove perhaps the single most important pursuit and one which lasted to the end of his life. He also felt the need to get a little bit far away from Europe (sic) , from the devastation of the European conflict and from the fact that the world in which he had grown to adulthood, had changed beyond recognition.

He travelled through France, Switzerland and then Italy where he finally boarded a boat and came to Australia as part of the Australian Government's Immigration Scheme. This meant that he was contracted to the Australian Government to work for two years. He found that, upon arrival, he had to do whatever the Department of Immigration told him to do. The culture of his newly adopted country did not recognise the fact that he was a qualified and talented artist. One wonders if this aspect of career recognition has dramatically changed within the Australian ethos with those artists, dependent on some form of governmental social support, often being required to go outside their talent and knowledge to fulfil the bureaucratic idea that pursuit of art is a hobby and of little importance to either the artist, the community or tothe development of humanity.

 

Neither will painters cease to explore new ways of creating aesthetically valuable visual objects and .... they will inevitably continue to reflect .... the ways in which the nature of the physical world enters their intelligence and feelings.
C.H.Waddington,
University of Edinburgh
10

 

 

 


Fig 1. Painting produced in the Maribyrnong Migrant Hostel soon after arrival in Australia.

 

 

 

 


Fig 2. Ostoja with the Maribyrnong painting with the hostel in the background..

Arrival in Australia

Ostoja-Kotkowski arrived in Melbourne on the P & O ship "Fairsea" towards the end of 1949. He went to the Bonegilla Migrant Hostel near Albury for a short time.

After moving to Melbourne, Ostoja was assigned to a cement factory where he worked for a few months until he was able to change to a new position of making sandwiches for an army camp. The need to pursue his artistic career was a driving force. He realise that he needed to study more and enrolled at the Victorian National Gallery's School of Fine Arts. Here he studied notably with Sir William Dargie and Allen Sumner. With the work for the army requiring him to begin at 3.00am and the Art School requiring his presence from 2.00pm to 9.00pm, he soon realised that he would be unable to sustain this gruelling schedule. In the Bulletin he was quoted as saying that he cut some six hundred sandwiches per day. But, he stated, we ate. We all ate. I don't think there's ever been such a well fed group of students at the gallery. He sought and found a new job as a night watchman in a Melbourne nightclub. As his English was still not fluent he approached his teacher, Alan Sumner, asking him to go to the Department of Immigration and help him to cancel the contract with the government so that he could take up this new work. The department's paternalistic reaction was that they could not allow a young, impressionable immigrant to work in such a colourful establishment. He continued to serve his newly adopted country to the best of his ability, cutting sandwiches for the army.

The staff and students of the Victorian Art School valued Ostoja as a primary source for practical evidence of the techniques of Abstract Expressionism that had been a major influence on Ostoja as he studied in the Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Art. Working in oils at the time he enabled the artists with whom he had contact to view at first hand the techniques they had seen only in prints and in books.

When he finished studying at the School of Fine Arts he approached many potential employers in the advertising industry thinking that they would be keen to employ this aristocratic looking young artist who was able to demonstrate ideas and abilities which he, at least, considered new and exciting. Unfortunately the reaction from one after the other was that his ideas were well beyond their own and the perceived requirements of their customers. They made it quite clear to him that the techniques they had been using for the previous decades were good enough. They did not appreciate being told that the world had changed.

For a while he worked for Prestige Limited, a hosiery company, founded by George Foletta in the 1920's, and which, after the Second World War, had branched into fabric design. There was a team of émigré artists and designers, including Viennese born, award winning designer, Susan Tandler.

His determination to pursue a career as an artist was the deciding factor in the move he made from Melbourne. He took a job in Leigh Creek, in an isolated region of northern South Australia, that would allow him to earn and save enough to work towards his own exhibitions. Here he worked in the coal-mines for a year. It was in the South Australian desert that he discovered that element of his childhood dreams that he knew would be the basis of his artistic work well into the future. It was the light, the contrast and the changing colours of the desert. Unlike earlier European artists who had arrived on Australian shores, Ostoja was able to see the Australian landscape for what it was, and not through the eyes of a fixed and conventional artist. He was immediately at home and able to adapt his disrupted European tradition to his newly discovered inspiration. He was able to make several trips into the centre of Australia where he described the colours as superb, vivid and alive.

 

I'd get up in the morning, just before the sunrise, and everything is covered in blue, and you could swear this is blue. You look at a stone and you take it in your hand and you touch it and it is still blue, and then you get a green sky with pink clouds, or pink sky with green clouds.7

Experimentation with colour and with the new qualities of paints becoming available, the search for light in Ostoja's painting became his most passionate pursuit. He discarded oil paints in favour of the new PVA products. In these he discovered a luminosity that he was previously unable to obtain. He mixed pigments with the PVA and was able to produce work so that the light has to go through the [work] and bounce off the back of the canvas and give me then luminosity (sic). He was able to capture the effects of the light he had seen in the desert and the "vivid colours of the outback - colours he has been unable to buy in pots from the paint shop." He mentions one particular painting, purchased by the National Gallery in Melbourne, in which a crimson colour was prominent.

 

I managed to get a light, shape, form into this crimson, and ..... people go to the canvas and look behind it and think that there is a light installed behind. 8

He was critical of many of the Australian art fraternity who were, in his opinion, entrenched within conventions and who had not taken example from the old masters in experimenting with new techniques and materials. The old masters, he explained had carried out their own experimentation and applied this to their works if conventional materials and techniques were inadequate for the work they were wanting to produce. The Australian artists were satisfied with the available materials and the inherited traditions of the conventional art world. He was quoted in The Australian as stating that,

 

Many artists - especially in Australia - work within traditional limits of materials and ideas. They have no interest in technology. They are lazy and don't realise that there is a whole new range of materials for them to use. 9

This criticism perhaps did not endear Ostoja to others working as painters at the time but it is an indication of the impatience he had for the acceptance of the available materials and techniques. He wanted to explore new concepts and techniques for which he would need new media, new tools and the practical technology needed to apply these to his art.

He was achieving, at least the beginning of the search for the ability to produce works of art in which light, not just the colour, was the driving and primary force. His description of the crimson work indicates the pursuit of a three dimensionality where the canvas, the two dimensional conventional basis of painting, was replaced with a third dimension of projected depth and, eventually the fourth dimension of time. His painting was gradually supplemented by the development of techniques where light was to stand alone as the basis of his art works.

In 1955 after working in the mines of Leigh Creek and painting houses there, he had saved enough from his labours to mount a one-man exhibition of paintings and drawings in Adelaide. He exhibited thirty-six paintings at the South Australian Royal Society of Arts Gallery on North Terrace, Adelaide. His abstract paintings stimulated attention, but few sales. This exhibition was opened by R.H. Morrison, South Australian poet, who was to become a friend of the artist for many years. Selling only one work at the exhibition he returned to painting houses.

In the following year he exhibited in Sydney with six other painters and again most of the critics were scathing. John Miles, arts journalist for The Advertiser, Adelaide, was more supportive.

 

When he introduced to Adelaide his op art and electronics, and his marriage of music, colour, sound and movement, some people thought he was a bit mad. But some people could see that he had talent. 11

 


Fig 3. Ostoja-Kotkowski Forms in Landscape

 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The feeling of the immigrant in a new land was brought out in the reaction to one of the works that Ostoja exhibited in Sydney with several other Adelaide artists. This painting, Forms in Landscape, according to Our Art Critic in the Sydney Morning Herald, allowed Ostoja's soul to simmer. The work was described as
 

A large and, of course, melancholy work. The tones are depressed but the forms reveal (at least momentarily) a peace quite unexpected in this turbulent exhibition. 12

This expectation that the artist working in the avant-garde must produce works which are startling, busy and perhaps ill-considered is continued when the anonymous critic states,

 

When one also considers that here at least the "soul-state" resolves itself in the last instant into a credible painting, where the criteria of "picture-making" (horrible word)[sic] are observed, one can see that this must be a remarkable achievement indeed. Whatever freedom an artist may claim, he must discover the boundaries within which he will work, and moreover discover the logic of whatever method he chooses to employ. Without self-consciously regarding style, he nevertheless must achieve a stylistic oneness. 13

This cautious critic would have Ostoja building boundary fences around his imagination and restrict him to a stylistic oneness within. He was not aware that this artist in particular, was able to see past both self generated and social boundaries and that he needed, not only to use expression beyond the conventions of the time, but also to see that there was a future around which there were no real or imaginative boundaries. Ostoja's expression that his paintings were as if observed from beyond reality, without the boundaries of top and bottom, indicates that the conventions the critic was eager to impose were inappropriate to an artist of Ostoja's imagination and ability.

Included in Ostoja's June 1962 exhibition at the Argus Gallery in Melbourne, were a series of works described as porcelain enamel baked onto sheet metal. Bill Hannan, writing in The Bulletin describes them as having the rich, jewel-like appeal of enamels, while retaining at the same time the dimensions of free, abstract painting. Comparing Ostoja's intention in both the acrylic paintings and the porcelain works in this mixed media exhibition, Hannan suggests that there are two quite distinct aesthetic intentions. The acrylic works are described as being more beautiful and striking, while the enamels were more harsh, less subtle in colour range and producing a jarring effect of a mixture of large blotches and splashes. Hannan states that Ostoja manages, rather in the way the musique concrete specialists do in their field, to force us back to a consideration of the basic, and usually unexamined effects of his materials . He concludes by stating that, no matter whether the viewer likes the works or not, they will appear to be stimulating. The connection between the intention of Ostoja with these works and musique concrete schools is perhaps more appropriate than the critic intended.

According to Ostoja the vitreous enamel works described above were the first of their kind to be manufactured in Australia. This process of enamel on sheet metal, having the advantage of not being affected by climatic conditions, with colours that do not fade, he says, was used commonly by American architects for outside decoration of buildings. This was one of the factors that eventually led other visual artists critically to describe Ostoja as being preoccupied with the commercial aspects of the arts. Perhaps this criticism was rather an indication that Ostoja was willing to accept any new processes and techniques no matter what the source, and similarly an indication of the gap between this artist and the more conventional members of the South Australian and perhaps even Australian art "aristocracy".

This exhibition was also seen in Sydney at the Macquarie Gallery and in the Bonython Gallery in Adelaide. Here the art critic James Gleeson, while describing the works in glowing terms - clever techniques and striking decorative sense, enamels glowing with jewelled intensity, colours melting into the surface - suggests that the artist has created the technique for the sake of the technique and not in order to say something; what he says is simply the by-product of the technique. In hindsight it is worth noting that these works, as with all the Ostoja works, whilst being complete in themselves, could perhaps be considered works in progress in the overall output he worked through over time. He was never satisfied that he had said all that was to be said, no matter what the process and no matter what the medium. In line with Ostoja's description of the flying dreaming inspiration of his works with their lack of top and bottom the positioning of individual works could also be considered as being part of his own continuum.

The evolution of Ostoja's Electronic Painting
1955-1966

 

Electronically generated images produced by Ostoja and a team of scientists and technicians at the Philips Industries Hendon Workshops in Adelaide. The images were photographed and first presented as artworks within the Argus Gallery Exhibition in 1964.

Yet they were not photographs in the ordinary sense; they were truly self-projecting images of great potency. I am still haunted by the profound impression of beauty I received from those images which I saw on several occasions at Melbourne's Argus Gallery in July 1964
Adrian Rawlins

Art in Australia Vol 19 No. 3 Autumn 1982


Fig 4. Ostoja with M. Kaye at the Hendon workshops of Philips Industries.


Fig 5. Earliest experiments with Electronic Painting, between 1955 and 1960. Modified television and photography.


Fig 6. Early experiments with Electronic Painting, between 1955 and 1960. Modified television and photography.


Fig 7. Early experiments with Electronic Painting, between 1955 and 1960. Modified television and photography.


Fig 8. Early experiments with Electronic Painting, between 1955 and 1960. Modified television and photography.


Fig 9. Landscape like image made as an early experiment with Electronic Painting, between 1955 and 1960. Modified television and photography.


Fig 10. Electronic Painting, 1960. Photographed modified television screen.


Figure 11. Electronic Painting, 1960. Photographed modified television screen.


Figure 12.Cable tower like image. Electronic Painting, 1960. Photographed modified television screen.


Fig 13. Electronic Painting, 1960. Photographed modified television screen.


Fig 14. Organic like Electronic Painting, 1960. Photographed modified television screen.


Fig 15. Futuristic "inhabited landscape". Electronic Painting, 1960. Photographed modified television screen.


Fig 16. Superb organic geometrical image. Electronic Painting Argus Gallery Exhibition, 1964.


Fig 17.
Electronic Painting Argus Gallery Exhibition, 1964.


Fig 18. Exploring the commercial aspects of Electronic Painting 1960's


Fig 19. Exploring the commercial aspects of Electronic Painting1960's


Fig 20. Electronic Painting Argus Gallery Exhibition, 1966


Fig 21. Electronic Painting Argus Gallery Exhibition, 1966


Fig 22. Electronic Painting Argus Gallery
Exhibition, 1966


Fig 23. Electronic Painting, Adelaide Festival Exhibition. 1966

 


Fig 24. Electronic Painting, Adelaide Festival Exhibition. 1966

 


Fig 25. Electronic Painting, Adelaide Festival Exhibition. 1966

 


Fig 26. Electronic Painting, Adelaide Festival Exhibition. 1966

 


Fig 27. Laser projection (1972) demonstrating the similarity
of shape with the television produced images.



Fig 28. Lacelike delicacy of the projected laser image. (1968)

Ostoja: Beginning Multimedia.

The other side of silence.

Collaboration with technology

Always experimenting in new concepts, and whilst travelling from Central Australia, Ostoja discovered a new method for making images without brush or canvas. This was to prove to be the foundation of his future art. He had a television set and he began to manipulate the image that he was able to produce. He worked out how to throw the picture out of synchronisation and dramatically alter the contrast and alignment. He was able to produce changing and "superb" images and thus began the input of technology into his paintings.

It was in 1964 that Ostoja's first series of electronic "paintings" was exhibited at the Argus Gallery in Melbourne. This consisted of several unnamed works that were produced on a television screen. He had begun seriously experimenting with the use of television technology in 1960 although the idea occurred before that time. His understanding of technology was less than adequate for what he wanted to achieve, but sufficient to know that his intentions were possible. He was neither a technician nor a scientist and so he approached the Philips Electronic workshops in Hendon, South Australia for assistance in this new direction. Here several technicians were willing to spend time and energy in altering their refined technology, to produce images that were new and different from those used in conventional artworks and, indeed, different from those of the conventional use of the television screen. Later in an interview for the Australian Broadcasting Commission seeking information about Ostoja's electronic art, he stated that he had not changed his ideas about painting but had rather simply changed the tools he used.

When those involved in an industry, with evolutionary technology produce an object such as a television set, there is a pride in the experimentation and the perfection of practice on the part of the scientists and technicians. The development occurs through stepwise refinement, modification and the eventual production of mundane objects that are, for all intents and purposes, identical. With the intervention of an artist such as Ostoja-Kotkowski, whose imagination could see past the perfection and past the need for exact duplication, the technicians are often bemused and sceptical of the requests to step back from the perfection and to use the ordinary to produce the extraordinary. Ostoja proved, throughout his career to be the master of this process. His technical knowledge was basic but he had a vision of possibilities that perhaps derived from his cultured ability to "fly". He was capable of standing back from the object to see images and sounds that were, before that time, impossible to produce.

The electronic imaging that was produced by the modified television at Hendon, allowed him to manipulate images on the television screen. They were made by disconnecting the normal synchronising circuit in a cathode ray gun and controlling the random pattern on the screen, by means of a specially made control panel. According to the Philips Industries journal, Announcer, the final image is chance wedded to the artist's skill in organising the random intervals which make the patterns. These changing shapes were then photographed, enlarged and the recorded image was displayed as the artwork. Ostoja stated that the initial images produced by this method were crude and very simple, but with the help of the scientists and much experimentation the control became more refined. He finally produced about one hundred and twenty photographed images from which, by a process of elimination, those displayed at the Argus Gallery were selected.

The Announcer article makes the interesting point that the exhibited images were not, in the eyes of the article's author, photographs as they were not "of anything" but were abstract in nature. He demonstrates a curiosity in the adaptation of the technology but a naive understanding of the importance of the art form he was describing. The first collection of these images was displayed at the Argus Gallery in Melbourne in 1964. In his letter to Bruce Adams of the Power Institute of Fine Arts in Sydney he states that electronic images were again exhibited at the Argus Gallery in 1965 and then repeated at Gallery A in Sydney in 1966 and that these included sound activated "chromasonics" and colour changing polachromatics. The fertile ground of Ostoja's mind was never satisfied with the here and now but constantly working, changing and pushing the boundaries that his art and technology tried to impose. It is in the earliest Argus Gallery exhibition of the Electronic Paintings that Ostoja made the claim that these were the first electronically generated images to be displayed as artworks. Although this claim is difficult to prove, the international journal Announcer, published in the Netherlands by Philips Industries, was obviously of the opinion that their company had been the provider of the technology for experimentation they considered to be a world first.14

In an article in the Bulletin, under the by-line of Batman 15, there is a discussion of the reception of the 1964 Argus Gallery Exhibition. Batman states that of all the critics only Alan Warren of The Sun gave the exhibition a pass. He explains that the works were described as "Wurlitzer Art" which made Ostoja erupt more than slightly:

 

Everything with them has to be traditional. Unless you sit down with an easel, a paintbrush and oils, to them it is not art. They cannot understand that in this new age we have to branch out into new methods. To paint this world of space we have to use electronics. 16

John Miles, however, stated that

 

Stan won his battle for recognition of electronic art as a serious art form, and he won it without compromise.17

With one exception the critics also had a field day condemning the work in the 1965 Argus exhibition describing the process as hopeless, useless, it was a waste of time and a waste of money. Ostoja stated that one of the most vocal critics would some four years later, extend an invitation to him to travel to Sydney to lecture on his electronic artwork. The artist took some pleasure in reminding the critic of his harsh words. Ostoja was granted the diploma of the International Federation of Photography in 1964 for his contribution to electronic photography. This was recognition in the international arena even if at home his work was largely disregarded by critics and the art world alike. Perhaps if he had received adequate recognition for this work the published histories of photography would include the name Ostoja-Kotkowski as the one of the originators of electronic painting rather than restricting the claim to those closer to the centres of the art world of Europe and the USA.

If one were to ask if Ostoja was aware of other artists working in similar media throughout the world, there is considerable evidence to suggest that he was in contact with others. He wrote articles published in Leonardo, he was in contact with members of Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.). Whilst mentioning his production of the Electronic Painting images produced with the assistance of scientists from Philips Industries he states that, while this was an important breakthrough he was, at the time of their production, aware that there were others working in the same area one in Germany (at the time Paik was working there before moving to the USA) and the other, probably Mann Ray, in the United States of America. 18

Ostoja regarded the collaboration with technology as a factor of prime importance to bridge the gap between an idea and its realisation. He made contact with Billy Kluver, one of the founders of E.A.T. (with engineer Fred Waldhauer and artists Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman), to develop the relationship between technology and art. Kluver with his collaborators was successful in attracting funding for E.A.T. and Ostoja suggests that this was in the amount of some $100,000 annually. Throughout his career Ostoja was often to approach universities and other institutions to develop a school for the development of Australian technology in the arts. He was never really successful whilst enjoying relationships at different times with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Australian National University (ANU), Adelaide University, Prahran College, Philips Research Laboratories, Weapons Research Establishment (WRE)(Salisbury, South Australia) and others.

The foresight and entrepreneurial nature of business in America when demonstrating support for the arts was amply exampled in the Bell Laboratories which provided equipment, space and technology that allowed the ongoing development of experimental arts. Ostoja enjoyed the same relationship with various such Australian laboratories over many years but his call for a permanent facility of this type fell constantly on deaf ears. In a letter to Mr Bruce Adams of the Power Institute of Fine Arts in Sydney he acknowledges the assistance of the Philips Laboratories staff including Malkon Key, Peter Rudge, Dr A. Nicholls and Dr G. de van Gipps. These names were not the Billy Kluver and Fred Walhauer of E.A.T that was founded in America in 1966 with artists such as Rauschenberg, but they were presenting the Australian artist with technological support that allowed the development of work that can easily be compared for ingenuity and foresight with Ostoja's American peers. How much would Ostoja and other Australian artists have been able to achieve if this support had been a constant and reliable aspect of artistic endeavour?

The importance of the collaboration with technologists was discussed by Billy Kluver in a letter to the editor of the new York Times, commenting on an article entitled A Bucolic Honeymoon for Art and Science by Anna Novakov. He states

 

I have always thought that engineers and artists shared hands-on sensibility about working with material, but I have never seen engineers as mere 'facilitators' of artists' ideas. I have always called for one-to-one collaborations between artists and engineers and scientist, each acting in his or her professional capacity. Such equal collaborations will open up possibilities for the artwork that neither could have predicted before they started working together. 19

It is an indication of Ostoja's forward thinking that he discussed, with the technical staff of the Philips laboratories in the time of his experimentation with them, an idea that he was to experiment with for many years. The concept was to build a "thought transmitting unit" by which an artist could merely think and the though processes harnessed to produce images visible to others. In his letter to Bruce Adams, written several years later, he explains that he realised that the process was "at that time far fetched" but he began to investigate the possibilities. In the Argus exhibition he displayed information and diagrams of this imagined process. He realised that the development of such a process would be expensive and require an establishment devoted to such concepts. Later when Ostoja was travelling as part of his 1967 Churchill Fellowship he pursued this idea when he arranged to watch an experiment at Nedzki Institute in Warsaw which was based around electroencephalograph technology. He explained that he realised that one more important breakthrough would be necessary in science before I could start applying - still in theory only - my idea of thought generated and activated images. It was this pursuit that introduced Ostoja to the use of laser technology when, again as part of the Churchill Fellowship, he travelled to both Japan and the USA. Later he was to experiment with this new medium at the Laser laboratories at the Department of Supply in Salisbury, South Australia. He could see that the use of lasers to present three dimensional images could by-pass holographic techniques which he on several occasions expressly dismissed as a means of practical presentation of such images.

The letter to Adams continues that he discovered the work of Dr. B Brown in California whose research traced the Alpha rhythms produced by the human brain. He explains that the discovery of alpha waves by H Berger in 1929 was not followed through until 1958 when experimenters (including Dr B. Brown) began to work in this area. Ostoja quotes Time Magazine (July 19, 1972) If the system works as well as current research suggests, it may prove a boon for psychology, psychiatry, education and even industry. Ostoja added artists, musicians and even athletes as strong producers of alpha waves to the list who could use such technology.

Ostoja contacted Dr Brown in California with the intention of visiting during his Churchill fellowship and his interest in her work prompted the following reply.

 

....while I am certainly no artist, I have the strong feeling that the feelings engendered by artistic compositions have a psychological substrate which should be explored much more fully in the areas of human medicine and communications. I am particularly interested in attempting to translate the complex wave patterns into art or music patterns and believe that this could have therapeutic properties. 20

It was with regret that Ostoja stated that this was as far as he was able to go at the time - most of it unfortunately still in theory. Once more the budget needed to finance an alpha-image generator would have required, according to Ostoja, a university or institution to sponsor it. The enthusiasm he expressed in the letter was tempered by the sentence that I am full of hope that we here in Australia will not be too late with realising this idea or else, in ten years time, we will be copying it from overseas. This hope was one that Ostoja was often to express as his forward thinking concepts were seen around the world before Ostoja himself was able to put them into practical application.

Ostoja was to continue this experimentation with alpha waves for many years. He apparently never succeeded in producing a practical application beyond a simple device by which someone who was experienced in meditation, strong in producing alpha waves, when connected to sensors, could, by thinking of colours trigger changing sounds. These experiments continued until at least 1975.

In the Announcer article, Ostoja was quoted as saying that he did not want to smear art with science, as most of his critics claim, but to free the artist from the impediment of means. Electronic methods of creating images can lead to more immediate articulation of ideas and to an art that takes place within the world of tomorrow rather than at variance with it. Most of the prints, according to the Announcer bore a similarity to those of American photographer, Man Ray's Rayograms but with the difference that Ostoja's images were of a more organic nature and Ray's were more mechanically and conventionally produced looking like camera time exposures of moving images. Ostoja's images gave no hint of their means of manufacture, placing emphasis and importance on the qualities of the final product, on the image rather than on the process. Announcer suggested that the images were perfectly attuned to the space age, vistas of a world on the other side of silence.21

Ostoja's photographs of the images produced with the modified television process were displayed in the Argus Gallery exhibition asworks of art in their own right. The process was regarded by the artist, not as the end product but as a means to the end. The images displayed showed no reference to the technique that had produced it and that was left behind in the laboratory. The images were coming from Ostoja's painting background and he used a method of display of the product that was conventional to him and a venue where art was traditionally displayed.

On the other hand, the works of Nam June Paik, Korean born artist, whose work at the same time as Ostoja's experiments with electronic images, concerned itself with images on television where the television was considered part of the art work. In this case the medium was the message. Like Ostoja Paik was of an upper-middleclass family with an early interest in technology. Unlike Ostoja he was an accomplished musician and expressed his feeling of inferiority to painters and composers, perhaps the reason he diverged from the conventions of music and art. He was much influenced by Jasper Johns and John Cage, whom he considered to be the 'big guys', but was not interested in competing with them. He was, and intended to remain, different. He stated I will find something new - the moving painting with sound. 22 Ostoja's and Paik's artistic paths were thus destined to cross despite the fact that they were not to meet.

In 1963 Paik had an exhibition entitled Exposition of Music - Electronic Television in Wuppertal, Germany in which his first "electronic paintings" - thirteen TV sets with scrambled images, were displayed. His intention was to remove the TV set from its customary context and function and altered its components to produce unexpected effects. Instead of viewing scheduled programmes Paik manipulated the televisions to receive more than one station one at a time producing the effect that he described as abstract interference with corresponding noises. His primary concern was constructive alteration. Referring to an aesthetic of fluctuation - a kind of anti-higher art. This work signalled the beginning of a lifelong effort to deconstruct and demystify television and to change the perception of television as simply mass home entertainment. He then diverged into video with the purchase of one of the first Sony video cameras in 1965. He filmed a traffic jam caused by the Pope's visit to New York and showed the result at the Cafe a Go Go where he handed out leaflets stating As collage technique replaced oil paint, the cathode-ray tube will replace the canvas. 23 He stated People talk about 'the future' being tomorrow, 'the future' is now.24

The differences between those working in Northern Hemisphere and the main proponent of the medium in the antipodes makes Ostoja's work unique at the time and of artistic integrity equal to his peers

Throughout his career Ostoja was very efficient at both attracting and generating publicity beyond that of the critics. With this ability, and despite early difficulties with his adopted language, he was more than able to provide the interested readers, who were often drawn more from the scientific, photographic and specialised electronic media than from conventional art journals and his art-world peers, with his own ideas of the direction and intention of the processes upon which he had embarked. The Australian art world was largely unaware of the tangents that were developing through technology throughout the rest of the world. Ostoja was producing images and sound works that were paralleling the experimentation occurring in the USA and in specific studios in Europe. The 1964 Argus Gallery exhibition and subsequent exhibitions incorporated works that the artist categorised as "chromosonics", pieces that kept changing colour as the works were observed and exhibits that were activated by sound. He states that this was all new then. No one knew about these things here in Australia. This comment does nt answer the question as to whether Ostoja considered them firsts beyond the Australian shores but at least were considered firsts in his adopted land.

 

 

It is perhaps interesting to note here, the works of the parallel artist Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack whose influence within the pre Second World War European art world is unquestioned. This prominent Bauhaus artist was interred in Hay, New South Wales as an alien after fleeing an anti-Jewish Germany to Britain and deportation to Australia. Like Ostoja-Kotkowski, Hirschfeld-Mack had experimented with colour, light and sound and had developed an international reputation as an artist. One wonders what could have happened if both these experimental artists had made the decision to live in the USA rather than the relative obscurity of the isolated Australian art world. Ostoja at least was young enough to have his career ahead of him and a determination to succeed that could not be ignored. Hirschfeld-Mack, on the other hand, had already received major recognition for his printmaking and the organisation of music festivals (and other aspects) of Bauhaus festivals, arrived in Australia under the ignominy of a prisoner of war, to be interred behind barbed wire at Hay in New South Wales. It is ironic, in the present Australian social atmosphere that he was, as a Jewish refugee, treated in the same way that Australia treats such refugees from more modern conflicts. His acceptance of the relative obscurity of a career as Art Master in Geelong Grammar School in Victoria was in preference to the notoriety of the international stage. With the experimental nature of the works of both these artists, and the search for the combination and interaction of sound and image the opportunity for these artists to interact would have been of interest. The only connection that appears to have been made between the two was by Ian Davidson in his discussion of the use of a colour organ, of which Hirchfeld Mack was a pioneer in the pre-war European art world, in Ostoja's Sound and Image production of Orpheus.

There are many articles written about Ostoja both for critical purposes and for publicity. With many of the art world critics being openly hostile to the electronic painting that Ostoja was presenting in public galleries it is perhaps necessary to discuss the opinions of those who were less authoritative in art matters but knowledgeable within other fields of endeavour. There is a parallel in this idea in the audiences attracted by his exhibitions. Ostoja found that his audience consisted of a new generation of Australians. The older generations shook their heads and joined the critics in their condemnation, while the fascinated newer generations were extremely enthusiastic and returned many times to view the exhibitions. Ostoja likened the young sitting watching his kinetic works as birds sitting on a wire.

In Camera World International the author of Electronic Images suggests to his readers that Ostoja's works presented in 1964 at the Argus Gallery in Melbourne were not only a startling conception but magnificent in execution. Further the article states that you may like them, you may hate them, but you certainly can't ignore them, for they provide a glimpse into the future of expressionism. This author is fascinated by the technical aspects of the works, describing, in great detail, the modifications and subsequent control in the production of the television images produced in the Philips Hendon workshops.

 

When making electronic images, the black and white intervals used can come from broadcast television programs or from square wave and sine wave generators. The timing of the lines is adjusted by hand after disconnecting the normal synchronising circuitry. The shape of the picture can be controlled by magnetic fields. A permanent magnet, or more conveniently, a DC electromagnet, can be used to bend parts of the picture, whilst an AC electromagnet supplied with current at picture repetition frequency (frame frequency), can be used to form swirls and folds, the nature of the shape depending on the phase angle between the magnetic field and the picture repetition frequency.25

Ostoja was not always generous of his acknowledgement of those working with him, but like the division of his audiences, he seemed to be more willing to give acknowledgement when discussing his work with technical publications rather than with art publications. In these he seemed to prefer to be considered as a one man institution rather than one of a team, albeit the instigator of experimentation and the team member with the concepts and imagination to extend past the technical. In the article Electronic Images, Camera World International lists the scientists working on the modified television project and includes Mr H.J. Brown, Dr G.deV.Gipps, Dr Angus Nicholson and Mr Peter T Rudge and the technical team from the research laboratories of Philips Electrical Industries of Australia in Hendon, South Australia.

Sound Sculpturing

With Ostoja's professed interest in the connection between music and painting he felt the need for his exhibitions to include more than silent images hanging on white walls. He was not a trained musician and relied to a great extent on pre-existing music, appropriate to the images he was presenting, to enhance the experience of the viewing audience. His fascination with sound provided an airing of one of the first uses of electronic music in the country. He developed an interactive device where sound, mostly pre-recorded, was the trigger for light works.

 

I filled the exhibition room with electronic sounds, that was the first time that's been done here in Australia, and then I tapped the sound and plugged into my exhibit. What happened there was that every time sound came in from the loudspeaker the exhibit came to life and the globes inside were activated by the different frequencies of sound. 26

Within a few years Ostoja was able to generate sounds that were to rely on the presence of the audience through the incorporation of theremins into the foundation of his works. He also used more simple techniques in which pre-recorded music was the triggering source of lighting within the particular work. These works reacted to music played as part of the exhibits causing the thousands of light globes of different colours to react in banks, depending on the frequencies of sound produced. This gave the appearance of the sculpture reacting to both the pitch and the rhythm of the music. Now the foundation of any disco and many computer programmes incorporating sound and image, at the stage of Ostoja's experimentation, this was cutting edge technology capturing the amazement of the many thousands of ordinary Australians who travelled to see the results.

In 1969 when discussing this technology for the National Library he stated:-

 

I even believe that you can buy them on the market, fairly simple units. When I started them we had to practically invent the things, so we used globes. We mounted them behind special screens, we put filters in front of them, and then we put say ten globes to one band of frequency, for example, while another type of sound would pick up another ten globes, which were filtered through a different coloured filter, and all these behind a screen so .... you saw a pattern of light and shade which was growing brighter, or less bright, according to the volume [of sound] and came on and off as the same [instrument] came on and off.27

These included massive community works such as the series of snowflake like designs that appeared on BP House in Melbourne each year as BP's contribution to the Christmas atmosphere of the Victorian capital. It was also the basis of the Adelaide Festival's Chromosonic Tower, a massive sculpture.

 

which played the spectrum up and down, starting from white, going down through yellow, orange, red, mauve, blues, down to the deep base colours.28

Ostoja had suggested an exhibit of this type and on a very large scale for the second Festival of Arts, Adelaide.

It is significant and symptomatic of Ostoja's relationship with the Adelaide establishment throughout his career that this "Chromosonic Tower", suggested to the Adelaide Festival board in 1962, was finally produced in 1970, many years after he developed and designed the technology and at least two years after he had had his first laser beam exhibition, for which the technology was much more advanced. The tower was thirty seven metres (120ft) high and reacted to music played in the street. It attracted a great deal of attention from those passing, those who may not have been openly aware of the fact that, by the simple act of observation in passing, they were participating in the Festival of Arts. They were generally curious and fascinated, attracted by Ostoja's growing reputation and the knowledge that anything that he produced would be worth viewing.

It is interesting to note that the founder of the Adelaide Festival of Arts, Professor John Bishop, was one who encouraged Ostoja in theatre, opera and in experimental work. This patronage by the Festival Board, however, was not as strong after the death of Bishop, while Ostoja's enthusiasm for inclusion did not wane. In a recent conversation between one of the past Directors of the Adelaide Festival of Arts, Anthony Steel, and myself, he volunteered the information that Ostoja was a formidable artist of great persistence in his attempt to interest successive boards to include his work in subsequent Adelaide Festival programmes. Steel suggested that a person in his position has a constant steam of people presenting their projects for support and inclusion and that this persistence builds a barrier within those in the position to accept or reject particular projects. Steel continued that, in the case of Ostoja, the persistence produced a resistance that had the opposite effect than that sought by the artist. It is significant also that Steel stated to me that in this instance those who could accept or reject were indeed wrong in their choices when excluding Ostoja's many propositions. 29 One wonders with the potential support of the international series of festivals whether Ostoja's further inclusion could have brought the artist to closer attention of international markets for his talents. In the instance of the Chromasonic Tower in Victoria Square there was a lapse of some seven years between the first suggestion of the concept and the time it had been successful. This was the difference between being the first topresent such a construction. It was also a fact that the offer of presenting a concert of live interaction between a full orchestra and laser projection was not accepted by the Adelaide Festival until after a similar concept was presented in Los Angeles "to a standing ovation" several years after Ostoja had the technology to do so. In this he was justly critical of the administration.

In the 1964 Adelaide Festival of Arts Ostoja arranged for the office workers of an eleven storey building, over looking Victoria Square in the centre of the city, to cover their windows with translucent paper. At night, when the offices were deserted, lights were left on with the result producing a huge light mosaic mural. Once again the idea was simple, the technology insignificant and the inclusion of people who were caught up in the Festival atmosphere made the work very successful.

It was in fact a feature of the early Adelaide Festivals that the "man in the street" was encouraged, often inadvertently, to participate in the Festival. There were events, such as the massive flower carpets of North Terrace, a feature in Adelaide for decades before the advent of the Festival of Arts, in which thousands of non-art audiences took part. The early Festivals juxtaposed the traditional with out-of-door art exhibitions, sculpture displays and music. Later Festival Directors were less enamoured of such events and it is possible that their festivals suffered somewhat by the exclusion of the inadvertent participants; those who felt included in the less "elitist" events taking place in their commonly frequented space.

In subsequent years the type of simple technology in the Victoria Square display was incorporated into exhibitions such as works for the Peter Stuyvestant Trust, the many BP House Christmas displays, and culminating in the space tube exhibit at the Osaka Expo in 1970. The latter was commissioned by Robyn Boyd who had been allocated the task of co-ordinating the Australian Exhibition. The last mentioned was the first time that Ostoja incorporated music specifically composed for the display.

In 1967 Ostoja was awarded a Churchill Fellowship and toured Japan, Poland, Europe and the United States of America. It was while in California at Stanford University he made the personal discovery of the newly developed and still relatively primitive Laser Beam being used in experiments. He immediately recognised the potential in his interminable search for the colours of light from the Australian Desert. He saw, for the first time, a man made equivalent of the intense reds he had been seeking. He recognised a potential that would allow him to extend his work even more from the gallery wall.

These experiments with the laser beams were in keeping with his often expressed search for the unknown in colour and light that dated back to the time of his arrival in Australia. In the Hemisphere journal, in an article entitled The medium is Not The message, Ostoja mentions a meeting with the artist Leonard French in 1950 not too long after Ostoja's arrival in Australia. French asked him what he was looking for in his art. Working at the time somewhere between the post expressionist and abstract expressionist styles, Ostoja replied that the one thing that interested him more than any other was the search for a new colour to express his ideas on man and space. By 1971, he was able to state that he had found such a colour.

 

I am using a laser to give me a red that is impossible to achieve in any other medium, or a blue green which is so brilliant that it makes an aquamarine stone shining in the sun look pale. 30

In the Hemisphere article he mentions his intention to develop the concept of kinetics, the combination of sound, image and movement. He states in the discussion of this concept that he is referring to the fusion of sound and image, sound and shape, sound and colour - which, of course, is a natural, everyday phenomenon that we observe all around us in life. 31

He was obviously interested in and aware of the historical exploration of the combination of sound and image. He discusses the 1591 Treatise on Painting by Mantova and the coining of the term colourific music in the work of the Milanese painter Arcimbolds. This fact is borne out not only in the numerous articles on the subject in the collection but also in the fact that he regularly read Adrian Klein's publication Colour - Music: The Art of Light from which he often quotes. He mentions the performance, in the Sydney Town Hall, in December 1912 of Alexander Burnett Hector of Australia's first colour organ made of incandescent lamps with geissler x-ray tubes. He states that his first excursion into this area was his performance of Orpheus at the Union Hall, University of Adelaide in 1960.

In March 1968 as a result of experimentation in conjunction with the Weapons Research Establishment at Salisbury near Adelaide, Ostoja made a technological leap into the use of laser beams in the arts. It was with some pride, that he was able to make a claim about his use of a:

 

laser beam in conjunction with the human voice and electronic music to present images in a Sound and Image performance for the Adelaide Festival of Arts. 32

He continued:

 

This was the first time in history that a laser had been used to make images in front of the public. 33

This claim is borne out by, and contradictory to the similar claims made in authoritative documentation. An investigation of similar claims made by other artists in other parts of the world do not appear to place Ostoja behind those others working with similar media. Ostoja was, perhaps, unaware of the work of Carl Frederick Reutersward and Joel Stein (b.1926). Stein used the laser in an environment work called Sigma at Bordeaux in 1969 and Reuterswald combined lasers and laser video images in theatrical works in Stockholm in the same year. This places Ostoja at the forefront of laser technology's application in the theatre and in artistic applications.

He gives an insight into the process he used at the time both ingenious in concept and simple in application. To make a laser picture, he explains,

 

You pass a continuous laser beam (of brilliant, gleaming colour) through an optically imperfect piece of glass, projecting the result onto a screen and then photograph the result. The pattern is formed by the splitting of the beam by the imperfection in the glass.

For public performances, you determine the patterns you want, using a slowly rotating series of different pieces of glass, and programme them into a time sequence. This is the most important and difficult part for the artist, and it is here that the result is determined, either success or failure. 34

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Fig 29. Chromasonic Tower,
Victoria Square, Adelaide Festival of Arts 1970

 

 

Beyond the Gallery Walls

In the 1965 Argus exhibition Ostoja included a working model of a chromasonic tower that was to demonstrate a future direction for the public display of his expanding portfolio of experimentation. This model tower responded with a range of colours which depended on the frequencies of the sounds being generated around the exhibit. Again this display of future concepts within the Argus exhibition, demonstrated the work-in-progress open-endedness of his work. Ostoja's exhibitions often included complex drawings and models of concepts of what the future held for both technology in art, his predictions of how future artists would present their work and how audiences would view and participate in their art preferences in the years to come.

He had begun the experimentation for the tower in 1963 but it was not until 1970 that the idea was taken up as a massive tower in Victoria Square in the centre of Adelaide. It was an interactive tower some forty metres high. There were few of those who found themselves in the Adelaide city that did not take time out to observe the magical tower reacting to the music playing in the square and there were many from further afield who drove into the city at night to see the Festival decorations and in particular the tower.

According to Ostoja in a Leonardo 35 article the audio-kinetic Chromasonic Tower in Victoria Square utilised 400 incandescent 40 watt globes of blue, red, yellow and white, in groups of 80 globes and flashing in response to the volume and frequency of recorded music and sounds. Judged by standards of the early twenty-first century this tower was simplistic in its electronic design and effect but thirty years before, it was both innovative, delicate in presentation and of intense interest to the public to whom it was presented.

This Adelaide tower was followed in May 1971 with the construction of a tower, with the assistance of the architect, Derek Wrigley, for the Aquarius Festival of Arts at the Australian National University. This was in turn followed by a massive construction in light reacting to sound between the tenth and the twentieth floors of BP House in Melbourne.

Later with Ostoja's experimentation with lasers he was invited to present the spectacular and contained Laser-Chromasonic Tower as part of the Australia 75 Arts and Science Festival in Canberra.

He describes the work as follows:-

 

My 'Laser-Chromasonic Tower' was an entirely different conception in that kinetic images controlled by sound were projected on its translucent walls from the interior of the tower.36

He attributes the type of tower to the work of F.J. Malina in 1961 describing it as an application of his Lumidyne system (without sound control) for projecting kinetic images onto an object with a translucent cylindrical surface.

The construction of Ostoja's tower was described in some detail within the Leonardo Article:-

 

Both incandescent and laser light sources were used and the motion and combinations of the kinetic images were controlled by sounds of a musical programme of three hours duration. The musical selections ... ranged from 17th century to electronic music. The electronic audio-control system of the images was designed to respond to both the volume and the frequency ranges of the music. 37

The tower was set within a pool of water so that the images of the tower would be reflected and extended in the water. Ostoja expressed the hope that the audience would

 

perceive a relationship between the motion and colour of the images and the music being being played. A number of spectators told me they did. 38

It is apparent from the article that the budgets provided for this ambitious project were less than adequate for all sections of it to be self sufficient. Much of the equipment was borrowed and adapted while some parts were purpose built. Ostoja lists a group of technicians who provided specialist knowledge in the construction including P. Storr and G. Usher of Toolcraft in South Australia (Audio circuitry). Storr also designed the automatic audio-colour (chromasonic) light control equipment for the Christmas display on the BP Building in Melbourne and this was borrowed from BP for the tower. Helium Laser units were borrowed from the Australian National University and from Quentron Optics in Adelaide. The technicians involved in the construction and operation of the tower included Terry McGee (who worked with Ostoja at the ANU in Synchronos '72) and B. Greighton.

The tower is described in the article and standing in a pool of water some 30X40 metres and rested on foundations 20cm above the water's surface. It was 11 metres high and 6.4 metres in circumference at the base. It was constructed in Sydney and transported to Canberra in sections taking about one week to install and rehearse the programme.

Ostoja continues:-

 

Five types of light sources were used. One type consisted of a laser unit and optics (lenses, deformed polished chromium plated stainless steel mirrors, rough glass panels) that cast delicate lacy blue-green images that changed and moved on the walls. Three helium-neon lasers in conjunction with two mechanical scanners to produce moving red lines and patterns.

The second source of light produced rather uniform curtains of colour, illuminating the wall to a height of two metres. Five rings of festoon lighting had globes of different colours that were activated by a chromasonic unit in response to five different sound frequency bands. 39

The third source of lights were conventional 500watt theatre lamps that were stationery but provided with different coloured filters to provide colour and to compensate for the yellow incandescent lamps. Half of these lamps were directed at a distorted mirror that was manually rotated and at a mirror ball at the top of the tower. The light beams were broken up and reflected onto the tower surface producing changing images and colours on the walls of the tower.

Two 1000 watt theatre projectors using 60 mm slides were projected onto the walls and responded to selected sound frequencies. These beams were directed onto rotating distorted mirrors producing images that pulsated in time with the sound.

The final light sources were high intensity stroboscope flashing at variable intervals.

The sound equipment included three cassette recorders, amplifiers and a reverberation unit which made the music sound rounder and more complex.


Fig 30. Op Art work by Ostoja-Kotkowski.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Fig 31. Electronic Painting, 1960 by Ostoja-Kotkowski

 

Adrian Rawlins who had written about Ostoja over a period of some twenty years when in 1982 he wrote that he had seen, in that period a unity of vision, purpose and achievement and a dedication to the highest principles of art. He suggests that

 

Ostoja's sole preoccupation, in fact his overriding obsession, has been to explore every possible artistic avenue available to express the essential quality of light and to free the creative imagination from the impediment of means. 40

It was in 1966 that Ostoja held an exhibition of Op Art works in Gallery A in Sydney which Rawlins described as arguably his most famous work. He states that Ostoja's Op Art is not just an extension of Bridget Riley's work but presents his work with fastidious craftsmanship and geometric precision bordering on the scarifying: he creates works that change their form as light comes from a different source. The effect is profoundly still and intensely exhilarating.

Rawlins criticises James Gleeson's opinion and definition of Op Art directed at one of Ostoja's paintings:

 

....Instead of emotion there is clinical exactitude. Op Art . . . is designed to explode among the nerve-endings of the eye and produce a visual disturbance. It is entirely sexless and as morally aseptic as a theorem. When we look at work like this we have to forget that an artist like Renoir ever existed. 41

Rawson, on the contrary, suggests that Ostoja's best works (particularly the early painting in the National Gallery of Victoria) transmit this selfsame tranquillity.

The generosity of Rawlins word was not necessarily shared by all the critics who attended the 1966 exhibition. Elwyn Lynn joined Gleeson's comments stating that Ostoja is too much the the formal, geometric manipulator to provide opportunities for daydreams.

At the Gallery A exhibition Ostoja displayed several Chromasonic boxes which had circles of light that changed their hues to taped electronic music and were filtered through polarized filters. Lynn could not be involved in the works. The Op Art works are described as circles, discs, and spirals suspend the emotions as though you were looking down the bore of a revolver. The works were hypnotic with their brilliant hues and with the artist wanting to be master not only of every facet of his work but of our every response. 42

The Op Art works were constructed using thin strips of fluorescent tapes purchased from 3M in the USA and designed as road sign markers. The viewers were issued with red-green 3-D glasses which gave an affect which Lynn described as soon scientifically predictable.... A crisp, lively optical work of radiating blues and greens on sharp red went glowing grey and then turned a golden pink and black again. Lynn finishes the criticism by suggesting that even if Ostoja doesn't ring the emotions he so rinses the eyes that outside the gallery the world looks dingy.43

 

 

 

_______________________________________

Footnotes

 

1.Ostoja-Kotkowski, Stanislaw, De Berg Tapes, No. 448. Australian National Library. 17th December 1969. Transcript

2.Ostoja-Kotkowski, Stanislaw, De Berg Tapes, No. 448. Australian National Library. 17th December 1969. Transcript

3. Ostoja-Kotkowski, Stanislaw, De Berg Tapes, No. 448. Australian National Library. 17th December 1969. Transcript

4.Ostoja-Kotkowski, Stanislaw, De Berg Tapes, No. 448. Australian National Library. 17th December 1969. Transcript

5.Ostoja-Kotkowski, Stanislaw, De Berg Tapes, No. 448. Australian National Library. 17th December 1969. Transcript

6.Ostoja-Kotkowski, Stanislaw, De Berg Tapes, No. 448. Australian National Library. 17th December 1969. Transcript

7.Ostoja-Kotkowski, Stanislaw, De Berg Tapes, No. 448. Australian National Library. 17th December 1969. Transcript

8. Ostoja-Kotkowski, Stanislaw, De Berg Tapes, No. 448. Australian National Library. 17th December 1969. Transcript

9.Ostoja-Kotkowski, Stanislaw, De Berg Tapes, No. 448. Australian National Library. 17th December 1969. Transcript

10. Waddington, C.H. Waddington, Leonardo Vol. 1 No. 1 January 1968 Pergamon Press Gt Britain. p70

11. Miles, John. Adelaide Advertiser

12. Our Art Critic, Sydney Morning Herald

13. Our Art Critic, Sydney Morning Herald

14.Announcer, Vol. 19 No. 1, Philips Industries, Press Department N.V.Philips Gloeilampenfabrieken, Eindhoven. Netherlands.

15. Batman. A Mural for 1000 Years. The Bulletin. May 29, 1965 p23

16. Ostoja0-Kotkowski, J.S. Audio-Kinetic Art: The construction and operation of My 'Laser-Chromasonic Tower". Leonardo, Vol. 10, pp. 51-53. Pergamon Press. 1977 Great Britain.

17. Ostoja0-Kotkowski, J.S. Audio-Kinetic Art: The construction and operation of My 'Laser-Chromasonic Tower". Leonardo, Vol. 10, pp. 51-53. Pergamon Press. 1977 Great Britain.

18. Ostoja0-Kotkowski, J.S. Audio-Kinetic Art: The construction and operation of My 'Laser-Chromasonic Tower". Leonardo, Vol. 10, pp. 51-53. Pergamon Press. 1977 Great Britain.

19. Ostoja0-Kotkowski, J.S. Audio-Kinetic Art: The construction and operation of My 'Laser-Chromasonic Tower". Leonardo, Vol. 10, pp. 51-53. Pergamon Press. 1977 Great Britain..

20. Ostoja0-Kotkowski, J.S. Audio-Kinetic Art: The construction and operation of My 'Laser-Chromasonic Tower". Leonardo, Vol. 10, pp. 51-53. Pergamon Press. 1977 Great Britain.

21. Ostoja Kotkowski, J.S..The Medium is Not The Message. Hemisphere Volume15, No. 12 December 1971

22. Paul Gardner, "Tuning in to Nam June Paik," Artnews (May 1992): 67.

23 Paul Gardner, "Tuning in to Nam June Paik," Artnews (May 1992): 67.

24. Paul Gardner, "Paik Un plugged," Artnews (January 1995): 136.

25.Electronic Images, Camera World International. Undated. Found in Ostoja papers in Mortlock collection

26. De Berg Tapes, No. 448

27 De Berg Tapes, No. 448

28. De Berg Tapes, No. 448

29. 13th September 2003

30. Ostoja-Kotkowski, J.S. The Medium is not the message. Hemisphere Vol.15 No.12. December 1971, p18.

31. Ostoja-Kotkowski, J.S. The Medium is not the message. Hemisphere Vol.15 No.12. December 1971, p1

32. De Berg Tapes, No. 448

33. De Berg Tapes, No. 448

34. De Berg Tapes, No. 448

35. Ostoja0-Kotkowski, J.S. Audio-Kinetic Art: The construction and operation of My 'Laser-Chromasonic Tower". Leonardo, Vol. 10, pp. 51-53. Pergamon Press. 1977 Great Britain.

36.Ostoja0-Kotkowski, J.S. Audio-Kinetic Art: The construction and operation of My 'Laser-Chromasonic Tower". Leonardo, Vol. 10, pp. 51-53. Pergamon Press. 1977 Great Britain.

37.Ostoja0-Kotkowski, J.S. Audio-Kinetic Art: The construction and operation of My 'Laser-Chromasonic Tower". Leonardo, Vol. 10, pp. 51-53. Pergamon Press. 1977 Great Britain.

38.Ostoja0-Kotkowski, J.S. Audio-Kinetic Art: The construction and operation of My 'Laser-Chromasonic Tower". Leonardo, Vol. 10, pp. 51-53. Pergamon Press. 1977 Great Britain.

39. Ostoja0-Kotkowski, J.S. Audio-Kinetic Art: The construction and operation of My 'Laser-Chromasonic Tower". Leonardo, Vol. 10, pp. 51-53. Pergamon Press. 1977 Great Britain.

40. Rawlins, Adrian. J.S. Ostoja-Kotkowski:Explorer in Light. Art in Australia Vol 19 No. 3 Autumn 1982

41. Gleeson, James. Masterpieces of Australian Painting.Melbourne, Lansdowne Press.1969

42. Lynn, Elwyn. Beholder's Eye 1966

43. Lynn, Elwyn. Beholder's Eye 1966


 
 
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