In a journey through the life of an artist of the calibre of Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski, one is perhaps humbled by the hardship created determination that, for forty four years of his life in Australia, provided the fertile ground of intense creativity. Ostoja's work was generally considered of exceptional standard, while suffering the limitations of isolation from the international art world. The adoption of Australia as a place of safety (1949) from the turmoil of Europe did, and still does, treat the artist sometimes as a curiosity, sometimes as existing on a separate and alien plane, and mostly beyond the comprehension of the general public who, perhaps by unfamiliarity with the many forms of artistic endeavour, had not and have not yet developed a culture of understanding that those in other nations enjoy.
There was a preoccupation with the restoration of the peace and security that had been disrupted by both the Great Depression and then the Second World War. Isolation had meant that the latest artistic methods had not yet arrived on the Australian shores, or if they had, in the guise of refugees from European turmoil, the Australian world was not yet ready to accept new, or at least newly introduced, ideas and techniques. There were more examples of imported artists and intellectuals that encountered difficulties of acceptance upon arrival in Australia. One, the famous Bauhaus print maker, artist in light, musician and experimenter, Ludwig Hirshfeld-Mack, for instance, who arrived in Australia as an internee as a German citizen, is one whose career and fame was circumvented by the fact that he found himself outside the international circuit of artistic endeavour. It was perhaps the fact that Ostoja was young and at the beginning of his career, that his life in Australia presented the opportunity of acceptance, in contrast to that of Mack, who perhaps felt that life as an Art Master of Geelong Grammar School and its relative obscurity, was sufficient to satisfy the latter years of a man who had been considered of the highest standard in the first half of the twentieth century in Europe.
Others who were in the post-war wave of artists, and in particular from Poland, included several who became close colleagues of Ostoja. Maximilian Feuerring, George Olzanski and brothers Wladyslaw and Ludwik Dutkiewicz joined Aster in their migration with the latter two often collaborating in sometimes parallel careers. Asia Sokolowska wrote in a paper entitled Histories of Transition 1 about the difficulties of the transition of these artists into their new lands stating that it was a difficult time in their lives for the artists to discuss. It was however the formative years of their artistic development. Their origins were diverse with Olszanski the eldest son of a count, Ostoja from the intelligentsia of a small central Polish town. The remaining three grew up in Lwow (Ukrainian Soviet Republic after the War). Feuerring was also of Jewish origin which was crucial to his sense of cultural identity. Their art training was as diverse as their origins Ostoja and Olszanski attended private lessons. The brothers Dutkiewicz attended the Fine Arts Academies in Krakow and Lwow. Sokolowska stated that
Ostoja's migration papers listed his occupation as a "mechanist" and this is significant in as much as it indicated the career path his father had wanted for the young student, it pointed to Ostoja's ability to be involved in the practical construction of the sculptural works in which he was to be involved. It is also perhaps indicative of the inability of society to accept the profession of "Artist" as one that was more than a curiosity, a hobby and of no major importance as an occupation.
quickly earned a reputation for exceptional technique. His stage
design work brought him in contact with many famous people who were
to become friends and valued acquaintances, perhaps the most outstanding
were the author and playwright Patrick White and French mime Marcel
Marceau. His achievements in stage design, principally for the Adelaide
Festival of Art, were recognised in 1967 when he was awarded a Churchill
Fellowship. On the resulting world trip, on which he briefly visited
Poland, Ostoja-Kotkowski learned about laser technology when he
stayed in California. He had already linked projected images with
music for festival performances and, the following year, produced
a laser light show for the Festival of Arts in Adelaide. Six years
later, he accomplished a world first by incorporating laser technology
in a festival performance of Janacek's opera, The Excursions
of Mr Brouceck. Soon after, he experimented with kinetic art,
involving coloured tapes and exhibited this form internationally.
With the progress of time and an intense interest in experimentation
Ostoja moved through many different art forms until those he found
in the eighties when he was able to learn to programme computers
and to produce extraordinary images and sounds that were interdependent.
His homeland Poland honoured this artist in 1991 when he was presented with the Polish Order of Cultural Merit by the then Polish Ambassador in Australia. He was also invited to return to Warsaw to present concerts of his work. In this he used the laser beams that he had pioneered in the sixties, and some of the music of his adopted home in the guise of the Australian band Gondwanaland. 3 South Australia honoured him with the Order of Australia for his service to art and culture in an Australian career that spanned some forty four years. He was still actively working on exhibitions of projected images of Australian landscapes combined with abstract light images for the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1994. He died of a heart attack in his home and sadly remained undiscovered for several days. In his obituary, written by Adelaide journalist Geoffrey Kenihan, Ostoja-Kotkowski was described as:
Essentially an intense intellectual, who compulsively preached his advanced opinions on technological arts, he was sometimes misjudged as conceited and arrogant by those who did not know him intimately. 4
science of colour, light and optics have all married into art with
the happiest results.
In June 1955, after moving to Adelaide having left his work in Leigh Creek and the desert regions of South Australia, Ostoja started preparing his first South Australian Art exhibition.
Throughout his career he often had many projects underway at the same time. His energy and enthusiasm and variety of expertise within the creative process ensured that he was constantly in demand in commissions in painting, sculpture, film, theatre design, Sound and Image and mural creation. He was, in fact , one of the few artist that could claim that he was able to make a constant living from his work alone.
His journey of discovery of the connection between sound and image perhaps developed from his experimentation with film. Here the flying images of his imagination were possible to express in more than the two or three dimensions of conventional visual art. In May 1955 he began discussions with Ian Davidson about a 16mm "experimental film". This was to be unscripted just going out with a camera and filming whatever we found that caught our imagination. 5 This is of interest to the present discussion as it gives the idea of the importance of improvisation in Ostoja's work. This can be seen in the Sound and Image exhibitions, the use of laser imaging and other aspects of his work. Kotkowski was the driving force behind the filming with Davidson providing the equipment and much of the labour. Davidson was usually the one behind the camera
poet Rob Morrison saw the film and wrote a poem based on it and
this was incorporated into the sound track with music of Adelaide
based Jazz musician, Dave Dallwitz. Between 1955 and 1957 Davidson
and Kotkowski worked on four "creative" films and one documentary.
The first of the films was called The Quest of Time. This
started in the once famous junk shop, Cann's, on Norwood Parade,
Adelaide which was full of the unexpected 7
Davidson found Stan's process far different from his own although
he stated that he had no difficulty in following the direction in
imagery. They concentrated on dream like reality with Davidson suggesting
that society places too much emphasis on 'meaning' in the world.
This was a common thread in their lives and it worked well as a
basis for their creative relationships.
Quest of Time Ostoja used an old telephone mouthpiece
as a prop, having it float in the air in slow motion - communicating
with the other world in dream. They found an old door with the
word 'Information' painted on a glass panel. When old Mr Cann was
puzzled why the door appeared to be across the path without any
means of support and was amazed, Davidson let the camera roll and
the improvised scene and its synchronicity was incorporated in the
scene moved to the Wallaroo district on York Peninsula where Stan
was cleaning some old paintings for a collector. There were many
good locations in the semi-desert and "weird" landscapes and old
buildings, remnants of the old Cornish copper mining district. Many
of the desert landscapes were the effect of years of soaking with
sulphuric acid from the refining process and from the red "skips"
brought up from thousands of feet below the surface when the region
was famous for producing 60% of the British Empire's copper needs.
The buildings are the same designs as those in the tin mining regions
of Cornwall that can still be seen there.
Ostoja used this with a superimposition of the telephone earpiece from where it issued forth all sorts of new yet unknown images from the depths of silent consciousness 9 Stan used old sofas and snakes (it was winter and they were very sleepy) and the myriad of curious kangaroos that appeared whenever the camera began shooting. Other images and scenes were used in this first film including the living room of a family named Claridge which Davidson described as having infinite possibilities, and very photogenic.
The scene of the film moved to a beach with the seafront frothing with balls of foam blowing onto the beach. The telephone mouth piece once again appeared, this time in the sea and it took on the symbolism of what Davidson describes as an Anadyomene arriving on the foam. Davidson stated:
seemed to develop a scenario that Davidson described as follows.
Davidson continues with his impression of the landscape seen in the film and its influence on Ostoja's work as follows:
Davidson suggests that Kotkowski saw the woman as a demigod, caught briefly in the experience of life, but ensnared by it, perhaps forgetting our divine origins. The remainder of the filming was finished by the end of 1955.
the process involving the filming of the unexpected, Davidson carried
the cameras wherever he went in case they saw something that was
relevant or would fit into the film. Davidson gives the instance
of seeing an ornate fountain surrounded by smoke producing the image
of the rite of passage to the underworld.
Ostoja, as the theme of the film evolved, decided to design several other scenes, for example, one in a chemistry laboratory at the University of Adelaide. The telephone mouthpiece appeared to Impregnate the retort, and then its essence was carried in an intricate passage of tubes to somewhere.... The woman and the child arrive at the beach, build a sandcastle which was then smashed by the child and then the film returns to Stan in the chair, still listening to music. 15
Kotkowski edited the The Quest of Time himself using primitive editing equipment whilst Davidson did the splicing. Even at this stage Davidson, whilst suggesting some continuity footage to keep the flow of the film working, still had little idea of the overall project until it was viewed finally on a projector. Here he suggests that Kotkowski had more planning than had been apparent with all the effects - fades, dissolves and superimpositions - having been done in the camera. The complexity of this is realised when as Davidson suggests, these involved shooting images at different places, and superimposing them at later stage. 16
When the roughs were run the poet Rob Morrison came to Kotkowski's cottage and saw a run through. He was moved by the images and went home and composed a poem based on them. He finished the poem in December 1955 in time for it to be incorporated into the soundtrack of the film. Dave Dallwitz' music for The Quest of Time was recorded and mixed at the ABC studios (as had been the soundtrack for Ostoja's previous film Seven South Australian Artists. Roy Leaney who was also an ABC staff member, actor and a contributor to The Angry Penguins read the voice over. Morrison was also on the ABC staff.
Davidson describes the film as having two lives side by side:
On 14th November 1956 this and other Ostoja/Davidson films were shown at the Studio Theatre in North Adelaide. Despite the send up by Max Harris in Mary's Own Paper, the films were favourably received and had following performances in various parts of Australia including, in 1957, as part of a Contemporary South Australian Art exhibition in the David Jones Gallery in Sydney, where they were shown three times.
Ostoja's experience with the organisation of the landscape in both this film and in general, was to later become the subject of several of his major works, including a complex drawing suggesting a form intruding into the landscape, a poem written at the beginning of 1956 and one of his most successful large canvases called Form in Landscape (1957). Davidson stated that he felt that this painting especially depicted the intrusion in the landscape as a part of the unity of the painting. Elizabeth Young in the Adelaide Advertiser (1957) (quoted in Davidson) described the work as a richly satisfying and completely aesthetic suggestion of landscape, its wonder and mystery. This painting won the Cornell Prize and was purchased by the National Gallery of South Australia.
the days when Davidson and Ostoja were working on the experimental
films music played a strong part in their combined experiences.
They were able to hear records of new music with Schoenberg, Berg
and Webern and older composers including Bach, Mozart and Beethoven
which were being rediscovered in the early days of LP's. Davidson
states that a number of their friends in Australia and overseas
had professional interest in music
was after Quest of Time film was finished that Stan, during
a visit to Davidson's house, suggested an experiment. 'Dexion' scaffolding
was constructed and a large ground glass was supported with lights
underneath and above, with a camera aimed straight down at the glass.
Kotkowski began improvising with a variety of objects including
string and strips of black paper. The film was thus shot using two
rolls of black and white and one colour film. There was virtually
no cutting, the camera was simply switched on and off as things
were changed on the table. Neutral toned objects were used with
the black and white film. For the coloured film, sheets of colour
transparencies were used to build up an image. The film, accompanied
by Kabuki music was called "Translucencies."
Davidson describes the process as follows:
1955 he showed us a series of composite still photographs (made
by sandwiching two transparencies together) projected and accompanied
by music; using a single projector because dissolves for projectors
were not available then. This was something quite new not just photography,
but a very real vision. 18
Ostoja's next film was a development of the "Translucencies" experimentation. (6th Jan 1956) He constructed a 'Dexion' scaffolding again with a table of frosted glass about 1800mm by 1200mm. On this he stuck a piece of black paper and scored it with lines. The glass was lit from behind and the camera was framed on it. Using reversal black and white film the film remained black until it was exposed to light. Davidson likens this to a black canvas upon which the artist could draw with light. Stan proposed to construct an image on the film by exposing it a number of times through the camera and not editing. Davidson's camera had a frame counter and so it was possible to know exactly where in the film a particular image was located. Thus it was possible to construct an entire film. Kotkowski began peeling away the black paper revealing a progressive, sort of mosaic with other objects such as strings, wooden construction toys contrasted against the black paper (not unlike the process that Mann Ray was using for still images in the USA).
Dancing was introduced in the second reel by superimposing among the other elements dancers, Max Collis and Marlene MacGillivray, improvising in slow motion as Kotkowski controlled their in frame position. The dancers were isolated against darkness by using a spotlight at night. Four rolls of film were used with each dictating a "movement" in the overall production.
The first reel was the paper composition, the second with strings, the third scenes of beaches with a child making sandcastles and the fourth a pattern of white balls which came and went. This last was achieved by a series of pulleys and fine threads with the balls attached. The camera was pointed directly at the balls to hide the strings and then they were pulled up and down. The light was projected only on the lower part and so the balls were invisible when near the ceiling. Kotkowski hand tinted the balls in each frame afterwards to produce a multicoloured effect. Towards the end a symbolic whale, an egg appeared and a phallic element from the first section of the film returned. Then two dancers, a man and a woman were seen bowing to the egg.
Davidson suggested that the overall concept of this film was not entirely of Kotkowski's imagination but that Ted Booth with whom Stan had conferred during the filming process also contributed. From Davidson's description he felt he was 'kept in the dark' as to the intention of the film and his role was merely that of the cameraman. He describes the symbolism as the water appearing miraculously, bearing a whale as a denizen of space and creativity, leading to the accord of male and female bearing the primal egg of creation. The film won first prize in an Adelaide exhibition and was very well received.
Davidson makes the comment that Ostoja's work was beginning to demonstrate a new confidence in his own abilities with set designs developing from the first attempts whilst still in Melbourne soon after his arrival in Australia. In 1955 the artist began the first of the many large murals that were to be a feature of his career. He points out that the exhibition of oil paintings in 1955 displayed an increasing degree of expertise as a painter with broader and simpler brush strokes. He counters the comment by stating also that Ostoja was experimenting with a variety of styles of painting without really mastering them entirely. He tried, for instance, preparing canvases with ink washes then overlaying them with broad confident strokes of oil with a palette knife. These paintings are more confident and visionary, reflecting a better co-ordination of technique with the poetic vision that connects integration of experience. 19 His ink drawings were becoming more simple and thus successful which Davidson suggests was possibly due to the influence and contact with the drawings of Ted Booth.
His set designs were attracting attention as being large scale, mural like works, especially the design for Swan Lake. His film work attracted commissions such as one for the centenary of the Port Adelaide district and one which was to attract the attention of a group of professionals architects as he filmed their exhibition in 1956 in the Adelaide Botanical Gardens. This was also the exhibition in which he demonstrated his developing expertise as a sculptor with a large work made of steel.
Ostoja-Kotkowski was a set designer for many differing staged productions throughout his career. Set design was a passion providing an opportunity to develop and to practically apply the combination of visual and aural media in which he was recognised, at least within the Australian context, as an expert. With his interest in combining colour with movement, sound with image, light with narrative, Ostoja was able to express the many facets of his talent in one encompassing art form, that of theatre.
Moving from what he perceived as the restrictions and limitations of the canvas, as a means of expression theatre allowed Ostoja a scale of presentation in keeping with his soaring and ever changing imagination. With the necessity of the design to provide an imaginative space in which the play, of whatever type, is performed, the physicality of the performers provided an actual scale based in reality. There is also an impermanence in theatre that places the design in the present of the production. It has a finite life; it is the life space of the reality of the performance and is then dismantled with the demise of the production. It is not designed to exist beyond this period except in the minds of those engaged in the production and the impression made on the audience. To the designer this is perhaps an attractive difference between this and other, more permanent forms of artistic expression. There is an urgency, an immediacy and a participatory element that is generally missing from more conventional visual art processes. It is the visual artist's time for team work, the equivalent of the composer's time when a composition is given to the orchestra to perform; where the solitary occupation of the artist has its culmination in an active and communal achievement of a singular goal.
Ostoja's expression of the continuum in his paintings - the concept that the works have no top or bottom - can also be applied to his design for theatre where these can be considered to be a segment of a continuum that exists only for the time of the performance. Theatre assumes a time before and a time after. It is an active but finite window into its own life and existence. Theatre design was thus an appropriate and vital aspect of Ostoja's work.
Upon arrival in Melbourne, Ostoja continued his interest and attendance of theatre including plays, operas and ballets. He approached various companies suggesting that he would like to design sets for their productions. He even spent some time trying his hand at acting. With his handsome appearance and aristocratic, tall and imposing stature he was an ideal candidate for the roles he was given, but at the time his English was less than polished. He appears not to have revisited the life as actor.
Of the innumerable productions that he designed there are several which began to make a name for himself. He came to the attention of an ever widening variety of companies and in this he was able to develop an expertise for the technical aspects that allowed his designs to be practical, his visual images to be appropriate to the context and, perhaps above all, he had an opportunity to experiment with the apparent confidence of the various directors that he would produce designs that would attract interest as a major element of their productions.
Notably in the 1950's he designed the sets for several productions for the very active Adelaide University Theatre Guild commencing in 1956 with The Prisoner by Bridget Boland, drawing a considerable amount of positive comment by the Angry Penguin author and Adelaidian personality, Max Harris.
In 1958 Ostoja designed the sets for Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot for the Adelaide University Theatre Guild. Then began a long association with the Elder School of Music at the Adelaide University. Professor Bishop could see the advantage for the music department of encouraging a designer of considerable imagination for the operas that were a feature of the training of the young singers and instrumental musicians within his influence. His first opera set for the Elder School was Donizetti's Elixir of Love. Here he was able to experiment with lighting as an integral part of the set design, pointing towards the increasing influence of the search for the light on his artistic output. In the following years he was to use light and projected images in dynamic opera sets for the Elder Conservatorium workshop productions of Rossini's, Barber of Seville, Vaughan William's, The Drover, Puccini's, La Boheme and Mascagni's, Cavalleria Rusticana.
Ostoja's set designs for the South Australian Ballet Theatre, described by Harold Tideman of the Adelaide Advertiser as brilliant in concept, allowed Ostoja the opportunity to produce purely abstract designs that were dependent, not on the static nature of the painted image but on the changing light patterns and projected images that altered with the mood of the choreography being presented.
In 1960 with the development of the precursor of the South Australian Opera Company, under the auspices of Kathleen Steele-Scott, there came Ostoja's opportunity for professional work to further satisfy both his interest in opera and to experiment with the medium. Productions included Mariotti's opera The Telephone, Berkeley's, Dinner Engagement, and Hoiby's, The Scarf which was based on a story by Chekhov. This company and its replacements in various guises including the South Australian Opera Company, Intimate Opera, New Opera and finally The State Opera of South Australia, were to employ Ostoja to design sets from time to time for much of his career.
With respect to his heritage Ostoja was an intimate part of the Polish community's active theatre interests in Adelaide. The Polish Old Theatre, which for many years presented Polish language period and modern comedy and drama pieces, was an Adelaidian community based co-operative. Most of the technical work including stage management, set construction, lighting and administrative work was carried out by the actors involved. Ostoja was one of only five people involved who did not appear on stage for their productions. Musicologist and historian Andrew McCredie stated that Ostoja's most memorable designs for the Old Theatre were those for Theatre of St Francis and The Wedding.
In the early years of his life in adelaide, with all the attention he was attracting as an artist he was still earning a living painting houses and commercial premises with his Polish colleague Wladislaw Dutkiewicz. This aspect of artistic life extended also into the theatre where it was virtually impossible to earn a living with involvement being regarded by most as a hobby rather than a profession. While this meant that there was little possibility of relying on the theatre for expenses there did develop a group of dedicated theatre workers who were willing to provide their time and expertise for any aspect of theatre production that was necessary for them to contribute. Within this group there were some who were well educated and who made themselves aware of trends in theatre on the other side of the Western World. This knowledge allowed plays to be performed in Adelaide soon after they first appeared in the theatres of Europe and the USA. It is perhaps this aspect of Ostoja's work that enabled him to see where international trends in theatre design were heading.
Theatres were able to pay their way and, because there were no salary costs, ticket prices were popular with the public. Set design was performed by trained visual artists and were thus expertly produced and of a high standard. Davidson made a survey of such artists in 1959 (Reprinted in Benko) and Kotkowski's name was prominent amongst them, others of note being Jacqueline Hicks, Charles Bannon and Toni Graham. One of Kotkowski's most impressive sets, involving the use of light projections on a white scrim took place in the cloisters of the Adelaide University. The play was Maria Stuart directed by Derek van Abbe. Here Kotkowski used cut outs to cast shadows projected with coloured light. Davidson describes this as remarkably suitable for the contents and setting of the play.
Kotkowski mentioned that he used many of the techniques described in a book called History of the Use of Light in the Application of Art, which demonstrated techniques going back several centuries. Kotkowski developed these techniques; often designing projected sets and incorporating the use of photography.
1958 Ostoja was involved in producing a film about Sir Hans Heysen
which sadly remains unedited in the Mortlock Library in South Australia.
Ostoja had several outstanding exhibitions and was one of the Australian
artists who painted for an exhibition of decorated refrigerators
for the Women's Weekly. His set designs at the time included
Fete Polonaise and Rhapsody for the South Australian
Ballet Theatre. This activity led to the production of the Ostoja/Davidson
film of Orpheus and ultimately to the first Sound and Image
production in the then new theatre at the Adelaide University, Union
of stones piled up the curved ceiling
And spread darkness upon the land;
The roaring sphinx with his hand
Swept tumbling voices of those unwilling
Who is strong?
Who will reach
The curved ceiling's unmeasured distance,
and bring the light,
and now lost?
This experimentation became the basis for Kotkowski's Sound and Image productions starting in 1960 (Orpheus) when photographs were also superimposed by projectors faded in and out together in sequence. The programme was technically complicated and required many competent technicians including photographer and film maker Ian Davidson operating the projections and Graham Milne, an extraordinary sound technician, who had traveled around Europe with Derek Jolly in the search for the necessary sound equipment and who, more recently, has spent a valued career as a sound engineer with the Adelaide office of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The origin of the images, and one must remember that this production took place long before the advent of the personal computer and the myriad of programmes available to the artist in the latter part of the 20th century, was in experimentation done a few years earlier, when Ian Davidson and Ostoja were engaged in the production of a series of films and still photographs. Davidson describes Ostoja as a superb photographer who seemed to know completely what he could do and as one of the most adept artists in Australia. In 1955 Ostoja produced a series of composite photographs made of sandwiched transparencies which were projected and accompanied by recorded music. At that stage there was no facility available to dissolve slides into one another and Ostoja had only one projector. Davidson stated that this idea was new to him and that he saw the piece as a very real vision.
One of the artists who was present at the showing of this slide presentation was artist John Walpole who suggested as a result that Davidson and Ostoja should go to a production of the newly formed South Australian Ballet Company under the leadership of Max Collis. As a result of this performance, Davidson decided to work with the company and did so for several years and Ostoja was soon involved in painting scenery for new productions and using the dancers in the film Four Movements (1956, produced by both Ostoja and Davidson).
They performed works using new music and, as Davidson described, presented an hypnotic, flowing, abstract design of colours and dancers in changing patterns, using the space of the stage as a canvas, with a plain backdrop. Kotkowski was also commissioned to paint the backdrop for a production of Swan Lake with Collis' company. 20
It was this enclosed art scene that was the creative impulse in Adelaide at that time and for many years thereafter. There was a pool of talented and eager artists who were willing to assist each other in projects that required combined talents. It was this conjunction that made the 1960 Sound and Image production possible. Davidson, Collis and his dancers were very much involved in Orpheus. Most of the artists involved in the theatre at that time were unpaid for their work. Costs were paid out of box office receipts and this was possible because the strangle hold that television was to have on audience numbers had not yet happened and the Adelaide population was keen to attend theatre productions in numbers strong enough for the art form to survive. The audiences were also well versed in the latest theatre trends from beyond Australian shores because producers such as Francis Flannagan and Colin Ballantyne made sure that new plays from Europe and America were played not too long after their premiere seasons in their respective lands.
The medium is interesting because the combination of all arts together sound, images, kinetics, poetry, writing. To put [these] into one unit, one environmental complexity, its been of interest to artists for many, many years. This is not a new idea. I did a bit of research on this and found that the first notice of idea of combining colour and music was in the 15th century. And ever since then different artists, composers, painters were trying to get this idea, to build this idea and to put it into some kind of practice. But it was not until the last fifty years that technology has helped to bridge the gap between the idea and the practical possibilities. 21
Ostoja described the work as exploiting every facet of theatrical expression in the direction and presentation yet devised. Within one stage presentation the audience will see and hear the multi dimensional sounds of stereo, the subtle variance of colour, a story advanced and expressed in terms of dramatic verse, music and orthodox theatre. 22
Poetry was used extensively in the work with a keenness by the young poets within Ostoja's circle of friends contributing works for both the actual performance and for inclusion within the printed programme.
Orpheus used the poetry of David Malouf (Orpheus and Death of Orpheus), Harold Stewart (The loss of Euridice, Orpheus in the Underworld, His Appeal, from Orpheus and Other Poems), John Walpole (Orpheus in Descent - Ascent), Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Stephen Spender), the words from Carmina Burana (Translated from the Latin by Anna Morrison) and Orpheus Dream by Edwin Muir. These were accompanied by Stravinsky's Symphonie of Platron, Frank Martin's Petite Symphonie Concrete and the Sibelius String Quartet in D Minor Opus 56, Stravinsky's Suite Pour Petite Orchestre and the Berg Violin Concerto amongst others.
The poet R.H. Morrison had often attended exhibitions of the works of Ostoja and had written several poems based on the artist's work. The poem Abstract was written as a result of Ostoja's 1955 exhibition of paintings and drawings, which the poet was asked to open. The Quest of Time became the basis of a film by Ostoja and Davidson which also took its title from the poem. But That Was Long Before Orpheus was written for the Sound and Image production of Orpheus in 1960 but was not included in the performance but reproduced in the printed programme. This poem was published in Quadrant, No 15 in 1960, in Morrison's book Opus 4 and in several other collections including the American Magazine, Hellas (Glenside, Pennsylvania, Vol. 2 No 1, Spring 1991). Morrison's works included several other poems based on the Ostoja/Davidson collective with several finding continuing inclusion in recent publications. Morrison expressed his gratification that his poem, written for Ostoja's project, should have found a prominent place in an international publication some thirty years after it was written.
This production was an important event within the history of theatre in South Australia, as it demonstrated both an ability and a willingness to combine experimental technical theatre facilities, advanced sound and music technology, photographed and constructed images, the written and spoken word and live performers, in a space which was as advanced as any available. It demonstrated the ability of the theatre going audience to accept experimental media. Importantly it was also the introduction of Ostoja's term and the use of chromosonics, described by the artist as the science of translation of sound into images and a feature of the works in which Ostoja had a hand in the future.
Fig 8. Orpheus and Euridice 1960. The colour of the underworld
Photographs by Ostoja-Kotkowski.
Fig 9. Euridice 1960. Sandwiched landscape, colour and figure images
Photographs by Ostoja-Kotkowski
Fig 10. Crossing the Styx, Orpheus and Euridice 1960
Photograph by Ostoja-Kotkowski
One should bear in mind that Ostoja had grown up and developed in a culture which encouraged frequent attendance at theatre, opera and music performances and that his development as an artist was derived from a traditional arts training including intense theatrical and musical elements. From his cultural heritage and his time as a student in Dusseldorf, Ostoja had developed a passion for the theatre that allowed him to see past the conventional and to project his thoughts into virtual images and concepts rather than merely into real images. He had spent time exploring the images in his mind instigated by the light of Central Australia and had experienced, in his previous life in Poland and Germany, the reality of theatre of war. He had seen the terror of the light shows of bombardment and the drama of human suffering played out in real time.
By the time he was preparing the 1960 production of Orpheus, Ostoja was an experienced set designer having completed many theatre designs for a variety of theatre spaces and companies in Adelaide and Melbourne. Ostoja described Sound and Image as an experiment in theatre using projected images, electronic music, poetry and ballet, all put into one unit. Ostoja explains that the concept of Sound and Image was designed to:-
illustrate music or illustrate poetry or illustrate ballet by means of colour photography projected on a very big back-projection screen and images changing to the rhythm of the music or the rhythm of the poetry or to the choreography of the ballet. 23
The production of Orpheus (1960) was the beginning of Ostoja's work in experimental theatre. In this production the aim was to illustrate the story of Orpheus and Euridice in poetry and prose, by means of photography and then to project the images onto a screen as a backdrop to the performance. The images were to keep changing as the story developed providing a form of set that was dynamic in nature and as carefully choreographed as the dancers and other performers acting on stage.
had the access to four projectors with a device by which he could
control the fading in and out of the images as the story developed.
This technology was primitive by modern standards but at the time
was at the cutting edge of small theatre presentation.
The process of image selection was long and involved. He explained:-
Hundreds and hundreds of images were taken, some naturalistic some abstract. Not as much to illustrate the story as to illustrate the mood and the environments and the motion of the story. 24
He was careful that the images portrayed in the productions were not literal in their story telling. They were, rather, designed to portray the combination of mood and atmosphere. The fact that Ostoja had a great knowledge of photography and the eye of the painter was essential to the selective process. He was able, within the technology of the time, to manipulate the colours, make collages and distort images to make the real; appear abstract. He used refracted and polarised light.
Whilst referring to the 1964 Sound and Image production much of the development of that work was derived from the 1960 production of Orpheus in the Adelaide University, Union Hall Theatre. He explains that the 1964 production was an experiment developed over a few years. The concept was presented to Professor John Bishop, Professor of Music at the Adelaide University and Artistic Director of the Festival of Arts. Professor Bishop was the originator of the concept of the Adelaide Festival of Arts and one who was very familiar with Ostoja-Kotkowski and his work in opera and theatre set design. Ostoja had been engaged to design the sets for the Elder Conservatorium of Music opera productions and Bishop was aware of his interest in experimental music and especially in electronic music. It was Bishop who successfully recommended the 1964 Sound and Image production to the Festival Board.
One of the first interests that I had here in Australia in the theatre was that I felt that the theatre was representing too much the naturalistic scene, the naturalistic scenery became a little bit too obvious. I am interested in depicting the mood of the play or opera, which is far more important. The audience ought to be able to feel, not exactly what is going to happen, but the mood of the play or the opera as soon as the curtain goes up. And if the scenery is naturalistic or symbolical this is not important but on stage to represent ...... To take a house, go to a suburb somewhere, take up a house on the stage and then play the story or play, this is just ridiculous. A play is a fantasy. Play is something which has been created and so has to be the scenery.(Sic) 25
Now that requires a few hundred images, a few hundred colour transparencies that were specially designed for this purpose. I worked on this together with young artist John Dallwitz, who helped me there, and found that we covered material, the story of the whole experiment from beginning to end in about three or four hundred transparencies. Now the original amount was much greater we photographed about 1200 Images reduced it down to acceptable number. The images were mostly abstract. We photographed these images by using a series of lenses condensers; I personally used light as my brush again. Most of the images are not recognisable as such. The object is not recognisable any more. It became an abstract interpretation to fit a certain poem or certain music. Now with Genesis for example, which is a composition by Badings. The composition of Badings has a tremendous feeling of space and in my paintings I am interested in space as a man's environment. Space became very important for the human being in the last twenty years. We [are] learning much more about space and naturally the human mind must have some reaction to the space. Now this music is a typical example of someone, so to speak, exploring by instinct Space. What I did, I tried to explore the space by colour abstract photography. And designed the images to fit in a different part of Badings composition. When I finally finished the designs and I showed them to Henk Badings, he totally approved of them, To quote his words, he said they were the exact type of images I was thinking while I was composing the music. Also Sir Herbert Reid whilst visiting Australia, was very much taken with this presentation of music and the visual form as a unit expressing an idea. 26
After Orpheus Kotkowski's theatre work consisted of the designs for the opera productions for the Elder Conservatorium of Music and other productions at Union Hall. This theatre was a state of the art building for the period, with the very latest in lighting equipment, adequate fly tower, orchestra pit, easy access for large set pieces and a backstage which allowed for innovation, including the rear projection of images used to great effect by Kotkowski in most of his designs. The staff, including Reg Bennett, lighting, and John Blain, technical manager, were experienced and expert in their fields, they were of the "old school" and always prepared to chip in with their expertise, practical application and willingness to allow experimentation. Patrick White at the time of his premiere performance of Ham Funeral describes the theatre as the best in the world. Although modest by modern standards the building is still in great demand for productions although the traditions of theatre, nurtured by the University in the times before the common advent of television have faded considerably.
Kotkowski's experimentation included working on a series of visual etudes described by Davidson as of varied abstract images faded gently into each other accompanied by suitable contemporary music. The first of these pieces was entitled Genesis and later, the many pieces were collected and presented as a single series. Images were collected by Kotkowski and Davidson, collated and assembled into slide shows which were presented at photographic society meetings especially around country regions. South Australia had many enthusiastic amateur photographers of high standard, many using innovative techniques to produce abstract images. The etudes were accompanied by the music of Henk Badings, who was composer in residence at the Elder Conservatorium of Music and probably the first to teach Musique Concrete in Adelaide if not the first in Australia. The music was combined with a poem similarly called Genesis and written for the production by Rob Morrison. Here again Kotkowski's work appeared under the generic term Sound and Image.
Productions of this type were presented at the Adelaide Festival programmes of 1964 and 1966 followed by tours to Perth, Hobart and New Zealand. The Festival productions were co-produced by Dave Dalwitz and Kotkowski with the state of the art technical equipment once again supplied by Derek Jolly. The production of Woman of Andros included music by Henk Badings and the projected images Davidson describes as moving abstract colour images blended into each other by means of rotating polarising screens in front of the lenses. Dancers performed between the projectors and the screens appear as silhouettes amongst the colour images. There were still just two projectors controlled by dimmers. The sound became a feature with multiple banks of speakers surrounding the audience such that sound appeared to come from all parts of the hall, even behind one and running into the distance.
Kotkowski's theatre set design introduced an architectural approach by constructing sets within the area of the stage. The size and versatility of the stage in Union Hall assisted this. His designs included those for Mozart's operas (including Cossi fan Tutte), Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, Britten's Turn of the Screw and Verdi's Don Carlos. The last was particularly notable for the its attention to detail and its innovative use of photographic images projected on the walls outside the stage space.
In 1962, Ostoja was given the opportunity to design the sets for one of the most controversial plays that Australia had seen to date. Patrick White's The Ham Funeral had been written some fourteen years before but the playwright could not find a director who was willing to present it. He had tried Keith Michell, Australian actor living in Britain and who had asked White for a play to direct over a considerable number of years. He tried several of his theatre and literary contacts in the USA but to no avail. Eventually, in 1959, the work came to the attention of Adelaide based writer Geoffrey Dutton, a personal friend and frequent correspondent of White. Dutton suggested that the work should be part of the Adelaide Festival drama programme and determined to put the idea to the Festival board. (This was the same board that had rejected Alan Seymour's One Day of the Year which was considered to be too offensive to those who had fought in the wars for Australia.) It was rejected in favour of Shaw's Saint Joan with Australian actress, Zoe Caldwell, whose successful career in Britain made her a more reliable box office attraction in a successful play, rather than an untried and difficult new work.
Professor John Bishop, Artistic Director of the Festival, was in favour of the play and flew to White's home, Dogwood, to try to smooth the waters. Harry Medlin of the Adelaide University Theatre Guild was aware of the play and he was keen for his company to present the world premiere of the work. This would be a considerable coupe for a small enthusiastic amateur company out of the mainstream of the international theatre scene. White asked for John Tasker, whose career he had followed for some time, to be the director. Tasker had the reputation of being the best of the young directors in Australia at the time.
With the exception of the character Mrs Lusty, played by Joan Bruce of Perth, the actors were all amateurs. Ostoja was chosen as the designer, probably on the suggestion of the Theatre Guild and perhaps with the overlooking eye of Professor Bishop. John Tasker had workshopped the play, with a company of his young acting students at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA), in Sydney. White had revised the work and added some adverse comments, in the prologue, about the Adelaide Festival Board members who had by now twice rejected the work. With sensitivity within a small community, the Theatre Guild asked for these words to be removed and White stated that, when he had approved the cut, this would be the last time that he would modify his writing at the request of others.
With the publicity that the controversy had generated there was every chance that the Ham Funeral would at least attract an audience whether they would like the work or not. The short season played to full houses and the critics were unanimous in praising the work, with Max Harris and Geoffrey Dutton writing that the event was of not only national but international importance. However, the second performance, and the first professional production, was to be held under the auspices of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust in Sydney.
White described the relationship between John Tasker, the director
of Ham Funeral, and Ostoja, as having daggers drawn by the end
of it. 27 He did, however,
describe the look of the work as beautiful and wrote with enthusiasm
about Ostoja's set design. The daggers may have been drawn in this
production but, several years later Ostoja was, once again, to work
with Tasker in his production of Oedipus Rex, for the University
Theatre Guild and in the notable production of The Excursions
of Mr Brouceck, as part of the 1974 Adelaide Festival of Arts.
In a recent conversation with Anthony Steel, Artistic Director of
the Adelaide Festival at the time of Brouceck he stated that
this was an important occasion (the first opera production in the
new Adelaide festival Theatre) and a splendid example of Ostoja's
design work. This was to be one of Ostoja's firsts, being the first
time that he had used the kinetic nature of the laser beam as part
of a set design for opera.
For Ostoja Ham Funeral was an introduction to the Elizabethan Theatre Trust and many of the Australian theatre establishment who crowded the Union Hall auditorium and who were pleased to be seen at the opening night party and to be seen with the designer. Ostoja, who was not asked to design for Tasker's "professional" production in Sydney, would design several sets for the Elizabethan Theatre Trust productions in the future.
In 1963 Ostoja expressed the importance of his process and intentions when designing for theatre. From his own words it is obvious that research played a major part of the process. He stated that the designer must understand the true nature of the motivating forces that drive both the dramatic writing of the play and the production ideals as they move towards a common goal. He was excited by the technical advances made in the first half of the twentieth century, especially those of projection, electronics and sound. Expressionism, that movement which in theatre allowed the artist to move beyond the reality based image and conventional theatre set design, according to Ostoja, became particularly important. He was also aware of the uses of projected scenery that had been used around the world for much of the twentieth century but which, to the time of his description, had only relatively recently been applied in Australian theatre.
expressed the opinion that it was the moving face of the actor
that will continue to be the most important feature [of a production]
to the audience, irrespective of whether the background is black
and white or in colour, so long as it is static. He described
the process involved in several of his set designs, and the use
of the projected image in theatre.
He gives a detailed description of his design process for a production of Pinter's The Caretaker. He felt that he needed to give a particular background to the character in his strong role of trying to describe his world to the audience. Ostoja's intention was to turn the ordinary junk room in which the character was speaking, into the world of imagination and fantasy that was part of his condition of living. He also described the need to return to the world of ordinary normal surroundings to coincide with the character's return to reality. With care and experimentation, especially with actors in an impromptu rehearsal with projected images of his design, Ostoja realised that importance should be given to the danger of changing images as a distraction to the attention of the audience in the midst of a long and difficult speech. In this example the artist wanted to project nine different images each fitting with part of the speech in a manner that enabled the audience to concentrate on the face of the actor and, while conscious that the images had changed, could not discern the transitions. The "state of the art" theatre in which The Caretaker took place (Union Hall) did not allow enough space for rear projection from the wings, and it was necessary to use wide-angle lenses in order to project a wide enough image. The distortion made by the projector was countered by designing the drawings that were to be projected with necessary corrections.
The Caretaker set had walls made of scrim on which the walls were painted describing the attic room. The projection screen was the cyclorama and was behind the walls. By dimming the overall lighting and illuminating the walls and projecting strong images onto the screen the walls could be made to disappear and the projected images came into view. The presence of the scrim between the audience and the screen was of no particular distraction. To bring the room back into reality the projections were dimmed and the room illumination was increased. The projectors used were those available on the market at the time and Ostoja expressed a preference for the 35mm Zeiss Pradeo projectors he was able to borrow which he describes as strong enough to project and image clearly over an area of 2,000sq feet.
With Ostoja's production of Don Carlos, which took place in the same theatre with the same space restrictions for rear projection, he stated several reasons for the use of projected scenery. The first was the reduction in costs in the actual construction process. With the need to build, in this case a semi-box set there were areas left grey to take the projected images. He found this process allowed the screen areas to blend into the darker scenes, such as in the church scene, but to take the images where necessary. The other cost saving was in the reduced need to employ backstage staff.
He stated that the experimentation with projection for theatre sets would not have been possible but for the implicit trust and confidence which [he] experienced from the local producing bodies, who were willing to give [him] such freedom and has allowed [him] to experiment freely with a medium as yet unfamiliar in Australia. 28
The problem of front projection in Don Carlos was exacerbated by the limited backstage space and the large number of chorus members that had to be accommodated both back stage and on the set. With front projection it was necessary to suspend the projectors at a high angle above the set and to correct the distortion thus caused in the design process. The director was asked to ensure that the performers were positioned at least four feet from the walls to eliminate the danger of them standing in the way of the projections and thus casting a shadow onto the set. Don Carlos used five changes of projected images to accommodate four scenes.
a musical that followed soon after the opera, Ostoja was able to
use nineteen changes of projection for nine changes of scene. In
an interview for the then Australian Broadcasting Commission in
Brisbane in 1964 with an unnamed interviewer, Ostoja was questioned
about his contribution to the Adelaide Festival of Arts in that
year. 29 His replies to
the posed questions gave some insight into his definition of the
Son et Lumiere, Sound and Image art form, that played
such a major part in the development of the artist.
Ostoja's fascination with classical literature and mythology derived from his classical education from and early age and the influence of the theatre in Dusseldorf when he was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts. All the students there were encouraged to participate in theatre and opera he was able to attend at least once a week at a cost which did not inhibit his enthusiasm.
The last of Kotkowski's sets using photographic images was designed for a production of "The Balcony" by Genet. This was a minimalist set, some rostra making the raised floor, ceiling decoration and three screens for projection of emotive images constantly changing to reflect the mood and action of the play. As technology was improving Kotkowski experimented with new processes and combinations of images. His painting, which was constantly evolving at the same time as his theatre productions, also showed development, with the use of PVA paints. These were included in a series called the Palinurus Cycle. Other paintings in this cycle used porcelain enamel. Abstracts now were very vibrant with great depth of colour. The best example was Crimson purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria. It still holds its head high among the other Australian paintings of the period. It was first exhibited in the Bonython and Argus Galleries in Adelaide 1962.
Derek Jolly brought to Adelaide a new standard of camera with the equipment used in Orpheus. These were Hasselblad 2 1/4" square single lens reflex with incredibly sharp lenses. Using these Kotkowski was able to photograph electronic images manipulated by magnetic fields on a television screen. He had developed Polarchromatic Images by means of rotating a disk of Polaroid material in front of slides of clear Polaroid film. These were seen first in the Sound and Image production of the 1964 Adelaide Festival. Davidson describes the images as slowly moving colours with silhouettes of dancers projected on a screen, accompanied by multi-directional music filling the whole hall.
This performance was followed by the design of a small polarchromatic box with slowly changing images on a small screen. These were exhibited in the Bonython Gallery in Sydney. Ostoja, when commissioned to make a mural for BP House in Melbourne was presented with the problem of cost and available materials. He wanted a metallic finish but the cost of copper for the dimensions required by the space, were out of the question. With research and the assistance of a group of scientists he developed a method for electroplating metal onto fibreglass, described simply as Steel mesh over steel frames covered with fibreglass thickened with resin and then electroplated with copper. Ostoja had seen a version of the process in the 3M company in USA whilst on his Churchill Memorial Fellowship (21st March 1967). BP publicity states that the process was developed by Weapons Research Establishment in Salisbury South Australia. The mural was 50 feet by five feet six inches. This process was much cheaper and allowed the commission to go ahead. This was recorded on a 16mm film entitled "Man and a Mural" produced by BP Australia.
Once again in 1966 Ostoja Kotkowski was commissioned to present a Sound and Image production for the Adelaide Festival of Arts. He continued his association with Jazz Musician John Dallwitz. The production consisted of 14 short experimental pieces, five set to poems. The music of Henk Badings, Woman of Andros, was used in two pieces, a piece by Antonio Rodrigues with electronic images was used. The Finale consisted of narrated performance of Ionesco's The Mire with accompanying electronic music.
Upon his return from his Churchill Fellowship the 1968 Adelaide Festival included another Sound and Image production. Stan had returned from America with laser beam technology and an understanding of its use in his work. He was able to experiment with lasers at Waite Research Institute which had a laser laboratory and several scientists who understood their production The institution made them available to Ostoja. This programme, at the Latvian Hall in Adelaide, included a play based on a story by Ray Bradbury entitled The Veldt with a cast of five performers. It was billed as Australia's first Science Fiction performance. This major work was accompanied by twelve short sections some based on short poems.
In an interview with Ostoja 31 interviewer John Challis was 'subjected' to a recording of the poem and asked about its composition. Ostoja stated that the poem was generated jointly by Clare and Gordon Robertson and himself. He explained the process by suggesting that the computed selected the words into a decided programmed form. The computer looked for a word and selected it, then another word and a third word, until it came to the desired length of line. The line was then finished the computer started on a new line.
Naturally the poem doesn't make sense like normal poem does because the computer cannot make the sense of the actual words, but because of its nonsensical nature the human mind tries to make sense out of it. No rational mind would put , for example certain two words together and yet the computer did and the human mind tries to make up for it, tries to understand. 32
The computer generated 'several yards' of this poem and Ostoja states that he selected a small section from it. Judy Dick recited the poem and then it was accompanied by electronic sounds on the background. Ostoja described the poem as one which, although it doesn't make sense, it does create an atmosphere. In the Sound and Image production the poem and sounds were set with visual images so that, as the poem was spoken, the images were changing, dissolving, flashing in a manner that, to the audience made the poem make sense. Ostoja described the relationship between the poem and the other elements as sometimes a recognisable word, for example
peaks, towers, waves, we tried to make an image which suggested a wave but yet at the same, time didn't pinpoint it as a sea wave, is it a landscape wave, or is it any other wave. The combination between the word, image and background sound, formed an atmospheric condition, or in this case an imaginative condition, and each individual provided his own interpretation of it. And yet the artist [Ostoja] has given them a general direction in which to go. 33
Ostoja continues briefly about the connection between the elements of the work - aural, visual and performance - and the observer where the work combines the senses to a total expressive environment of a conjunction of different works of art. He then reiterates his synesthaesic sense by stating that every time I hear sound I can see the sound in some kind of a form and shape. 34
In Ostoja's own word he discussed the technological advancements from the time when he first began experimenting with photographic, film and electronic images. He reinforces the importance of science in his work
Science has become a very important part of expression in this type of work. Science had to make it possible for some of the ideas to be realised. Ideas which were in the minds of the artists for many years suddenly became possible to execute [using] materials and methods [and] the expertise of scientists and technicians that can help us to execute the ideas. 35
Challis asked the artist what he would like to be able to do with the aid of expert advice he stated
I would like to be able to build (and technically I know it is possible, if it wasn't for the fantastic cost,) a painting that would have a cycle of life. We have a cycle of life, we are born, we grow up and we die; nature does, an atom does, a universe does, a galaxy does. What we do as artists is to represent life. We want to, if we could, create a life. [But] because we can't create life, we try to represent some kind of creation in painting, in music, in poetry. Or [we make] a statement on life. Until now the painting [has been] static for the sheer necessity that technically it was impossible to do [otherwise].
I have a method by which I could activate a painting that would change its colour and shapes and would have a cycle of life. That cycle could be programmed by the artist to be born, changed and the cycle could close in five minutes, one hour, five years, a hundred years, it doesn't matter.36
Asked about the introduction of laser beams into his work he suggested that the images have a certain quality which no other source of light has. The brilliance of this image is something so fantastic and so incredible we used a laser which had the power of about five million times the light of the sun. With the further development of the laser of course it is going to be possible to project a three dimensional image, without using a screen. It will be an experience
Having recently returned from his Churchill and, in particular, Los Angeles he had shown a segment of his work to an artist who stated that she had only seen the types of images that he was producing when she had taken LSD. Ostoja then stated that this meant that the images were latent in the brain but .... on one side you need the drugs to release the images or the artist can release them purely by using his imagination with the help of technology.37
He continues further into his imagination by once again discussing the possibility of producing:
a unit which will tap brain impulses and translate them directly onto a screen. This is based on normal impulses that the brain sends out plus, I hope in the future, impulses that one could direct to one's brain and then the brain would resend them off to the machine which would reproduce them in front of the maker, or the audience, as images, shapes and colours. You could call it Thought Painting. 38
In early 1969 Ostoja and Davidson prepared a short Sound and Image work for presentation in Bonython Hall at Easter, PendereckiÕs, St Luke Passion. the work was sponsored by the Polish Community of South Australia which was justly proud of its contribution to the Arts in Adelaide through its community members.
Passion was commissioned as a celebration of the 700th anniversary
of the Polish Cathedral at Monasterze and was received with considerable
enthusiasm by the religious and secular communities in Adelaide.
It was composed between 1963 - 1965 and was first presented in the
Monasterze Cathedral and then in other parts of Poland and abroad.
Ostoja was responsible for the design of the three day season presented in the pseudo-Gothic, Bonython Hall at the Adelaide University. Andrew McCredie, musicologist of considerable reputation, was full of praise of the production stating that:
The audio-visual spectacular used a taped performance of the passion and visual effects and designs by Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski. Its stunning presentation was attended by principal members of the Catholic, Anglican and Methodist clergy, local politicians, academics, and members of the general public. 39
Ian Davidson worked with Ostoja on St Lukes Passion and was the co-producer of the 16mm film that was included in the work. This was a departure for Ostoja's Sound and Image productions and its contribution to the success of the presentation was repeated in the following Sound and Image productions. It also represents a more conventional leaning of the images with the dynamics of the relationship of image to image progression fixed by the medium. Here there was no serendipitous confluence of image that was a feature of the Sound and Image productions that were of vital importance in OstojaÕs work. The Passion production toured to Melbourne University, attracting similar acclaim. A well respected member of the Polish community, Ostoja was also invited as one contributing to a list of Polish political, artistic and literary topics, to lecture on his art to the Polish Cultural Society, demonstrating the pride of the community in the work of their most noted Australian artist.
The Elizabethan Theatre Trust commissioned Ostoja to produce a work based on Aboriginal legends and mythology to be researched and assembled and toured to all capital cities. Keen to incorporate the latest technology he project was to use a specially designed computer and equipment to control the sound and images. Davidson once again joined Kotkowski in the photography used in the project. The project, Time Riders, began in April 1969 and the team went all over Australia, collecting information and images and other materials with some 30,000 slides being taken.
Included in the process was a short film which used high contrast black and white film and then tinted to add the necessary colour. Ostoja used many slide projectors, newly designed faders and filter effects and many slides, all combined with Australian composed music and poetry. The combination was controlled by a master tape on a computer tape machine.
This project included the collection of aboriginal legends and mythology as available in the various libraries. Scriptwriter Tony Morphett combined them and the collected poetry into a two hour narrative presentation. There were also the inevitable dancers dancing to Australian Music. The work opened at the Perth Festival in 1970, followed by the Adelaide Festival and then performances in other capital cities. Davidson describes the work as:
All the elements, visual, verbal, musical, etc., were blended in a montage guided by the narrative, but allowing ones intuition to float among the stars.40
explains that Kotkowski was using the
synchronisation of the senses in what Eisenstein called a monism of Ensemble, where one leaves one's mind open, to allow the artist to direct the senses, often working separately, but all coming together subliminally as an experience of the whole theme. Thus art triumphs over narrative, although there are plenty of poetic directions to follow if one has the mind for it. 41
The 'monism' is a successful and moving presentation of the whole, and the denial of the duality of matter and the mind.
again the critics were out in force with those from Flinders University
who were, according to Ostoja, naive enough to complain of their
inability to follow the eminently simple narrative of the 1970
production of Time Raiders, and were also treated to a
scathing exposition of their artistic ignorance by young poet
Claude Wischik, who contributed his work to the programme.
Stan responded to the criticism with the scathing
words, The ignorant squeal like pigs when they can't follow methods
of theatre that have been commonplace in Europe for about one hundred
In 1973 Ostoja-Kotkowski wrote an article for Leonardo journal which presented his concepts and experimentation with laser beams form the time that he returned from his Churchill Fellowship time in the USA. He stated that he felt that the pigments developed over the history of painting and used commonly within the painting genre were often inadequate for those whose experience included exposure to modern photography, cinema and television. He suggested that he was interested in exploring the possibility of making more of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum, of which we as humans can only knowingly experience a small fraction, receptive to the eye. This would be a similar concept to the affect of ultraviolet light as it is absorbed and then converted from the invisible to the visible spectrum on substances such as bleached white paper containing the chemical Tinopal®. Ostoja's interest in the conversion of mechanical energy (sound) into visible light and vice versa is the foundation of the article. 43
He gives the example of his experimentation at the Philips Hendon Workshops in Adelaide where he was able to produce non figurative images. He continues that they built electromagnetic fields of varying intensity around the cathode ray tube of a television to produce the images seen in the exhibitions in the Argus Gallery in 1964 and 1966. The images he was able to produce there are similar in their appearance to those that he was eventually to achieve with Lasers with the latter being available on the larger scale with practical projection. In 1967 he experimented (Churchill Fellowship) in Chelmsford, UK with the projection of colour television images a process that was largely in its infancy at the time. In his brief experiments the three colours of the colour television were separated to form images by blocking different areas of colour in the three generators or by shifting the out of phase with each other. The images he obtained were restricted to 150cm X 200 cm. This perhaps would have been a new area of research for Ostoja had he not seen the magic colours able to be produced by the lasers he was to see in the USA.
Upon return to Adelaide and the Weapons Research Establishment where there was a laser laboratory he was able to make similar effects as the colour television with the difference of the purity of the light produced by the lasers and the fact that they could be projected to up to 300 square feet and in particular, for use in theatre, on a rear projection screen. It was only in March of the year following his Fellowship that he was able to use the lasers on stage in his Sound and Image production at the Adelaide Festival of Arts. He states that this may have been the first time that a laser was used in the theatre. He then cites the instance of J. Stein using a laser in theatre in 1970 44. In his own words he stated that:
I have found the use of a laser beam particularly exciting , because one can obtain a brilliancy of blue-green and red colours on projection that I have never seen equalled by other means. 45
When Ostoja had been working in the coal fields in the South Australian Outback he was taken by the effect of light on the stones and the environment. He had now discovered the source of a light that made that experience dull in comparison.
Ostoja then describes the process designed during his ANU Creative Arts Fellowship in 1972 stating that:
The system can respond to ambient sound by means of an microphone or directly to the output of a sound synthesizer of recorder. Different series of images may be produced by selecting combinations of circuits.
The range of audible sound frequencies were divided into twelve bands by passing through a band pass filter and each was able to control a different aspect of the image control device. Six bands were assigned to vary the brilliance of a series of incandescent lamps the beams of which were reflected by mirrors rotating by the use of electric motors. The rate of movement of the mirrors was manually controlled so that Ostoja could control the rhythm and mood of the sound. He expressed the wish to have this aspect made automatic but was limited by available funds from doing so.
The remaining six frequency bands were dedicated to activate mechanical shutters and to vibrate a mirror. With the combination of laser and incandescent beams and the various means of manipulating the artist was able to produce a seemingly infinite series of patterns and images that were projected onto the screen. This was the basis of the Synchronos 72 and Synchronos 76 performances in Sydney and Canberra.
The October 1972 performances of Synchronos 72 use of live sound and the outputs of several electronic instruments. The incandescent images and the laser images produced by the Laser-Chromason were supplemented by the use of a bank of seven slide projectors which could be activated individually, manually or automatically or sequentially in response to the sounds produced by the instruments playing live on the stage below the images. Most of the slides were figurative which critic Maria Perauer describes as naughty.
Thus, says Ostoja, with these various light sources, the musicians not only produced sounds and played tunes but also played the images of varying shapes and colours. He concludes the article with the comment that I believe the new methods of making images can lead to a more immediate articulation of visual ideas in art that is relevant to the culture of advanced technology countries. 46