In search for the present movement
An abstract, a kinetic one, active from the mid-1960s and on the recognized field in exhibitions, galleries, museums, magazines that counted at the time: Roger Vilder is what he is about. There is nothing surprising then, as its subject is original and strong: tables made up of gears which rotate at different speeds causing multiple visual effects, works in relief whose rectilinear elements move vertically and horizontally, abstract figures made of stretching springs, driven by apparent mechanisms, an unidentifiable object made up of a soft, trembling and luminous form. So much for the main thing, the whole less geometric than organic, always in movement, constantly changing, then, very quickly, the interest in technology, the need to establish programs, the need to register in a research process, the will to rely on experimentation, the practice of the engineer as a model, openness to science. He is one of the pioneers of computer-assisted artistic creation.
In the early 1970s, Roger Vilder was present. However, he will not see this position confirmed. Indeed, interest in kinetic art, after a decade of effervescence, had meanwhile subsided. Becoming Canadian, Roger Vilder lived in Montreal. With his personal temperament helping, he disappeared from the forefront of the art scene. Without ever having stopped continuing its work and creating new works, notably using the means of animated film. Hasn't the time come, some 50 years later, to reconsider his work?
l A life
Let's resume. Roger Vilder is French, born in 1938 in Lebanon. His parents having settled in Canada, he studied at Concordia University in Montreal. Right away, he moved towards artistic practices. He worked as a model maker in 1965, within the team responsible for the construction of the Pavillon du Quebec at the Montreal Universal Exhibition held 1967(1). He exhibited his first abstract, expressionist paintings in 1965 in a Montreal gallery. The following year, at the end of a deep reflection associating the observation of nature and the discovery of technology, he changes orientation which leads him to abandon painting: he realizes his first work in movement , abstract, yet in touch with reality. He is 28 years old. Entitled Reflection, it is made up of small chromed metal discs that act in a mirror-like effect, mounted on rotating chains which set them in a continuous, upward and downward movement. The whole is constantly moving, reflecting a reality that has become fragmented and unstable, where, unable to stay put, one’s gaze is lost.
Immediately thereafter, the relief works appear - made of a hundred gears arranged regularly horizontally and vertically on a square support. Its elements are adorned with geometric patterns or painted in different colors. They are powered by an electric motor and rotate at variable speeds around their axis, generating multiple combinations and a very wide variety of visual effects. Roger Vilder titles Pulsation (ill.2) this set which he developed from 1966 to 1968. At the same time he is interested in the phenomenon of transformation which he translates by means of regular geometric figures, square or triangle, going over time through deformation by contracting or expanding themselves at different speeds, to the point of representing different figures which will themselves transform.
To do this this, Roger Vilder combines three components: placed in a square box painted black, metal springs, industrial chains revolving around sprockets with an electric motor. The springs with their elastic property enable the drawing of shapes that are derived by the motorized chains in motion. Each of these reliefs is presented individually or sometimes grouped in polyptych, or even mounted in an "altarpiece", 9 assembled atop a base. Entitled Contraction, he pursued from 1968 to 1971,the production of this series far from any pictorial effect: it has much more to do with drawing, albeit practiced here by other means.
As he kept on researching, without constraint, going further into the organic world, Roger Vilder creates a soft, translucent, luminescent sculpture, shaken by tremors. Entitled Jello (ill 3 jello) , cube-shaped, it consists of a mass of gelatinous silicone placed on a base mounted on springs which cause it to settle, the lighting coming from the bottom. At the same period, the artist began using neon lighting for the first time in 1968.
From 1971, he will develop a new series of relief works, made of horizontal and vertical lines ( ill. 4 work with lines ) moving slowly in front of a background thanks to invisible motorized mechanisms, placed inside a box. With this series called Lines, Roger Vilder had returned to geometry, the reference to Mondrian’s art being explicit and intended as a tribute.
In this short time, how many studies, original, how many proposals, personal, how many activities, praised. Roger Vilder is exhibited, without having to wait, in the best places.
1 See Michelle Lasnier, "Quebec in a glass house", MacLean Magazine, vol. 5, n ° 11 Montreal, November 1965. The architects of the pavilion are Michel Le Blanc, Guy Gerin-Lajoie, Louis-Joseph Papineau
In New York in 1968, at the Howard Wise gallery with Stephen Antonakos, Takis, Wen Ying Tsaï, Nam June Paik, as well as a Chilean videographer who will become filmmaker, Juan Downey and many others. ( ill.5 next to this paragraph, press photo of Vilder with his work in 9 parts ) In Montreal, at the Galerie du Siècle(2) the same year, where we discover his Contractions. In 1968, Frank Popper published in English the second edition of his book Origins and Development of Kinetic Art, in which he selects a work that Roger Vilder had just created the same year(3), Pulsation 7. And that same year, he found himself guest at the exhibition Some more Beginnings held in New York at the Brooklyn Museum, organized in parallel with the now famous exhibition The Machine As seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, presented at the Museum of Modern Art, of which Pontus Hulten was the organizer. Designed as a continuation of Kinetic Art and as one of its spin-offs, the exhibition The Machine(4) was meant to highlight the links existing between the worlds of art, technology and science(5). Adding to the point, the exhibition Some more Beginnings(6) was organized, on behalf of the research institute Experiments in Art and Technology ( EAT), by Billy Klüver, Julie Martin and Robert Rauschenberg himself : founded in 1967, this institute had the ambition, following numerous programs developed in the United States, to bring together art, technology and industry in order to generate interactions between these fields. With this in mind, The Brooklyn Museum exhibition brought together artists and engineers with this in mind: some 137 works arising from their collaboration were thus executed and presented to the museum from various personalities(7) such as Wen Ying Tsaï, Günther Uecker, Jean Dupuy, Hans Haacke, with Roger Vilder who presented a work from 1968 entitled Pulsation 8.
In 1970, the artist showed his current works, in particular his Contractions, in Toronto in a place renowned for the originality of its programming, The Electric Gallery(8). That same year came the great exhibition Kinetics organized at the Hayward Gallery in London by Frank Popper(9), where amongst its 66 participants(10) – most of the main actors of lumino-kinetics together - Roger Vilder is presented with two works precisely 1970 works: Double contraction, made of springs and chains and its soft sculpture Jello , made of silicone, both works immediately noticed. The magazine Studio International(11) reports on the exhibition by an article written by Jonathan Benthall: titled "Technology and Art" and even illustrated his piece with the relief, Double contraction, cited above. Roger Vilder is at the heart of the artistic scene: he meets most of the actors and establishes contacts with them during the events in which he participates: Takis, Pol Bury, Gianni Colombo, Piotr Kowalski, Julio Le Parc, Len Lye, François Morellet, Nam June Paik, among others. The rest follows: he is with the Denise René gallery in Paris in 1971, the Teufel gallery exhibited it in 1972 in Cologne, the following year the Galerie M in Bochum(12), and to end the decade the Gheerbrant gallery in 1979 in Montreal. Meanwhile Roger Vilder had started his first experiments with the computer which he looked at as a tool: this will allow him to create computer-generated images, to develop cycles, to offer him a speed of execution unknown so far. He showed the results in 1971, at the Wells Gallery in Ottawa and in various other places, in Montreal and Toronto.
But things have actually changed, the context is no longer the same, kinetic art has not occupied the stage for two or three years already. The London exhibit was actually the last in this whole series of exhibitions at the international level, started in 1961 with Bewogen Beweging at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which marked the decade(13). Most of the artists who were the protagonists until Julio Le Parc, crowned Grand Prix of the Venice Biennale in 1966, were going to experience a decline which could go as far as oblivion(14). Roger Vilder is in this situation. In 1978 and again in 1979, Joseph Masheck, the editor-in-chief of the famous and powerful Artforum, mentions him in two important studies which he publishes in his magazine: His name does appear therein no less than in company of Malévitch and Bruce Naumann on one of its pages (15). Nonetheless Roger Vilder no longer gets the attention. Having acquired Canadian nationality.
2. Where regularly exhibited the greatest Canadian abstract painters of the time, Guido Molinari, Claude Tousignant, Jacques Hurtubise whom he will frequent.
3. Studio Vista, London, 1968
4. We remember his catalog with its famous metal cover with hinge.
5. It should be noted that a parallel and similar development had gradually appeared within the New Trends movement created in Zagreb in 1961 by Almir Mavignier.
6. Held from November 25, 1968 to June 6, 1969.
7. Few subsequently became known.
8. We see in particular Yaacov Agam, Norman White, Panamarenko, Wen Ying Tsaï, Michael Hayden, François Morellet, Cor Marcheschi.
9. let us recall that Frank Popper had organized with Jean Leering the exhibition Kunst Licht Kunst at the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum in 1968 in Eindhoven, followed by that of the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris Lumière et Mouvement in 1969 and, the same year, Kineticism and Environment at the Maison de la Culture in Grenoble.
10. The spectacular exhibition catalog is produced by the Crosby / Fletcher / Forbes team, with an introductory text by Theo Crosby. It is made of folded loose sheets demanding in its consultation the active participation of the reader.
11. London, november 1970.
12. An account of the exhibition, published in May 1973 in the journal Art International The Lugano Review, is illustrated with his work Lignes Blanches (1972).
13. One of the curators of the exhibition 72 12 years of contemporary art in France under the direction of François Mathey at the Grand Palais in Paris, I had made this diagnosis in my study published in the catalog: "Geometric art or the vicissitudes of virtue ”, Réunion des Musées nationaux, Paris, 1972, pp. 49-57
14. Le témoignage en a été recueilli auprès de nombreux artistes de cette époque, et tout récemment encore en novembre 2019 auprès de Marina Apollonio, elle-même revenue aujourd’hui au premier plan.
15. "Hard Core Painting", April 1978, p. 49, with a photograph of his animated film Color in Motion (1971-1975); "Pictures of Art", May 1979, p.36 with his work Untitled [16 aluminum volumes] from 1977
He stayed in Canada and taught fine arts for some 30 years. The renewed interest that kinetic art encountered during the 1990s with the emergence of a new generation of artists engaging in this pathway with their own inputs did not affect him. Roger Vilder is forgotten: he does not appear in the major exhibitions organized in Europe and across the Atlantic that follow this revival and provide an endorsement in its favor. The first in particular, due to Guy Brett shown in Barcelona then in London in 2000:( 16 ),eventually conceived as a tribute to Takis, where Roger Vilder would have had his place. Among others, The Motor Eye in Strasbourg in 2005, Op Art in Frankfurt am Main in the same year(17), until the exhibition Ghosts in the Machine in New York in 2012 (18) which put the emphasis back on art and technology, finally the vast show Dynamo Panorama A Century of Light in Art 1913-2013 in Paris the following year(19) none of which included him. Roger Vilder will have to wait until 2018 and the exhibition organized at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam entitled ACTIE REACTIE 100 jaar kinetische kunst (20) to be in the limelight of a great international event, with the presentation of his work Triangulations, ‘ ill. 6 Triangulation) a magnificent tondo from 1969 a work also selected to illustrate the cover and the back of the exhibition catalog. We measure the distance traveled and all the dazzling successes that came and went in the long and difficult trials, and he never gave up. By then, he had left Canada, settled in France in 1998 and pursued his research. He is now working more than ever.
II From Research to Research
Let’s go back to this work: a protean one, as we have seen, and largely devoted to the phenomenon of movement, in which Roger Vilder had always been interested from the beginning. He writes, remembering the year 1965:
"During an exhibition at the Faculty of Biology at Concordia University, I saw a" machine "which transported test tubes, mounted on an industrial chain, thus making it possible to present the tubes under various taps which poured liquids […]. The chain revolved around sprockets allowing it to change direction according to a certain route. There was something magical about the fast, precise movements of the whole. I was captivated, fascinated, dumbstruck. Immediately propelled into an ecstatic elsewhere where I remembered scenes that I had already observed in nature; for example, the leaves of an aspen fluttering in the wind. From the whole came a striking impression of life.
A few years earlier, on a Pacific beach in Mexico, I had spent several hours a day alone watching the waves of the ocean. I was trying to find a certain logic between their birth, their development until their death on the beach. The memory of these movements came back to me, while the images of the chain rotating around the gables haunted my mind. During the following days, I visualized in an instant my first piece in its smallest mechanical details although I had no knowledge in this area at the time. »(21)
His series Pulsations, Contractions, Lines constitute the results in three directions of this research carried out from his observations and his impressions of nature and mechanics. The Pulsations ( ill 7 opposite this paragraph) rotate at different speeds,causing effects of various kinds, of regular rotation where the figures form then scatter and go on accelerating up to the point when they become unreadable and confused. . This translation of movement is indeed at the heart of the themes that nourish Kinetic Art and we see its particular illustration in in the approach emerging from the first works which relate to the rotations and permutations of Vera Molnar (Lent giratoire movement, 1957, Musée de Grenoble ) (ill. Molnar) and those of Latin American artists living in Paris at the end of the 1950s, Julio Le Parc, Francisco Sobrino (ill. Sobrino), Horacio Garcia-Rossi, Hugo Demarco, then influenced by the works of Victor Vasarely (Francisco Sobrino, Structure permutationnelle, 1959-1967, Paris, Galerie Denise René).
Then there are the mechanical reliefs of Roger Vilder which he calls Contractions, so striking in their appearance with their apparent machinery and so surprising in their functioning with their unforeseeable results: a small figure which becomes a large format, a regular form which becomes baroque, the same principle repeated 9 times with a shift inside the same panel made up of identical modules juxtaposed - and especially in the same vein, a continuation, a deepening in the artist's work, from 1968-1971 to 2006 and until now. In the lines that move, the figures that transform(ill10 Contraction), the instability that manifests, one can observe the relationships with the distorting structures of Gianni Colombo (Spazio elastico, 1966-1968, various installations). (ill.11 ) Colombo+De Vecchi)
The interest is the same in François Morellet with his Grids deforming in 1966, whose title leaves no room for ambiguity(22). Having continued his pathway, Roger Vilder ended up in a completely different universe from which the geometry disappeared in favor of organic figurations: stretching, expanding, tightening, moving in slow and sometimes uncertain movement: it is also the spirit animating the work by Gabriele De Vecchi Strutturazi ica
16. Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA), 2000 and Hayward Gallery, London, 2000.
17. Strasbourg, Musée d’art moderne; Schirn Kunsthalle, Francfort-sur-le-Main.
18. At the New Museum.
19. At the Grand Palais, organized by the Reunion of National Museums and thanks to the determination of Jean-Paul Cluzel, President of the Reunion of National Museums - Grand Palais, by Marianne Le Pommeré, Domitille d´Orgeval, Matthieu Poirier and myself.
20. Scheduled for the Kunsthal's 25th anniversary in 2017, the exhibition finally opened in 2018. It was organized by Marianne Le Pommeré and myself. It had first been screened in Australia in the city of Brisbane at GACOMA in 2016-2017 where it could not have taken place: Roger Vilder was to appear there, in particular in company with Len Lye who was of New Zealand nationality.
21. Roger Vilder, Roger Vilder researcher in movement, BlueOrange éditions, Jigean, 2013, p. 4.
22. François Morellet avait présenté cette œuvre en un groupe de 3 à l’exposition Kinetics à Londres en 1970 avec dans le catalogue ses précisions : « Artist’s Description / Producer : Morellet / Work : Grilles déformables / Conception : Systematic / Temperature : cold / Surface : hard / Precision : maximum / Inspiration : minimum / Control : at all stages of production », n.p. from 1965-1970 (private collection, Bad Homburg) and which they also expressed in their own way by Gianni Colombo and Vincenzo Agnetti, Vobulazione e bieloquenza neg of 1970.
This inclination towards the organic is clearly affirmed by Roger Vilder which titles his works Geometric organism. Its relief Geometric organism 5 of 2006, which can take on the appearance of an amoeba in certain phases of its development, thus situates it in an important line pertaining to non-geometric abstraction, initiated by Jean Arp, László Moholy-Nagy, César Domela, Auguste Herbin(23) and which also finds its counterpart in the Picasso of the Dadaist-Surrealist period( ill.13 Picasso, Moholy-Nagy, Herbin according to model) : : his work Guitarer created in the spring of 1926 (Paris, Picasso Museum), consisting of a used mop and stretched by strings mounted on canvas, is one example with its overly indeterminate outline. Indeterminate and elusive, these are the words that characterize the work of Roger Vilder Jello and his other version called Expansion: they move, they "breathe", the height of the organic and dare we go so far , of the "living"? In the essay "The elliptical orbit of Roger Vilder" published below, art historian Marianne Le Pommeré highlights the importance taken by the organic in his art.
In contrast, its reliefs called Lines, where the mechanisms remain hidden, with their white or black lines in groups of 4 or 6, which move slowly horizontally and vertically, move closer, move away, cross at different speeds, brought back Roger Vilder - it was in 1971, in the world of constructivism. The reference to the art of Piet Mondrian is of course explicit: the same elements, intersecting lines; the same, orthogonal structures; the vocabulary and grammar of neoplasticism,although the artist disrupts its rules by putting everything in motion. To permanence on one side, change on the other; to stability, uncertainty; to immutability, a long lasting sequence. Another perception for another vision, but in the same spirit as that of Jesús-Rafael Soto ( ill.15 Soto opposite the previous one by Vilder, to be placed with model) when he undertook,upon his arrival in Paris at the start in the 1950s, to “move” the lines of Mondrian (Dynamic composition, 1951, Paris, Soto succession (24); the rest of his work is known. And we remember the reaction of Alexander Calder during his first visit in 1930 to Mondrian’s workshop on rue du Départ in Paris (25).
As for Roger Vilder, always looking for new means of expression, he has appropriated the use of the neon tube that he adorns with aesthetic virtues. He writes: "What could be more beautiful than the blue of argon through a transparent glass tube" ( 26). In 1968, he produced his first work in neon tube, a figure composed of a single line deploying its scrolls in space (Michele, destroyed), which owes much in its impetus to the art of the American sculptor José de Rivera . It turned slowly on its base and made a strong impression with its 2 m wingspan. There are a few, years late;, 11 blue neon curves in 1970: high vertical S-shaped lines, rotating on themselves at different speeds, installed in drums, which shape the space of their undulations. The work remains unique.
But Roger Vilder does not stop there. He quickly uses neon tubes of different colors in his reliefs with moving lines, reinforcing on the one hand their continuity with the paintings of Mondrian's New York period, Broadway Boogie-Boogie for example and on the other developing all their potential. More recently in 2010, Roger Vilder became interested in the figure of Boy’s cube, a three-dimensional geometric volume obtained from developed surfaces and whose edges generate a continuous line. By erasing the volume, the artist keeps the outline which he draws by means of a neon tube: he thus creates a structure whose lines cross visually in space and make the reading of the form more difficult. At the same time, it accentuates this impression of inextricability by breaking the right angles, causing the collapse of this structure (Variation sur cube de Boy 3, 2012) (ill. 16 Vilder ? Variation sur cube de Boy 3) - a process not without analogy with the practice of François Morellet in his neon works entitled Lamentable (ill 17 ) Morellet, Lamentable) : a circle broken into 8 equal segments, suspended, as can be seen magnificently installed in the church of the convent of La Tourette built by Le Corbusier.
More can be found in the outspoken interest of Roger Vilder for the use of the computer: he is a pioneer alongside Herbert W. Franke, Georg Nees, Frieder Nake(27), especially Manfred Mohr and Vera Molnar, who will later join Gottfried Honegger, François Morellet, as well as Charles Sandison in a different spirit. The computer offers Roger Vilder the means to instantly get the results of a program he has established and to be able to examine all the possibilities: he offers an overview in his lithograph of 1976 Signs, which lists 90 different combinations of the same form, itself changing. The result leads to the same year on a set of 5 monumental vertical and aligned sculptures as a tribute to the statues erected on Easter Island. Another lithograph from 1976 lists 225 different configurations of a pattern made up of 4 variable surfaces. This program enabled him to design in 1978 his installation 16 volumes of aluminum on the ground, in a spirit similar to that of the horizontal sculptures of Minimal Art (28 )
At the same time, Roger Vilder invests in the practice of animation cinema. As early as 1971, he worked out the program for an abstract film made with the computer and whose "actors" were the colors red, yellow, blue and green defined by a simple geometric shape and set in motion in a flat space. He describes the process of this film entitled Color in Motion which he created in 1975 at the Canadian Scientific Research Center in Ottawa: “This film brings together 4 colors - red, blue, green and yellow - which present themselves at a central point before growing, evolving and shrinking in the form of squares and rectangles at different growth rates. Each color dominates the others in turn, occupying all the space on the screen, then they are cut into 4 squares, decrease to a central point and disappear. "(29). It's all about movement, it's always about kinetics and the beautiful continuity offered in the film Rythmus 21 screened by the abstract Dadaist artist Hans Richter in 1921 in Berlin.
From there for Roger Vilder, still a pioneer, the use of algorithms and the possibility of designing and producing infinite programs that he shows on tactil screens (Algorithm 4K4c of 2012), thus requiring active participation of the person looking at the work.
23. We will add in this vein the names of Willi Baumeister, Fernand Léger, Le Corbusier…
24. Le tableau est présenté tout de suite à Paris au 7ème Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, catalogue n° 609.
25. “I suggested to Mondrian that it might be fun to swing all of his rectangles. And he, with a very serious air, answered:
"No, it's not necessary, my painting is already going very fast. "
This visit gave me a deep shock. " In Alexander Calder, Calder autobiography, Maeght éditeur, Paris, 1972, p. 66.
26. Roger Vilder, op. cit., note 20, p. 45.
27 Participants in the New Trends, these artists have never produced works that are convincing from a plastic point of view.
28. As Joseph Masheck himself pointed out in his 1979 article, "Pictures of Art", published in Artforum. See above, note 14.
29. Roger Vilder, op.cit., p. 4827 Participants in the New Trends, these artists have never produced works that are convincing from a plastic point of view.
28. As Joseph Masheck himself pointed out in his 1979 article, "Pictures of Art", published in Artforum. See above, note 14.
29. Roger Vilder, op.cit., p. 48
30. Cf, supra note 20, op.cit., p. 48.
31. See the collection he directed on these themes published in 5 volumes in New York in 1965 and in Brussels in 1968 for the French translation by the editor La Connaissance, S. A.
A great unity characterizes the art of Roger Vilder, while the variety of its aspects is obvious. The expression of movement has been his primary concern, followed by that of combining geometry and the organic. But what may characterize perhaps even more the whole of his work is his approach, his method based on research. He presents himself as a “researcher in motion”: this is the title of his catalog published in 2013. He writes there: “I always wanted to work in the context of a research laboratory attached to a university or industrial institution.(30) ”Already in 1961, Horacio-Garcia Rossi, Julio Le Parc, François Morellet, Francisco Sobrino, Yvaral had founded in Paris the Visual Art Research Group, aptly named GRAV. There was also Gruppo T, Gruppo N and Gruppo M.I.D. in Italy formed in the same spirit. Starting in 1963 the very principle of research moved the artists of the movement New Tendencies, who met in Zagreb and their evolution towards technology, which will eventually prevail over art itself. The same idea is at the core, as we have seen, for the protagonists that found, as we have seen, the protagonists of E.A.T. in the USA. We should also mention Gyorgy Kepes, the heir to Moholy-Nagy at the New Bauhaus in Chicago, professor at MIT, whose action program consisted in bringing together science, sociology and art and integrating them into the modern world(31) . As for the review Leonardo, founded in Paris in 1968 by the engineer and kinetic artist Frank Malina, its aim was to publish the writings of artists, researchers or theorists in the field of arts and technology. Roger Vilder is not isolated. He did participate in a vast gathering where there were the same concerns and commitments. This is how he finally came to be more interested in exploring unknown territories and discovering new means than in the results that may be achieved. Didn't his friend François Morellet declare in 1971: "The result obviously interests me less than the system itself"(32). We see the community of thought that brings together all these creators. Roger Vilder’s approach is based on intuition and experimentation and uses technology. Today his contemporaries of the new generations, Žilvinas Kempinas, Pe Lang, the LAb group [au], Elias Crespin(33) stand in his wake, ensuring him a legitimate and magnificent continuity.
32 In the catalog of the François Morellet exhibition, CNAC, Paris, 1971, p. 58.
33 All of whom were shown in the exhibition Dynamo and Actie Reactie – cited above