The Elliptical Orbit Of Roger Vilder.
« She is found.
What? - Eternity.
It's the sea gone
With the sun. »
Following his first kinetic relief in 1966 Roger Vilder developed a substantial corpus of works whose inscription in the history of a movement, that of Lumino-Kineticism, as Serge Lemoine precisely delivers in his essay, makes his falling into progressive oblivion puzzling. Born in Lebanon 82 years ago this year, immigrated with his family to Canada, settled today in Nîmes, his journey is astonishing. The man is considerate and modest. He explains with clarity his ideas and his works, discloses his sources and may be understood by all: in his text, given for reading here, no talkative intellectualism or the awkwardness sometimes born by the writings of artists who finally express themselves- as should be- better through their forms, their colors, their compositions and their staging than with words. Roger Vilder gets to the point when expressing himself about his art, the emotions that feed him and his philosophy of life.
Without a doubt, he was always like that. François Morellet, who was known for his intellectual requirement, appreciated him. However, if the paths have not diverged, his personality is too different from that of many of the artists in his family. Roger Vilder remained a loner: a craftsman who experimented with his hands the motors and their movement, the industrial chains, the springs and their tension, ending up expressing what seems to be the opposite, a sensitivity, a poetics of matter and life. His way of producing is also slower. He takes his time, has no assistant1, works alone. Almost withdrawn: he explains about himself that not drinking or not smoking has kept him away from discussions with his friends. He is a simple man, maybe touchy. He reads, but ultimately learns more from pictures. Above all, he does observe. First, Nature and photos, often scientific and those of Gyorgy Kepes' books, which validate his own intuitions: the stones and pebbles he collects are as for Le Corbusier, Jean Arp, Kurt Schwitters, Charlotte Perriand, Fernand Léger and some other great "seers", proof that nature is a repertoire of perfect forms. These moving and changing forms, of which we cannot say anything, for they are mysterious, reveal to him the harmony of the world2. He thus declined, in Ciel et mer, a series of photographs, Ondulation, Lignes du lavoir, short videos, then with algorithms for abstract compositions made of very simple geometric shapes, waves and clouds, thus passing to movement in a still shot of its recording filmed with video finally of its abstract representation in compositions that algorithmic calculation makes unpredictable for the viewer, as in life with clouds and waves.
To better grasp what justifies his passage from reality to abstraction, we must watch Animotion, a contraction of the words animal and motion - his second film, which he was able to make in 1982-1983 based on a 1972 screenplay project that he gave in particular Pierre Restany to read and whose storyboard has been published in the small catalog for his exhibition in 1972 at the Cultural Center of Canada in Paris3: although they arise in the three elements, air, water, earth, he shows there what is common to the shapes drawn by a flock of birds in the morning when they leave looking for food, perform swirls in the sky, and repeat these same figures in the evening when they return to the trees where they nest, those of a shoal of fish waving from side to side, and those of a flock of sheep coming together with a dog- the order in which these patterns evolve evoking for Roger Vilder "the relationship between one and the whole. " The movement is about new beginning, change, metamorphosis, which are the hallmarks of life itself overtime. Pierre Restany enthusiastically praised this film and described it as "a perfect square, assemblage of points, (becoming) bird, flock of birds, cloud in close formation, fish, shoal of fish, to finally return to the original square. The spirit of geometry is identified here with the deep instinct which apprehends the elementary manifestations of existence ”. He also sees in it the "mad love for life" of Roger Vilder and "his mystical realism" 4.
Nonetheless, what is truly unique about Roger Vilder is that he knew how to draw his strength as much from the observation of nature from a cosmic perspective to glimpse at the possibility and the need to exist of all things, perpetually changing in search for harmony, as from the spectacle of the modern world, revealed by new sciences and technologies.
Who else but him could see a ballet of poetic forms in the mechanical delivery of test tubes under taps that fill them with colored liquid? This is altogether a rather banal experiment whose reception is singular to him: he is "subjugated", “astounded” and thereby does he equate this spectacle to the beauty of an aspen tree leaves, always in movement. His emotion is such that it leads him to a practice.
Movement is the seed of his dreams, his center. Reverie is indeed a period in which the mind settles down and suddenly sees in a flash; perhaps it is the intuition, the value of an experience, the meaning of an event however complex. Jean-Pierre Changeux gives an example of the intuitive emergence, which could be the inspiration, the moment when the amateur of scholarly art, observing a painting, instantly distinguishes its influences, its sources, appreciates its quality and finally discovers its author. The poet Philippe Jaccottet explains this phenomenon by taking for example the word cosmos, a word from ancient Greek whose meaning was "order, convenience, then world, and the adornment of women. The source of poetry can be found in these moments when in a flash, sometimes also by slow impregnation, those three meanings do coincide.” Other poets before him talked about “Correspondences”. With Vilder, these two worlds of knowledge or clairvoyance coexist - does he not speak of "the ecstatic elsewhere" where he was “propelled” by the chain of test tubes.
One can also think of the curiosities that were sought in the past and more specifically the naturalia, wonders of nature5. Roger Vilder collects stones, as did other artists before him in the 20th Century, and some amateurs since the 16th Century for their cabinets. Initially collected as admirable objects found in faraway journeys, coming from all elements of the world, unicorn horns, onions of black tulips, corals, fossils, insects, carapaces turtles, sometimes unclassifiable (is it an animal or a plant?), these curiosities were also deemed a new source of knowledge to be studied. Savant people were close to scientists in spirit. The same approach goes when Roger Vilder looks at stones or images of the body and nature known today thanks to macro photography: he sees the resemblance between the nervous system and veins and the roots of trees, the veins of leaves, as before him, in the 16th Century, the goldsmith Wenzel Jamnitzer, author of a remarkable "curiosity", did make out of a red coral the ramifications of arms becoming the branches of a statuette representing Daphne, as she is transformed into a tree to escape Apollo6.
Lumino-Kinetic Art has been and remains most often assimilated to a very mechanical, rational art, arising from Geometric Abstract Art, developed from experimentation, calculation and the use of systems. Artists indeed wanted to appropriate themselves the methods of engineers, the status of scholars, insomuch as in the name devised for the groups they formed, as do researchers working as a team: thus Equipo 57, the Research Group of Visual Art, even the French acronym, GRAV (Groupe de recherche d’art visuel) bears a meaning; thus sometimes even through their clothes - we know of the overalls of Moholy-Nagy and Rodchenko; for Julio Le Parc, the blue blouse appeals to the same desire to be identified - , as a worker using his hands, an identification even more confusing given the large organization of his workshop today. In addition to the traditional mechanical workings, these artists wanted to integrate the most advanced technics of their time- the computer, computer science and even cybernetics that were immediately adopted by Vasarely and Schöffer. An American institute, EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology) was founded in 1967 with the aim of bringing artists and engineers together: Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Klüver, an electrical engineer, organized an exhibition which brought together as a coronation, at the Brooklyn Museum in 1968, participants selected among some 120 applications from both worlds; at the end of the exhibition, a prize was awarded by engineers who distinguished one of their own. Roger Vilder participated in this endeavor to use new technologies and to work with scientists, albeit with no more success than his classmates. Joining two worlds to work together does require explanations and time.
It is said that another source of Lumino-Kineticism could be philosophical: this artistic trend finds its origin in the writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. His analysis of the experience of vision was also taken up by William C. Seitz who described as "perceptual", in English, one of the expressive forms of Abstraction born in the early 20th Century and whose evolutions went on to become the very object of the exhibition, The Responsive Eye, which he organized in 1965 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Following Seitz, the question of perception will become constant to define the theoretical framework of their research for lumino-kinetic artists. To the point of making some people forget the works themselves: an often-cited environment, built for an exhibition of New Tendencies in Zagreb in 1965, yet aimed to "measure the relationship between the complexity of the visual message and the aesthetic information”. The word "aesthetic" is now banned from the studies of contemporary art historians.
Besides Merleau Ponty, Norbert Wiener is cited - he calls himself a philosopher of "automation", and from his knowledge of applied mathematics, information and communication sciences, he was the pioneer of "cybernetics" 7. There are also neuro-scientists, such as Warren Mc Culloch, William Gray-Walter, some behavioral psychologists, and Henri Piraux, an engineer who had built a robot - one might smile - in the shape of a dog, following the work of Gray-Walter and his electronic robot, already in the shape of an animal (a turtle), moreover named Elsie and which is meant to "feed" on light. The studies alone of these scholars would have allowed artists to create "perceptual tools" involving the active participation of the spectator to understand the interaction of these "tools" with humans, in the same way that Gray-Walter had observed Elsie’s behavior in his apartment. Umberto Eco will say that kinetic artists wanted to "favor the adaptation to a whole perceptual dynamic that the new technological conditions had provoked" 8.
It is clear to Roger Vilder that he would have wanted a place in the middle of these two worlds. His journey seems elliptical, like that of certain planets around the sun, "an eccentric orbit", of which Friedrich Hölderlin speaks in Thalia, going in its essential directions - from the greatest simplicity one gets from looking at Nature to the most astute reflection about the culture of one’s time. The limitations of the field of observation, that of the waves in the confined format of photographs and videos, that of the mobile structures of the formats most often square of the kinetic reliefs, those finally of the groupings of animals in Animotion with images created by a software, this limitation becomes the equivalent to that of the chemist with his test pieces. It is the result of a program that Roger Vilder may have considered too theoretical, as he may have thought that the result of such a narrow observation was not proven. Quickly aware of the dangers that science posed to the world of nature and to man, and more so today frightened by the risks of transhumanism, Roger Vilder was keenly interested in the theory of flows which he discovered in reading Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980), in French La plénitude de l’univers (The fullness of Universe), whose author, physicist David Bohm, proposed a "natural philosophy" in which would be associated in the same study science, philosophy and politics, this which had led him to dialogue in particular with Jiddu Krishnamurti 9. As Roger Vilder recalls, Norbert Wiener did refuse to participate in the Manhattan nuclear bomb development project; he also exposed the dangers to society created by the science of communication, of which he had been a pioneer. As for Frank Malina, aeronautical engineer, pioneer of sounding rockets, he disapproved the military diversion of his researches, abandoned his career and chose to become an artist10. This time of wavering before the possibilities offered by science gave rise, as we can see, to great upheavals in the lives of many thinkers, scientists and artists. We had to try to see clearly. Even by seeking the word and magnetic presence of certain gurus, such as Georges Ivanovitch a/k/a Gurdjieff, in a brief attempt by Roger Vilder and before him François Morellet11, or a longer attempt by Katherine Mansfield and Nicolas Schöffer, among many others.
The most original works in relief created by Roger Vilder do reflect this moment of passage. They are made up of perfectly orthogonal grids, deformed by the action of a motor, like the wave beating on the beach. In 1969, his sculpture Expansion (1969) showed the quasi-corporeal animation of a mass of soft matter for an effect opposite to that of respiration. It can be described as follows: either a Pyrex sphere, a dielectric silicone cube where air bubbles remained; the sphere is connected to a vacuum pump: emptying it of its air causes the bubbles in the silicone to swell and the silicone to sag. All in 7 minutes, followed by its backward movement.
The forms of Roger Vilder’s works are free, “organic”, to use the word that describes the already long history of forms from Art Nouveau and architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright, to that of the artists Willi Baumeister, László Moholy-Nagy, Georges Vantongerloo and Jean Arp in the beginning of Abstraction. Today, it goes on with Julio Le Parc - for example with his light boxes, a true ballet made of points and vibrations in space- or with Fujika Nakaya and then Ann-Veronica Janssens with their cloudy mists where one gets lost. Let us also mention Žilvinas Kempinas whose works are made of magnetic tapes, his favorite material: they entangle on the ground in swirls, create fountains (Fountains) whose rustling evokes the flow of water, their ribbons drawing an O or more significantly ∞, the symbol of the infinite (invented in the 17th Century by John Wallis) as they float freely in front of a wall lifted by fans, amidst an eternally unstable balance.
Simple in appearance, all these works, while created with ordinary materials, often animated with the most elementary engines, warm up modernity thanks to all their references to life.
The reliefs of Roger Vilder, with their rolling chains, may seem at first sight to only generate exact and determined geometric shapes, but they are constantly renewed and indefinable. One can hear the work, see the saccade, feel the trepidation, and notice the trembling of the chain in its movement. Nothing exact after all. A kind of hesitation, almost the idea of stopping, maybe going back. What if Elsie stopped, wondered her Pygmalion? The coming and going is the same for scientists and artists.12 Life feeds on art and life feeds on science. But sometimes the artist gets ahead of the scientist. The drawing of a rabbit by Albrecht Dürer shows a better observation than that of the scientist itself at that time. Claus Sluter renders the nails and cuticles on the fingers of the statues of the prophets of the Well of Moses with accuracy, before they were even seen by the scholars of his time. Undoubtedly, there lays the most beautiful and wise ambition of Roger Vilder for whom, as Italo Calvino says of Mr. Palomar "he [...] has always happened to see certain things - a stone wall, a seashell, a leaf, a teapot - that come to him as if asking for a careful and prolonged attention: he starts to observe them almost without realizing it and his gaze begins to go through all the details, no longer managing to detach himself from it ”, "a man who [sets out] to reach wisdom, step by step". Let us wish, together with Italo Calvino, that Roger Vilder keeps on going, step by step.