In his book ‘Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media’, Noam Elcott describes the history of ‘Artificial Darkness’ at it relates to several novel technologies of the late 19th and early 20th century. Elcott describes the technology behind the use of dark spaces and voids as an apparatus or dispositif of techniques which changed the way people interacted with Art. Elcott in particular focuses on the idea of Artificial Darkness as a void instead of another version of the color black. This focus on the ‘Void’ as a technological innovation offers numerous insights into the evolution of photography and cinema as well as theatre, performance and the relationship to the viewer. Thinking of artificial darkness as a void instead of the color black served as a useful perspective in terms of the changing relationships of science, philosophy and art, but it overlooks one apparatus of the dispositif of artificial darkness that is always encompassing the void, it discounts the idea of a frame of space. There can be no ‘Artificial Darkness’ without some frame around it which separates it from the viewer. Consider the void framing Étienne-Jules Marey’s chronophotography; Wagner’s darkened theater with its missing orchestra still framed by his double proscenium; and Georges Méliès dark art cinema still framed in film and sometimes musical scores. Even Oskar Schlemmer’s cubic abstract stage was framed within the envelope defining its edge. A void, even a framed void is nothingness, except when it is not. My argument and one that others even Schlemmer have grasped is that the frame of the void creates a tension and structure defined by its shape and properties. In his book ‘Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye’, Rudolf Arnheim wrote, “A visual figure such as a square is empty and not empty at the same time. Its center is part of a complex hidden structure, which we can explore much as we use iron filings to explore the lines of force in a magnetic field… The picture plus the hidden structure induced by it is more than a lattice of lines. The percept is really a continuous field of forces… These ridges are the center of attractive and repulsive forces, whose influence extends through their surroundings, inside and outside the boundaries of the figure.”…”’Dead center’ is not dead… it is still but loaded with energy.”  This concept of hidden forces and structures strikingly aligns with Schlemmer’s concept of the ‘abstract stage’ ‘Tansermensch‘ (human dancer) and ‘auratic flow’ (Fluidium).
There are other similarities in principle to this concept of ‘invisible structure’, in particular the concept of dynamic symmetry as it was “rediscovered” by Jay Hambidge at the same time the Bauhaus was forming in 1919. Hambidge published a magazine called “The Diagonal” in which he illustrated examples of a compositional theory based on what he believed was the use rectangular proportions by the Greeks, he believed the use of geometry and proportion could lead to a more dynamic symmetry in art. He published his theories over several years in ‘The Diagonal’ and later in several books. The general structures of Hambidge’s compositional rules were very similar to the geometry and grid structures of compositions created in De Stijl and the Bauhaus school. Hambidge was a neoclassicist and very conservative in his aesthetics; He was no fan of the avant garde, which makes it unlikely that his theory or its application to Greek art carried much weight with modern artists in Europe either. The two systems must have evolved from some precursor which split at some point to influence two different artistic ideals, Hambidge’s Greek inspired aesthetic and the abstract forms of the avant garde aesthetic in Europe.
At the time Hambidge formed his theories on dynamic symmetry he was also conducting research on the measurement of the human figure at the Harvard Medical School. Hambidge wrote in first sentence of the forward for the first issue of ‘The Diagonal’, “The basic principles underlying the greatest art so far produced in the world, may be found in the proportions of the human figure and in the growing plant.”  Schlemmer, like many who worked at Bauhaus, was also interested in human proportions as a basis for his choreography, stage and costume design. Whatever, the source of similar ideas might be, Hambidge’s two dimensional dynamic symmetry, the geometric framework of Schlemmer’s abstract stage and the bauhaus ideal of ‘Der Mensch’ bare a striking resemblance to one another.
The idea of invisible structure from shape and proportion was not discovered by Hambidge, Schlemmer or any philosopher of the 19th century. Eastern philosophy has understood the concept since at least the time of Lao Tzu (601 BC). Lao Tzu wrote, “Thirty spokes meet in the hub, but the empty space between them is the essence of the wheel. Pots are formed from clay, but the empty space within it is the essence of the pot. Walls with windows and doors form the house, but the empty space within it is the essence of the home.”  In Japan they call this idea ‘Ma’ which translates to english as “gap”, “space”, “pause” or “the space between two structural parts.” More than just space however ma includes both space and time. Hambidge and Schlemmer’s theories of space, choreography, geometry and composition can be united under the concept of ma. Referring back to Noam Elcott’s dispositif of artificial darkness it is possible to relate the apparatus of darkness, void, space and composition to ma. In his essay ‘The skin of culture’, Derrick de Kerckhove describes ma as “the complex network of relationships between people and objects”.  This can be taken further to describe my historical approach. I’m looking to find the connections, the ma, the hidden spatial aesthetic structure which connects ideas like Hambidge’s dynamic symmetry with Schlemmer’s ‘abstract stage’ and ‘auratic flow’. It lies somewhere in the way we perceive within a frame and our attention to proportion in composition.
 ‘Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media’, Noam Elcott (2016), The University of Chicago Press.
 ‘Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye’, Rudolf Arnheim (1954). The University of California Press.
’The Diagonal’ volume 1, Jay Hambidge, 1920, Harvard University Press.
’A pot is useful for its emptiness’ ‘Tao Te Ching’, Lao Tzu
”The Skin of Culture,” in “Marshall McLuhan: Theoretical elaboration”, Derrick de Kerckhove , Volume 2, Taylor & Francis 2005. p 157.
Examples in VR: Playing with abstraction of forms in ‘Abstract space’ and ‘2d Composition’