Vera Molnar

Transformations 1-21

1976

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Not on display

Artist
Vera Molnar born 1924
Original title
Átalakulás 1-21
Medium
21 works on paper, digital prints on paper
Dimensions
Support, each: 550 × 303 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee 2020
Reference
T15545

Summary

Transformations (Átalakulás) 1–21 1976 is a series of twenty-one computer plotter drawings on white Benson paper (a plotter being a type of early computer printer that produced line drawings using a pen). The drawings, by Paris-based Hungarian artist Vera Molnár, are preserved in their original format: at the top of the Benson sheet are the day, date and exact time of the computer print-out. Each drawing shows a different stage in the progression of a five by five grid of concentric squares. Molnár programmed a computer algorithm to randomly disrupt the regularity of the concentric squares. As the title indicates, the sequence of plotter drawings shows the transformation of squares across twenty-one drawings, from a state of order to one of disorder. As the sequence progresses, an impression of movement is generated, as if the squares are vibrating against one another. The final sheets in the series are an apparently chaotic jumble of lines. This work was exhibited in Molnár’s first solo exhibition, Transformations, that took place at the gallery of the Polytechnic of Central London in 1976. It is a multi-part work which is always displayed in sequence as numbered, from one to twenty-one. More recently it was included in the group exhibition Book Marks, Revisiting Hungarian Art of the 1960s and 1970s at the Vinyl Factory, London in 2018.

Molnár created her first computer graphics, printed on Benson-Plotter, in Paris in 1968, having moved there from her native Budapest in 1947. A pioneer of computer-generated work, in 1976 she developed the ‘Molnart’ computer software programme jointly with her husband, the artist François Molnár (1922–1993). Since 1959, before her work with computers, Molnár was already working with systems and simple programmes by hand, a method she referred to as a ‘machine imaginaire’, allowing her to work systematically: ‘In order to process my research series in a systematic way, I initially applied a technique I called machine imaginaire. I imagined I had a computer. I created a program and then, step by step, I realized simple, limited series which were self-contained, and thus did not skip any shape combinations.’ (Quoted in Vintage Galéria 2018, p.5.) In conversation with the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, she further explained: ‘An imaginary machine, that’s an excellent concept for me because it combines machine and imagery. Because my goal is not at all to use a computer, I don’t care about computers, but the computer is like a slave in making my dreams a reality. My imagination, if you will.’ (Quoted in Vinyl Factory 2018, p.77.)

Molnár’s earliest computer-generated images in the late 1960s were made using an iterative process and include works from the Interruptions series. She used a random generator which calculated where the pen and ink should touch the paper, within certain limits that she defined, such as ‘two or three millimetres in x, y, in plus minus’ (quoted in Vinyl Factory 2018, p.79). Molnár has long been fascinated by the relationship between order and disorder, taking the grid as one of her subjects. Works such as the series Hypertransformations 1975–6 – computer drawings on Benson paper that immediately preceded Transformations 1976 – show the metamorphosis of concentric squares subjected to pressure at one or several points of their sides, causing the lines to distort. Her earlier series Transformations 1974 makes reference to the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich’s (1879–1935) iconic Black Square painting of 1915. Here concentric squares undergo variations as their centre is shifted in its abscissa (x) and ordinate (y) axes. The work entitled One Percent Disorder 1974–7 is a literal translation of the ‘1% chance’ that has been an important principle for Molnár. In this 250-square composition, the desired 1% amount of disorder has resulted in a number of squares not being drawn, as determined by the random generator of the programme. Of her process in relation to such works, the artist has commented:

The technical elements that make up my work are geometric shapes, such as squares, rectangles, and often mere lines … I use simple shapes because they allow me step by step control over how I create the image arrangement. Thus, I can try to identify the exact moment when the evidence of art becomes visible. In order to guarantee the systematic nature of this research, I use a computer … At first, I conducted slow and inspiring experiments by means of a computer … This resulted in many visually interesting situations, e.g. the quasi-situation where the square was still nearly a square. At first, the difference between height and width was not distinguishable. Then, shortly after, a difference could be detected in an unstable way; this is one of my favourite situations.
(Quoted in Vintage Galéria 2018, p.8.)

Further reading
Katalin Székely (ed.), Book Marks, Revisiting Hungarian Art of the 1960s and 1970s, exhibition catalogue, Vinyl Factory, London 2018.
Vera Molnar, exhibition catalogue, Vintage Galéria, Budapest 2018.

Juliet Bingham
June 2019

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