Oskar Fischinger’s mesmerizing three-screen projection, Raumlichtkunst, looks like a psychedelic light show from a 1960s rock concert. (It could well occupy the same universe as the documentation of Yayoi Kusama’s hippyish happenings, currently showing on the Whitney’s fourth floor.) Trippy shots of moving liquid, along with footage of fire, explosions, a spinning galaxy and a globe, are intercut with moiré patterns reminiscent of Op Art, along with geometric animations of flashing circles, moving rectangular bars and silhouetted pickets that recall the opening credits from a particularly stylish TV detective series. Black-and-white sequences give way to others in various saturated monochromatic hues, accompanied by a soundtrack of avant-garde music. And intermittently, a cryptic drawing of a hooded figure with outstretched arms, like some beckoning Eskimo maiden, appears.
The kicker here is that Fischinger’s installation actually dates from 1926, and was influenced not by a druggy counterculture but by theosophy and Kandinsky’s abstraction. A pioneering abstract animator, Fischinger worked in his native Germany for Fritz Lang before emigrating in 1936 to the U.S., where, briefly employed by Walt Disney, he contributed to Fantasia and Pinocchio.
Raumlichtkunst represents a remarkably early instance of an immersive, projected artwork. The piece extends the lineage of a number of artistic and cultural tropes—its rapid-fire editing seems especially contemporary—and changes our view of film history.—Joseph R. Wolin