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Diagonal Symphony by Viking Eggeling

"It was with persistent energy that Eggeling set out to an entirely new area. There were a few pioneers here and there who wanted to accomplish the same thing but did not know of one another's work. There were no experiences, no technical institutions, no method, and no model. They all had to create everything on their own. With no means at his disposal other than extreme effort and deep conviction, and without once abandoning the way of the artist, Eggeling neared his goal step by step. To be sure, his Diagonale Symphonie had not yet solved all the problems of an absolute film. But, all things considered, I still think that Eggeling produced the definitive work, which served as a source of inspiration for others and made their own work less difficult."
Adolf Behne. 'Zehn Jahre Novembergruppe', special issue of Kunst der Zeit, 1927, p. 32

Viking Eggeling is now widely considered a key pioneer of abstract film in animation.

In the early 1920s, Eggeling was associated with the Zurich Dada movement where he became friends with Hans Richter, Jean Arp, Tristan Tzara, and Marcel Janco, He developed a close artistic relationship with Richter and together they worked on sketches and scroll paintings that explored their fascination with movement and shape through a kind of visual music.

In 1922, determined to express his ideas on rhythm in a material form, Eggeling bought his first motion picture camera. With it he made the 10 minute Horizontal Vertical Orchestra, based on the principle of oriental scrolls. First shown in 1923, it is now believed lost.

Between 1922 and 1924 Eggeling worked on Diagonal Symphony. Using paper cutouts and tin foil figures he created shapes and patterns that look like musical instruments, musical staff lines and machine parts, then photographed them a frame at a time. White, delicate, abstract figures move almost metronomically on a black background. The graphic two-dimensional lines and shapes seem to dissolve and reappear as though they are drawing themselves. The effect is beautiful, magical and deliberate, resulting in the realisation of his search for a precise visual language of motion.

Finished in 1924, the film was first shown publicly in Germany on May 3rd 1925

Sadly, Eggeling died just 16 days later aged 45.

Lara Thompson

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Still from Diagonal Symphony

Courtesy of the artist/Lux
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