The medium didn't matter, but the object meant everything. Whether he was using his canvas for a Cubist experiment or his camera for an avant-garde digression, Fernand Leger always placed the object at the center of his work. Leger was the... [more]
The medium didn't matter, but the object meant everything. Whether he was using his canvas for a Cubist experiment or his camera for an avant-garde digression, Fernand Leger always placed the object at the center of his work.
Leger was the only French Cubist to devote himself, throughout his career, to the machine. Unlike Picasso or Braque, who represented the mechanics of motion in order to reveal the mechanics of perception, Leger studied the machine for itself. He painted bodies to resemble metal tubing -- breasts like big funnels, legs like smooth culverts; his cities were colorful collages of pristine geometric shapes. He had unrelenting faith in industrial progress.
After watching and loving the tragicomic romps of Charlie Chaplin, Leger decided to extend his aesthetic principles and ideological optimism to the cinema. The result, an experimental short about rhythm and movement entitled "Le Ballet Mecanique" (1924), became an archetype for the avant-garde. Composed of a dizzying combination of action shots and animated shapes, "Le Ballet Mecanique" was truly experimental: it did not commit to one overriding style.
In his essay "A New Realism: the Object (its Plastic and Cinematic Graphic Value)," Leger spelled out his intention to bring out "the values of the object." Tossing aside the traditional notions of cinematic narratives (poignant love stories, sweeping historical accounts, spooky suspense flicks), Leger zoomed in on every day objects, like "a pipe, a chair, a typewriter, a hat, a foot." Finding visual likeness between shapes and movements, "Le Ballet M'canique" divorces an object's visual aspects from its function. This separation gave Leger the freedom to explore new abstract innovations because he wasn't bogged down by the burden of meaning. From his deliberately rhythmic shot lengths to his creation of the "flicker effect" (lengths of film with no image), his experimentation inspired a generation of avant-garde filmmakers bent on subverting the narrative norm. [show less]