Frank J. Malina: From Rocket Science To Open Communications Bridging Arts and Sciences

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Perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of looking both backward and forward at the paths of Frank J. Malina (1912-1981) is his unique pivotal turn from a brilliant scientist suddenly at the core of new military trajectories to establishing a journal and network for international cooperation and open communication between the arts and sciences. Leonardo was established in Paris in 1968 ( originally in collaboration with Pergamon Press, and currently with MIT Press ) with the objective to provide a new medium for “free disclosure and exchange of information” in the arts and the applied sciences, and “to reflect the developing world-wide impact of contemporary works of art on mankind on a planet made small by modern means of communication and transportation, and where the diversity of community life is being given a unifying basis by the universality of scientific and technological achievements.” Beginning primarily as a channel of communication between artists, it has in fact become a major force in channeling the sciences toward the artists’ realms and vice versa.

The message of this path is at the heart of the events of Mutamorphosis and Enter3, a combination of forums and exhibitions which both commemorate the 40th anniversary of Leonardo and which serve to deeply analyze the current and future directions of the arts and sciences in an undeniably volatile environment fueled by the Military Industrial Complex (with its new IT and Genetics counterparts), and increasingly shaped by corporate globalization strategies rather than democratic and civic ideals.

There appears to be very little information in the internet versions of Malina’s life story to explain his monumental shift from a renowned career at Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) to kinetic arts pioneer and his vision for more open collaboration in interdisciplinary creativity. One article in the LA Times from 1999, reveals the climate which precipitated re-thinking the course of new technologies and both professional and social interactions:

“After World War II, Malina grew uncomfortable with designing weaponry and with the national obsession for rooting out Communists. When the FBI began investigating Sidney Weinbaum, a Caltech professor and gifted musician, for Communist Party membership, Malina began to worry. With his wife, Liljan, Malina often had visited Weinbaum’s home. Along with enjoying music, they had discussed politics and the works of Communist writers. Before Malina’s security clearance came up for renewal in 1947, his home was searched by a methodical burglar who examined the contents of file cabinets but took nothing. Soon after, Malina left JPL and accepted a position with the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, in Paris. After a second marriage, he left the U.N. to create striking kinetic art and to found the arts magazine Leonardo.”

While Malina would again return to playing a very influential role in Astronautics, his navigation of the scientific “community” is an exemplary role model and critical lesson for today’s obsessive and misguided drives for secrecy, privatized/vested interests, information wars, bloody wars and power grabs. Herein lies the root of our XL Terrestrial research in Prague for steering technological innovation away from destructive wartime agendas and into positive social developments and a full life of “praxis artistry” of which the Malina family and Leonardo’s many thriving orgs ( OLATS, ISAST, LEF, Yasmin, etc. ) continue to represent at the most cutting edge!

Tomorrow night, Nov.7th, The Kampa Museum will open the first-ever retrospective exhibition of Frank Malina’s kinetic art, entitled “Point-Line-Universe”.

And on Nov.8th the Mutamorphosis begins.


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