"Organic Creativity: Alden Dow's Small-Gauge Architecture and Chemical Modernity."

My essay discusses the 16mm films made by Michigan-based architect Alden B. Dow, son of Herbert Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical, exploring the role of small-gauge filmmaking and projection in both Dow’s architectural design practice and in his philosophies of nature and creativity. That practice, and those philosophies, were shaped by Wright’s modernist theories of organic architecture, and the modernist master’s abiding fascination with natural patterns and processes. But Dow’s overlapping architectural and filmmaking practices also developed alongside the explosive midcentury growth of Dow Chemical itself. As modes of organic design, Dow’s architecture and films intertwined with a wildly innovative, often toxic chemical modernity that was rapidly changing which substances, materials, consumer products, and media counted as “nature” or “natural” in the first place. As corporations like Dow redefined the scope and scale of human intervention into the environment at midcentury, Alden Dow’s 16mm films offer film and cultural historians a lost midcentury record of that modernity and a medium-specific theory of it.

Forthcoming in Journal of Society for Cinema and Media Studies, "In Focus: 100 years of 16mm," ed. Haidee Wasson, 2022.

In the thick of World War II, László Moholy-Nagy laid out the principles for a modernist, interdisciplinary approach to therapy in MIT’s Technology Review. The former Bauhaus master called for a “constructive and all-inclusive rehabilitation” that would integrate art, science, and technology through a foundational “conditioning to creativeness.” Such rehab would transpire through a variety of media: tactile charts and hand sculptures; the production of photograms and films; and the therapeutic crafting of group poetry. The plan materialized in the fall of 1943 in Moholy’s two “Courses in Rehabilitation” offered at his School of Design in Chicago. Design historians have mentioned the rehabilitation courses in the context of the broader wartime mobilization of Moholy’s school, but the postwar afterlife of this vanguard therapeutic program for experimental pedagogy has been overlooked.

In this essay, I extend my analysis of Moholy’s modernist approach to what I called “rehab media” in Happiness by Design by pursuing the connections between his rehabilitation courses, MoMA’s contemporaneous “The Arts in Therapy” exhibition (1943), and the expansive midcentury therapeutic idiom around education, communication, and multi-media creativity. How, I ask, did Moholy’s pedagogical technique foreshadow the postwar vogue for democratic “creativity” and “communication”? Cold War shibboleths, the terms intertwined within the therapeutic discourses shared by progressive and general education, communication studies, and the midcentury social sciences; and they decisively shaped later works of vanguard design pedagogy in the process.