Raimundas Malašauskas: Can we say that kaleidoscope is an instrument of revolution since it always revolves and turns things around?
Pascal Rousseau: Kaleidoscope is more related to movement, energy and change rather than radical reform. Kaleidoscope is a an entropic metaphor rather than an instrument of revolution even if it introduces a radical system of permutation: the impossibility of reproducing the same exact pattern that authorizes the idea of a permanent open system of morphogenesis and representation.
Raimundas: What’s the history of kaleidoscope?
Pascal Rousseau: Kaleidoscope is a child of Enlightenment. Richard Bradley in 1724 constructed a tool with two mirrors in order to rationalize the process of developing ornaments of gardens. He wanted to publish a book about all kinds of possibilities of garden decoration. The mirrors would help him to multiply the ornament patterns. So the first emergence of kaleidoscope is based on the idea of multiplication, rationalization and territorialisation of work. But the first appearance of the actual word and the tool is one century later. It was invented by David Brewster, a scientific involved in optics, who was a friend of the romantic painter Turner but also of Charles Babbage, the developer of the “Analytical Engine” the history of technology records as the very “first computer”. So, Kaleidoscope is both contemporary to dissolution of forms in systems of representation (Turner) and rationalized calculation in systems of economy (Babbage); it is not a coincidence. It’s made as a magical tool, but it is thought out as a model to economise energy: How you can create infinity of possibilities using only a few triangular mirrors? Then there’s a more metaphysical idea in it that is an idea of Infinity. In the same year when Richard Bradley had discovered a system of multiplying ornament Louis-Bertrand Castel, a Jesuit who was influenced by Newton published a very important text on optics. In this Traité d’Optique, he claimed that due to its static nature painting is not a good medium to capture Infinity. So he presented a new instrument, the “Ocular Harpsichord”for what he names poetically “music for the eyes”, an instrument which was designated to produce abstract patterns of various colors in movement. According to him, Humans had to develop a special sentiment and need for Infinity. So his “clavecin oculaire” (“Ocular Harpsichord”) which to me functions as another kind of kaleidoscope was thought out as a tool to maintain a closer relationship with God. In that sense our kaleidoscope is a hybrid of more rational approach with its imperative to reduce, economise, control and produce as well as a more mystic quest for cosmogonic infinity. So in a way it’s a revolutionary ideology – on one hand you have to reorganize your reality according to the laws of rationality and at the same time to produce ecstasy of being in communion with God, Infinity or…
Raimundas: … future
Pascal: One of the most pertinent people who conceptualized the idea of optical change as well as Revolution was Charles Fourier, a mystic and illuminist pioneer of socialism. He was obsessed with a paradigm of change, he even “patented” a philosophic and political concept called “La Papillone”, the butterfly system. This system for him meant a “distributed passion” that would produce a better community of people. According to him change was a basic (the more natural) element in the production of this community which could be preserved only by a permanent change. In terms of social relationships and contracts, that’s his idea of polygamy for example. But also, you have to change your environment, chairs you are sitting on, etc.
Raimundas: So the change is infinite?
Pascal: Yes, you have always in background the idea of extatic demultiplication. For example, Father Castel wanted to produce more 200 000 harpsichords, one for each house. He wanted every person of Paris to have an instrument at home.
Raimundas: And to become better through exploring their creativity? I can see that Infinity and Utopia are very closely related. In this sense kaleidoscope functions as a miniature of Infinity, isn’t it?
Pascal: Yes, Kaleidoscope is a miniature of Cosmos. So that, it’s the perfect visual metaphor of the classic Harmony of the Spheres, where micro and macro-cosmos are intimately closed, ordered by the same laws. Kaleidoscope is a child of the Pythagorean tradition : figures are creating poetics and mystic analogy. In that sense, there’s definitely a link between revolution and kaleidoscope that is supposed to produce a sensual ecstasy permeating a social community. For Fourier it was a Social Revolution; for Castel, a more Religious Experience of Sociality. We observe this same and mixed utopia in the avant-garde spirit, especially in the first steps of abstraction where chromatic laws are obviously symbols of social unity. All of the pioneers of color abstraction (Kandinsky, Mondrian, Kupka, etc..), obsessed by a model of universal vibration, thought that Humans have to develop their sense of colors in order to discover the original language, the adamique idioms of the perfect community. It’s an Esperanto Project, where the new vocabulary would be colors and not letters, erasing the convention of alphabet with its culture of racial and national differences that produce misunderstandings, conflicts and wars. In that sense, kaleidoscope would have been a tool of a new common sense, the sensus communis creating a new mankind. The New Age counterculture would remind this during the 60’s, in the kaleidoscopic Domes of the Trip Festivals.