Filler By Proxy LXXVIII: We connect August Strindberg with John Cage

Sunday 7 March 2010

Few outside of Sweden know that the playwright August Strindberg had periods of intense engagement with painting and photography in the 1890s, when his literary creativity had reached a deadlock. In an essay from 1894 called “Chance in Artistic Creation,” he describes the methods that he employs, speaking about his wish to “imitate […] nature’s way of creating.”* …

Strindberg distrusted camera lenses, since he considered them to give a distorted representation of reality. Over the years he built several simple lens-less cameras made from cigar boxes or similar containers with a cardboard front in which he had used a needle to prick a minute hole. But the celestographs were produced by an even more direct method using neither lens nor camera. The experiments involved quite simply placing his photographic plates on a window sill or perhaps directly on the ground (sometimes, he tells us, already lying in the developing bath) and letting them be exposed to the starry sky.

More about Strindberg’s Celestographs can be found at Cabinet, along with a translation of “On Chance in Artistic Creation“. (Found via

* A quote remarkably similar to John Cage’s “The function of Art is to imitate Nature in her manner of operation,” a thought to which he returned throughout his later life. Cage got this idea from reading Ananda Coomaraswamy’s The Transformation of Nature in Art. I don’t remember Cage making any references to Strindberg, and I don’t know how far east Strindberg extended his interest in exotic forms of spirituality.