IMG MGMT: Life As A Woman, Hedy Lamarr

by Michaela Melian on August 5, 2009 · 10 comments IMG MGMT


Michaela Melián, Brautlied, MP3. Play with essay.

[Editors Note: IMG MGMT is an annual image-based artist essay series. Today’s invited artist, Michaela Melián, lives and works in Upper Bavaria. This fall her work will be exhibited in the show “See This Sound” at Lentos Museum Linz, “The Dwelling” at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, and “Different Places – Different Stories,” a series of interventions in public spaces along the German/Dutch borderline. She is intensively working on the realization of “Memory Loops,” a memorial audio project for the Holocaust victims of the city of Munich. The project will open in Summer 2010.]

Hedy Lamarr, legally Hedwig Kiesler, was born on November 9, 1914, in Vienna.

In 1933, in the movie Ekstase, she simulated the first orgasm seen onscreen in cinematic history; in another scene, she swims naked in a lake. From 1933-1937, she was married to Austrian munitions factory owner Fritz Mandl. Afterward, she emigrated to the USA.

MGM’s Louis B. Mayer extolled Hedy Lamarr as the most beautiful woman in the world. In her first Hollywood film, she established a new type of woman in the American cinema: the exotic, dark-haired, enigmatic stranger.

In her ex-husband’s Salzburg villa, the immigrant had seen plans for remote controlled torpedoes, which were never built because the radio controls proved to be too unreliable. After the outbreak of the Second World War, she worked on practical ideas to effectively fight the Hitler regime.

At a party in Hollywood, Lamarr met George Antheil, an avant-garde composer who also wrote film scores. While playing the piano with the composer, the actress suddenly has an important idea for her torpedo control system. Antheil sets up the system on 88 frequencies, as this number corresponds to the number of keys on a piano. To construct it, he employs something similar to the player piano sheet music that he used in his Ballet Mécanique.


Michaela Melián, Life as a Woman, 2001, Wood, silk taffeta, 400 x 50 x 105 cm, Installation Villa Arson, Nice, 2002


Michaela Melián, Life as a Woman, 2001, Installation Kunsthalle Bremen, 2001


Michaela Melián, Life as a Woman, 2001, Installation Kunstverein Springhornhof, Neuenkirchen, 2002

In December 1940, the frequency-switching device developed by Lamarr and Antheil was sent to the National Inventors’ Council. A patent was awarded on August 11, 1942. The two inventors leave it to the American military to figure out how to use the device. Lamarr’s and Antheil’s Secret Communication System disappears into the U.S. Army’s filing cabinets.


Michaela Melián, Life as a Woman, 2001, Thread, watercolor, 40 x 30 cm


Michaela Melián, Life as a Woman, 2001, Hand print, 2 rubber stamps, 30 x 16 cm


Michaela Melián, Life as a Woman, 2001, Hand print, 2 rubber stamps, 30 x 16 cm

Finally, in 1962, as the Cuba crisis brews the technology now known as frequency hopping is put to use. Its purpose is not to control torpedoes, but to allow for safe communications among blockading ships — whereupon the principles behind the patent become part of fundamental U.S. military communications technology. Today, this technology is not only the foundation for the U.S. military’s satellite defense system, but also used widely in the private sector, particularly for cordless and mobile telephones.


Michaela Melián, Frequency Hopping, 2008, C-print, watercolor, thread, 35 x 28 cm


Michaela Melián, Frequency Hopping, 2008, C-print, watercolor, thread, 35 x 28 cm


Michaela Melián, Frequency Hopping, 2008, C-print, watercolor, thread, 35 x 28 cm

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Michaela Melián, Frequency Hopping, 2008, C-print, watercolor, thread, 35 x 28 cm


Michaela Melián, Baden-Baden, 2004

  • Wayne Hodge

    Very Interesting post. I knew much about Lamarr as a screen actor, but not much on her development of torpedo technology. This is very interesting work, and I appreciate the conceptual nuances of screen image alongside objects. It is as if a submarine become shrouded in desire……

  • Wayne Hodge

    Very Interesting post. I knew much about Lamarr as a screen actor, but not much on her development of torpedo technology. This is very interesting work, and I appreciate the conceptual nuances of screen image alongside objects. It is as if a submarine become shrouded in desire……

  • http://bitsbook.com Harry Lewis

    Interesting artwork!

    This story is even stranger and more significant than the précis suggests. There is a thread that connects Hedy’s invention to the future of FCC censorship of broadcast radio and television, a strange loop to be sure given how Hedy began her film career. You can read about it in Chapter 8 of my book Blown to Bits (which you can download from the web site if you don’t want to contribute to my retirement account). There is also an interesting detail about the image of her that appears just above the German text here — that was done as a submission to a line art contest by Corel, a graphic software company. It won and was made the box cover and startup screen for the software. Unfortunately nobody checked whether Hedy was still alive; she was, living in Florida. She sued and collected some money that made her more comfortable in her declining years.

  • http://bitsbook.com Harry Lewis

    Interesting artwork!

    This story is even stranger and more significant than the précis suggests. There is a thread that connects Hedy’s invention to the future of FCC censorship of broadcast radio and television, a strange loop to be sure given how Hedy began her film career. You can read about it in Chapter 8 of my book Blown to Bits (which you can download from the web site if you don’t want to contribute to my retirement account). There is also an interesting detail about the image of her that appears just above the German text here — that was done as a submission to a line art contest by Corel, a graphic software company. It won and was made the box cover and startup screen for the software. Unfortunately nobody checked whether Hedy was still alive; she was, living in Florida. She sued and collected some money that made her more comfortable in her declining years.

  • Hadley

    Man I fucking love Hedy Lamarr. As a female engineer, she literally is one of my idols. I’m so pleased that at least a small segment of the population knows who she is.

    [and damn that bitch is hot.]

  • Hadley

    Man I fucking love Hedy Lamarr. As a female engineer, she literally is one of my idols. I’m so pleased that at least a small segment of the population knows who she is.

    [and damn that bitch is hot.]

  • aqua snail male

    Jeepers! These Lamarr-inspired artworks really pop out atcha.

    LUURVED the one titled ‘Life as a Woman’, 2001, Thread, watercolor, 40 x 30 cm’ it’s absolutely infused with crazy Aquarian zig-zag logic – right down to the initials of it’s creator, Michaela Melián.

  • aqua snail male

    Jeepers! These Lamarr-inspired artworks really pop out atcha.

    LUURVED the one titled ‘Life as a Woman’, 2001, Thread, watercolor, 40 x 30 cm’ it’s absolutely infused with crazy Aquarian zig-zag logic – right down to the initials of it’s creator, Michaela Melián.

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