From Forces to Forms – The Brooklyn Rail
Manhattan Pratt Gallery
From forces to forms
February 1 – April 27, 2022
There’s a sense that we’ve reached a point in our societal discourse where no amount of explanation will convince someone who doesn’t believe in science that the end times – environmentally – are near. The inclusive umbrella that stands over artists in From forces to forms is a desire to explain these forces of nature and scientific principles (those we have upended or chosen to play with) in an intuitive, lyrical way that aims for visceral understanding. Artists do this through play, love, intrigue and ecstasy rather than didacticism. Ellen K. Levy’s incisive curation explores how to aestheticize and personalize scientific concepts so that they are relatable, if not completely understandable: for example, in video Anti-Marta (2018), artists Marta de Menezes and Luis Graça surgically swap samples of flesh, then use the inevitable tissue rejection as a commentary on independence within a relationship. Conversely, Levy also discusses how far one can push pure aesthetics towards an intersection with scientific concepts: Haresh Lalvani GR FLORA 24 100 2 and GR FLORA 64 60 102 (both 2012) express monumental pressure forces via incised stainless steel plates that warp along patterns created by the artist, while Tauba Auerbach’s C-Prints Thermal current I-VI (2020) are infrared photographs of temperature differentials in liquids and gases. Throughout the exhibition, we appreciate this dichotomy of things either referring to scientific principles, not necessarily specifically but with a superficial resemblance or an attractive abstract similarity, or the opposite: creatively and directly illustrating a concept of which we should or must be aware. The most charming evocations of this last principle appear in the contributions of Victoria Vesna and Christy Rupp. Both visualize the problem of microplastics and plastic debris in the oceans, playing with the somewhat adorable and fascinating nature of single-celled and small organisms. by Vesna noise aquarium (2017-2021) creates a VR world of single-celled organisms spinning and wiggling both on his iPhone and in an immersive dual-channel projection, while Rupp generated a wonderful menagerie of toy plankton and shrimp creatures from of plastic waste—Moby Debris (2019) – a double meaning meaning the contents of a whale’s stomach, both nutritious and toxic.
Levy divided the show into three categories: “Laws of Nature,” “Morphogenesis and Self-Organization,” and “Fixing Nature,” a sort of taxonomy of the ways science and art interact. At the center of his argument is D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, a naturalist perhaps best remembered by artists, architects and designers who have found his aestheticizing interpretation of biological morphology inspiring: it certainly responds to the aesthetic notion of “form follows function”. This tendency to link species into visually coherent webs seems particularly appealing to more drawing-centric artists, such as Gemma Anderson’s enchanting printmaking. nematode knot (2011), in which fern buds appear to unfurl into worm-like nematodes, and Oliver Laric’s video Intermediate (2018), where we watch simple angles and curves metamorphose into galloping ibexes and dinosaurs, as well as a variety of graphic manipulations that seem to stem from similarities between species. Interconnection is a big part of the show’s messaging, but the messaging itself is also important, as in how it relates to us city dwellers. Lillian Ball’s Go to Sweeting Pond (2021) depicts the interactivity of the fragile pond ecosystem in the form of a motion sensor-triggered game of Go, and that of Ursula Endlicher Invert input field (and custom HTML plant tags) (2021) is also interactive and a computer-generated farming platform using real-time data to advise viewers on their questions of what to plant, where and when. Along the same lines, Adam Brown and Robert Root-Bernstein seek to explain the Nobel Prize-winning Miller-Urey (1953) experiment on the origin of life with ReBioGeneSys 2.0 (2021), Meredith Tromble crosses dance and animation to represent photosynthesis in Eat lightly (2021), and Marta de Menezes and María Antonia Gonzáles Valerio investigate genetic manipulation as it relates to the history of the staple food maize in their wall drawing The Origin of Species – Post Evolution-Maiz(2018).
There are works of art that defy categorization, and some of them are the most enigmatic or inscrutable. At Todd Siler’s The neuropsychology of nanoworld vision (1 to 100 nm) (2013) and Paul Thomas Quantum Chaos Series #14, #7-10 (2020) are paintings presented as ‘visualizations’ of deeper concepts, though they look just as easily like a tinted painting and a series of geometric abstractions, respectively. Janet Echelman’s imposing model for the huge public sculpture She changes (2005) in Portugal, on the other hand, skillfully captures a beautiful impossible mirror between the fluid movement of jellyfish and the nets of fishermen.
by Ricci Albenda Open Universe (Ha-Yoon) (2012) has a spooky bulge by Hans Bellmer that initially seems some kind of mystical freeform, but as the viewer wanders around the floating piece, the depiction of space in perspective as a series of blooming hypercube volumes is spellbinding. and injects pure math into the exhibit. María Elena González finds a morphological connection between birch bark and the perforated sheet music of a player piano, allowing her to generate sound from the tree. As open universe, it falls somewhere between illuminating the forces of nature and exciting the eye and/or ear, but sees no need to explain itself. by William Lamson Untitled (from Badwater) (2021), placed in the display case, serves as the show’s mascot and presents the ‘mad scientist’ view of calculated academic pursuit out of whack. While Lamson’s piece is simply a recreation of the forces and materials interacting in Death Valley’s Badwater Basin, the effect is one of mysterious dyes and powders bubbling in stalactites dripping from pulsating neon tubes. What we have come to fear most in science is usually just a reflection of what already exists in nature: these artists primarily represent the particular way in which evolution progresses in the human animal, scintillating reformulations trial-and-error, or not-so-natural selection.