Eva Mantell: Finding Structural Beauty in the Ephemeral

by Sarah Stengle

Artist Eva Mantell applies meticulous attention to materials that are on the verge of being discarded. The resulting artwork is complex, highly ordered and the humble materials are lent a poetic weightlessness. The organizing principles that generate her constructs are deceptively simple. She sets rules or parameters, which when followed or repeated, produce complex results. Her studio production is process-driven in that the final result is not known at the start, but rather produced by intuitively following the simple rules she sets out for herself.

Turing Patterns taken from David A. Young’s Article, A local Activator-Inhibitor Model of Vertebrate Skin Patterns, Mathematical Biosciences, Volume 72 issue 1, November 1984, page 51.

She likened her approach to art to Alan Turing’s approach to understanding the morphogenesis of flowers. Posing the question “How does a flower know how to become a flower?” Turing spent the last years of his mathematical career looking closely at ordinary flowers. His mathematical inquiry into biological morphogenesis worked with simple pairings of activators and inhibitors that behaved in predictable ways but produced complex results as they interacted over time. Similarly Ms. Mantell observes ordinary things, applies simple parameters to generate conceptually and aesthetically complex results in her artwork.

Cloud Map, torn magazine page, wax, 8 x 10″ 2017

With Cloud Map, Ms. Mantell started with a cigarette advertisement from a magazine. She imposed the restriction of using only her bare hands to create a drawing; no tools or other materials were used. Then she set out to remove as much material as possible while still retaining the structural integrity of the original sheet of paper.  The results closely resemble Turing patterns. A torn hole could never be too large or the integrity of the underlying image would be destroyed; neither could the supporting matrix remain too thick or the challenge of removing as much material as possible would not have been met.  Although the holes were torn in an intuitive manner, one could imagine that “completeness” was the inhibitor and “removing” was the activator.

There is an emotional quality to the act of removing. The substrate, already disposable, moves towards fragility. Being damaged while remaining recognizably whole has parallels with being ill or wounded and yet continuing to live. The sense of vulnerability is underscored by leaving only the nicotine warning intact and legible.

The touch of the hand is key to understanding the artwork. At first glance Nicotine appears to be a perforated and colorful lattice.  Closer examination reveals the nearly disposable substrate and the patience evident in the handwork. The careful attention and repeated touching of the material elevates the sheet of paper out of the realm of rubbish into the realm of a carefully realized work of art. In this sense Ms. Mantell’s work is transformative, use mundane materials to reflect on the nature of transience.

This Little Palace, cut paper cup, wax, 8 x 8 x 5″ 2017

Another body of work was the project transforming discarded paper coffee cups into space filling sculptural objects. She set herself the challenge of making the cup occupy as much volumes as possible without either adding or removing materials. Many of the artist’s solution approach surface filling curves before being expanded into a elaborate brambles resembling tumbleweeds or feathers. Starting with a familiar object on the brink of its own extinction, she expands it to occupy more time, in the form of her careful attention to it, and space.

By exploring simple principles with a meditative and deeply human eye, Eva Mantell explores pattern in nature using materials that refer to our everyday lives. The patience and care with which she attends to disposable objects makes us question our relationship to the human detritus our culture thoughtlessly produces. Her work gently but clearly underscores the importance of noticing the overlooked and finding structure and beauty in the ephemeral.

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Eva Mantell:  lives in Princeton, NJ and has exhibited her sculpture, painting and video at the Monmouth Museum, the Hunterdon Museum, the Bernstein Gallery at Princeton University, the Abington Art Center, the Jersey City Museum and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. She has a BA from Penn and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in NYC. She curates, teaches and speaks about art including the recent Art as Activism, at the exhibit Fight or Flight at The Painting Center, NYC. She has a special interest in arts engagement and community outreach and her teaching has been included in Designing and Delivering Arts Programs for Older Adult Learners, published by the National Center for Creative Aging in Washington, DC. In January 2018, her work will be on view in a group exhibit in Brooklyn, NY at http://soho20gallery.com/ Eva’s website is evamantell.com.

 

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Mario Merz in Arte Povera at Hausser & Wirth

The exhibit “Arte Povera” curated by Ingvild Goetz at the Hausser & Wirth Gallery celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Italian artistic movement. Curator Germano Celant came up with the name “Arte Povera” which translates to “Poor Art”.  Although the artists in the group had different  practices, they were united in their rejection of the commercial leanings of Western art and chose to use everyday or “poor” materials in there work. Although a number of the artists made mathematically influenced work, Mario Merz offers the most direct connections. Merz created a large body of work over many years based on the Fibonacci Sequence.
This large wall installation from 1991 titled “Crocodilus Fibonacci” features the sequence’s digits in neon lights.
 Here are some examples from a portfolio of lithographs based on the Fibonacci sequence and the growth patterns of plants  “Da un erbario raccolto nel 1979 in Woga-Woga, Australia” (From an herbarium gathered in 1979 in Woga-Woga, Australia) .
All pictures courtesy of the gallery.
Susan Happersett

Fashion and Mathematics

The Museum at FIT is currently presenting an exhibit titled “Force on Nature”, that features clothing and accessories that refer to the natural world. There are many growth patterns found in nature that can be expressed mathematically, so it is no surprise that I found some interesting math in the show.
This dress created by fashion design collective “ThreeASFOUR” in 2016 features geometric fractal patterns.
MC Escher is probably one of the most famous examples of artists who explored math in his art.
This dress by Alexander McQueen in 2009 is inspired by Escher’s work. The birds become a houndstooth pattern.
All pictures courtesy of the designers and the Museum at FIT.
Susan Happersett

TWINKLE IN THE EYE – A group show at Pablo’s Birthday Gallery

The current exhibit at the Pablo’s Birthday Gallery on the Lower East Side features a number of works with interesting geometric themes.

Henrik Eiben – Minnesota – Steel
Picture courtesy of the gallery

Henrik Eiben’s steel wall construction, titled “Minnesota” is built from a collection of isosceles right triangles. Joining two congruent triangles along their legs (sides that form the right angle) results in parallelograms. Adding a third triangle, a trapezoid is formed. The steel sections have been hinged together with leather and some of the triangles that make up this open frame are angled off the wall. This gives the work a more 3-D presence, with the breaking off the flat wall pale into the gallery space.

Karsten Konrad – VW – Mixed media
Picture courtesy of the gallery

“VW”  is a mixed media octagonal mosaic by Karsten Konrad. The walls of the sculpture are created using a series of parallel strips creating a series of tight concentric octagons. This is in contrast to the multicolored parallel strips in the patchwork of diagonals that make up the central image.
Susan Happersett

Eric Erickson at Buster Levi Gallery

The paintings on display at Eric Erickson’s solo exhibition at the Buster Levi Gallery in Cold Spring, NY are part of a new series referred to as “Diagrams”. According to Erickson this work is “related to dubious diagrams often found with anything needing home assembly”.
The artist has taken the inaccurate 2-D schematic representations for the 3-D items we build and live with everyday and distilled the geometric qualities of these images into solid blocks of color and subtle painted line drawings. Although the original instructional diagrams may have lacked the necessary information to accurately represent real objects, the shapes themselves create interesting compositions.
Susan Happersett

“A Line Can Go Anywhere” at James Cohen Gallery

The James Cohen Gallery is currently presenting “A Line Can Go Anywhere”.  Curated by Jenelle Porter, this exhibit features the work of 7 fiber artist from the Bay area.
I was particularly intrigued by the work of Trude Guermonprez. This untitled work from the 1960’s has two perpendicular planes of weaving.
There is usually a grid-like nature to a weaving produced by the warp and the weft that gives it mathematical properties. Creating isosceles triangles, Guermonprez has broken the squares we expect in a woven grid with exciting results.
Susan Happersett

More from the Bridges Conference in Waterloo

There are a number of artists who have been making mathematical art for many years. I have been following the work of Carlo H. Sequin and John Hiigli since I first became interested in the field. It was great to see some of their new work on display.
Sequin’s sculpture , “Pentagonal Dyck Cycle”, uses 5 connected elliptical Dyck disks to create a single sided surface (like a Moebius Strip). This complex form was designed on a computer and produced in ABS plastic formed by fused deposition modeling. The undulating curves create a sensuality not often found using this method. Sequin has successfully created an emotionally charged object using Mathematics and technology.
 
John Hiigli”s painting “Chrome 209” depicts a icosahedron, a polyhedron with 20 faces inside an octahedron, a polyhedron with 8 faces. The icosahedron is twisted, so that 8 of its faces share a plan with on of each of the 8 faces of the octahedron. Using transparent oil paint Hiigli lets us see inside of the shapes, creating an elegant geometry of color within the delicate straight line schematic drawing.
 
Christopher Arabadjis used only blue and red ballpoint pens to create this drawing. Using 2-D depiction of octahedrons in square at the bottom of the image, Arabadjis begins a process of projecting 3-D forms onto a 2-D plane. The squares become parallelograms. Then after the 6 by 6 grid of octagons is complete, Arabadijs adds two more rows to give the illusion of another dimensionality.
Susan Happersett

“Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction” at MOMA

The MOMA in NYC is presenting an exhibition of work from their permanent collection, featuring abstract work produced by women between 1945-1968. Although abstraction was an important genre of art during this time period, the work created by women has been underappreciated. There is a wide range of art on display from gestural expressive paintings and drawings to the more geometric and calculated.

Běla Kolářová – “Five by four” – 1967

Běla Kolářová – “Five by four” – 1967 (detail)

For this assemblage “Five by Four”, Běla Kolářová used metal paper fasteners to count out the grid patterns that make up each of the 20 rectangles. These rectangles are then arranged in 4 columns, 5 rectangles high. The use of the paper fasteners (something found in any home or office) as a mark making vehicle adds extra personal element to the work.

Carmen Herrera – “Untitled” – 1952

This large scale canvas by Carmen Herrera features two isosceles triangles with their bases along the top of the painting. Using the tension of black and white vertical parallel stripes, Herrera has defined the shapes by swapping the colors at the sides of the triangles. This technique has created an visual energy along these lines that allows the triangles to pulsate. The geometry of this painting is so strong, you feel like you are being pushed back to view from a distance.
Susan Happersett

Kendall Shaw at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art – New Orleans

On the wall of the gallery next to Kendall Shaw’s painting “Sunship for John Coltrane” there is a quote from the artist: “How can I make a work so alive that one must react as if to a living creature overflowing with energy? I want to place life upon the wall.”
Surprisingly, to answer this aesthetic question Shaw enlisted the use of the most static of geometric forms, squares.

“Sunship for John Coltrane”, 1982

By stacking and four square canvases and rotating one 90 degrees the artists creates a sense of spinning movement.
Shaw’s  painterly technique consists of both planned gridded makings, and gestural drips and splashes. This produces kinetic visual energy that seems to be anchored in space only by the smallest square grid painted in white at the center of the work.
Susan Happersett