Enantiomorphic Chamberby Cassandra Neyenesch
NURTUREart February 13 – March 23, 2008
A group show can be anything from a manifesto of a new order to an excuse to lump together a bunch of artists in August. Rarely does one elicit—from this reviewer at least—a Beevis-and-Butthead-at-the-Pink-Floyd-laser-show-type reaction of: “Cool.” Enantiomorphic Chamber, at NURTUREart, is such a show, and given the amount of thought and enthusiasm its curators apparently put into it, not without reason. (They even have a blog about the topic, enantiomorphic.blogspot.com). Enantiomorphic Chamber is not a statement of purpose or a world-changing philosophy, but it does explore a visual idea that seems to open up much wider fields of inquiry all around it, and that’s pretty exciting. An enantiomorph is “a pair of asymmetrical figures that are mirror images of one another.” The title is borrowed from a Robert Smithson work of 1965 in which two mirrors were angled so that when the viewer stood between them, his reflection disappeared. In their essay, the curators, Kevin Regan and Christopher Howard, go roving over a range of associations the enantiomorph calls up for them from the interplay between sex and fighting to the fourth spatial dimension (where, they rather geekily explain, enantiomorphic figures acquire the ability to overlap) to something they call “the magical grove,” and “the grotto of miracles,” the mystical effect of which, in its turn, has something to do with “mirrors and the fourth dimension.”
So do the works in Enantiomorphic Chamber live up to the pizzazz of ideas the curators draw out of them? To a refreshing degree, yes, almost! The most earthy and unmystical works are Julie A. McConnell’s distorted photos of hair, which do look sexual, but can also seem like masks, hairy orchids or evil gremlin faces—call them pubic Rorschach. Works by John Rappleye and Gabriel Fowler depict frightening and visionary fairytale worlds populated by owls with star eyes, shapes like cancerous organs and monk-like figures lurking on scary dog-head mountains; the “grotto of miracles” perhaps, or perhaps more a kind of postnuclear dread.
A riveting video by Mark Travanti, Entanglement, shows male and female figures twined around each other in ways that evoke tantric sex, wrestling, and the incarnations of Hindu deities, all of which Howard and Regan refer to in their essay. The compositions double themselves enantiomorphically, then linger on the screen, turning abstract and ghostly, before morphing into the next “entanglement.”
Of all the ideas in the show, that of the “mystical side of enantiomorphism” eludes me the most, and the works meant to represent it, while gorgeous, seem more suggestive of something ravenous inside the silence of nature. The inky foliage that occupies either side of Wendy C. Heldmann’s Witnessing Homespun Unease appears ready to grow into the magical grotto and eat it, a sense echoed by the title, while Sebastian Lemm’s dark close-ups of leaves and branches are ominous and respectful, as if Lemm has taken the psychological portrait of a forest.
One of the most resonant ideas in the show is the curators’ discussion of the fourth spatial dimension. Art and mathematics have had a long and fruitful interaction that has frequently merged on the idea of the mystical. Renaissance artists and architects who used numbers and symmetries believed they were tapping into and recreating a divine order inscribed on the universe. We live in a spiritually vaguer age, and I’m not even sure what “mystical” means. Then again, I’m not really able to understand the fourth dimension either, no matter how many different ways as it’s explained to me, but I think if anyone could make the idea real to me, it would be an artist. Chaim Goodman-Strauss, a mathematician and artist, wrote on the American Mathematical Society website that, “Abstraction is the basis of the power of math, but too often we forget that mathematics is also a descriptive language, with meaning anchored in the intuitive experience of the world around us.” A descriptive language: like art. Cool.