The crystal grows forever outwards

Notes from ECHO CHAMBER: Artists in dialogue event, Sunday 5 October 2014
- with Rosalind Davis (RD), Caroline Lambard (CL), Phillip Hall-Patch (PHP), Allan McRobie (AM) & Libby Heaney (LH)

1 Crystals are dead (the opposite of alive)
"I associate straight lines with dead things, with crystals, with rocks, with rays of light. Crystals for me are rocks – they’re not alive…" (AM)

[JJ Charlesworth on Roger Hiorns' Siezure: "The form of the crystal and the process of crystallisation are about as far from the human as matter can be…"
Signs of Life, 2008, artangel.org.uk]

2 Outwards expansion (opening up the enclosure)

Phillip Hall-Patch's 1994 project Zoo Music, in which he proposed to release all the animals and birds from London Zoo to create in its place an academy for contemporary music:
"The one project that I kind of struggled with, looking at all the buildings there, was the aviary, it being constructed out of a series of Platonic forms, attempting to address this sense of transparency and openness and yet this net was always there…" (PHP)

But through the glass maquette, the possibility of deconstructing and reconfiguring the aviary: "taking something which is about enclosure and then finding a way to open it up."

[Hiorns: "in the environment of the saturate the crystal grows forever outwards…"
The impregnation of an object, artangel.org.uk]

**Photographing, cutting & collaging; folding, unfolding, re-forming. This working process affords something of a continuous (endless?) outward expansion.

3 3D structures need to be navigated

"Three-dimensional form needs to be moved around in order to be understood, these forms are about experience and about non-static observation. You have to be moving around and you have to build up this almost cubist collection of images in your mind." (CL)

**Working through ideas for an eventual moving image piece, thinking of ways to animate / rotate the glass, to present it on screen in 360°.

4 Tension / compression

"The beauty of a tension structure is that it can be incredibly thin, almost not even there. There are amazing aviaries by Frei Otto that are wafer thin. They truly are tension structures whereas [the Snowdon Aviary] has just got great big compression members and then these sort of facets of netting…" (AM)

Frei Otto / Jörg Gribl aviary for Munich’s Tierpark Hellabrunn (1980)

"There's a decompression in a visual sense, suddenly there's a lifting, there's a space where you can breathe…" (RD)

5 Light and the semi-reflections

"You have this superposition of the virtual and the real, this dual reality, the inside, the outside..." (LH)


Paula MacArthur's gemstone paintings

Flattened and erroneously back-lit, screen images I'd seen of 'The difference between wrong and right' belie (of course) the work's complex material form. Pigment runs, drips, splashes over and through the weaves of the huge canvas creating a surface (a topography) that is not glass-like as I had imagined, but textured and organic – at once smooth and rough, fluid and icy, reflective and porous… The painting describes not just the physical properties of a polished rock, but the experience of seeing the world fractured, exploded through its shimmering crystal lens.
"Light not only functions as space in painting but it can also lend the painting what has been described as 'air'. Air in this context is the imagined space in which events 'unfold'. This is space as light and light as space. This is pictorial space; indeterminate and fictitious. This is the legacy of cubism. Paula also employs reflection and refraction to compress several shattered and partial spaces into one fictitious 'event'." - Graham Crowley, Still Light


Echo Chamber exhibition

“By placing Michaela's collages within the space of Caroline’s installation, we invite others to physically enter the work and to experience the exhibition from within it. This overlapping, or integration, creates a whole new world that acknowledges the complex and layered nature of our spatial experiences. It invites a graphic reading of the spatial too: setting up a tension between articulated and represented space.” (RD)

List of works
Michaela Nettell, Pyramid 2 (Snowdon Aviary), Risograph print on paper, 2013
Rosalind Davis, Echo Chamber, oil and thread on linen, 2014
Rosalind Davis, Transition, oil and Embroidery on linen, 2013
Michaela Nettell, Aviary, 8mm film transferred to video, 2’13” loop, 2013
Michaela Nettell, Untitled 4 and Untitled 1 (Crystals series), collage on paper, 2014
Caroline Lambard, Line, elastic thread, paint, ceramic brick, 2014
Rosalind Davis, Double Bind, 100x125cm, oil and thread on linen, 2014
Michaela Nettell, Untitled (Structural system IV, I, II and III), collage on paper, 2013
Rosalind Davis, Unveil, oil and thread on linen, 2013
Michaela Nettell, A crystal geometry, Glass, stainless steel, acetate, 2014


Uncertainty, adaptability and change

Architect Will Alsop on Cedric Price in a 2005 article Flight of fancy:
"Although Price was interested in theory, I don't think he was truly a theorist. Two of his favourite words were 'joy' and 'delight', but you don't find much joy or delight in his buildings when you compare them with some great works of architecture. Style, materials - these were things Price the theorist would avoid at all costs. The most delightful thing to him about a cafe he designed at Blackpool Zoo was that it would eventually be turned into a giraffe house. This was more interesting to him than the idea of someone sitting down and having a coffee, and fitted in perfectly with his theories about uncertainty, adaptability and change.

"Probably Price's best-known building was the aviary at the London Zoo in Regent's Park, which owed a lot to Price's friendships with the great engineer Frank Newby and with Lord Snowdon. It was designed for a community of birds and the idea was that once the community was established, it would be possible to remove the netting. The skin was a temporary feature: it only needed to be there long enough for the birds to begin to feel at home, and after that they would not leave anyway..."


A crystal geometry

In his Architecture and design blog, Oliver Wainwright describes London post-Shard as a "new crystal city", with architects and planners following Renzo Piano's lead in "renouncing the orthogonal world of rectilinear boxes in favour of the chiselled glass chunk". Wainwright recalls the dreamy proposals of Expressionist architect Bruno Taut, whose utopian vision for glass cities in the mountains, he writes, "has been translated by lesser hands into hefty commercial office slabs."

Though it can't compare to Taut's mercurial glass fantasy, the Shard itself does have a certain allure - as an image on the horizon at least, which is how I experience it daily... From afar its non-pinnacle appears to fade up and into the clouds while its tapering points are poised to unfurl as though around an organic form (Blossfeldt's plant portraits come to mind). The shimmering translucency of its panels, its asymmetry and obtuse angles give it a softer, more ethereal silhouette than the capital's other towers.

"...for Wenzel Hablik a crystal geometry emerged in a philosophy he called 'Cyklus Architektur', based on the manipulation of faceted surfaces and towers of indefinite height."


Ever-changing rhythms . Impossible nets

The art in question can, perhaps, best be defined as the building up of significant patterns from the ever-changing relations, rhythms and proportions of abstract forms, each one of which, having its own causality, is tantamount to a law unto itself. – Max Bill*
Tectonic forms unfold across Achille Perilli's canvases like fugitive origami; coloured shapes playfully configured in futuristic dreams of mechanical flight. In a paper given at the 1999 conference Mathematics and Culture at Ca’ Foscari University, Venice, the artist explains his theory of 'geometric irrationality':
[it] originated from the thought that it is possible to think of a geometric form that is no longer determined by the laws of calculus or optics, but by the slight slipping and sliding that memory produces on visual perception data … The shape turns into a field of rapid movements, furious fights and incredible deformations that define brand new, complex structures regulated by "other" laws ... From the relationship between two geometric modules – at times in conflict, at times slightly different – a sequence is born that tends to shift in space until it starts growing from painting to painting.*
I imagine that to see his works hung in sequence would indeed create wonderful illusions of movement, the modules shifting, dancing from frame to frame. My own tendency to work in series relates perhaps to my background in animation; to my interest in the individual units of a film sequence and the spaces between them. This A2 collage series, from my first photo experiments with the pyramids, seems to have evolved, crystal-like, of its own accord. I am not sure what to make of the sharp-edged-ness, the violence of the glass shapes, but I like the impossibility of the nets, and am enjoying the process of piecing together each amalgamated form – the 'limitless possibility of variation', to paraphrase Justin Hibbs...


Louisa Chambers’ joyous, gouache Nets take their patterns from Keith Critchlow’s Order in Space. But freed from the confines of geometric precision or ruler-straight lines, her series of impossible frameworks shift and pulse, alive with rhythm and movement.

* Emmer, M. ed., 2000. Mathematics and Culture I. Milan: Springer-Verlag Italia.


Echo chamber . Translocation . The Crystal World

[ Please see 'Designs for a glass tetrahedron - Part I' on a-n BLOGS ]

After a few months' hiatus I'm returning to this body of work in preparation for a three-person show this autumn. 'Echo chamber' is a project I've been developing with artists Rosalind Davis and Caroline Lambard; we open on 26 September at Bond House Project Space, New Cross:
Echo chamber is an exhibition and exchange between three artists interested in the perceptual experience of space and form. ‘Echo chamber’ in this case refers to a gallery in which ideas, processes and materials are brought together to reverberate one against another, in which shared ways of working can be observed and new thoughts and practices set in motion.
Davis, Lambard and Nettell work across installation, painting, collage and film responding to the built environment around them. Mapping ideas in 2 and 3 dimensions, their works explore the possibilities of existing materials and spaces and their reconfiguration into new structures and forms...
My aim for the show is to create a series of prints and paper collages from digital photos of the pyramids – taken with film images of the aviary either projected inside (from 35mm slides), or layered on the glass using inkjet-printed acetates. I'd like to present these alongside the glass pieces themselves (perhaps on a glass- or mirror-topped plinth) and the 8mm film of the Snowdon Aviary that I shot last year.

When I showed the three pyramids at an Open Studios event at the end of March I realised how unfamiliar, unknown the sculptures still are to me – I haven't spent enough time with them to know, for example, how far and how comfortably each hinge rotates, how much pressure can be safely applied as the shapes are unfolded, how sharp are their edges, how easily will the surfaces scratch, what different freestanding configurations are possible, how does light reflect and diffract through and around their panels… These photo and collage tests will, I hope, allow me to get to know the objects a bit better and to generate some imagery from which to move my ideas for an eventual moving image work forward.


Crystalline compositions
(angular facets & rhomboidal spears)

Set in a slim, Victorian terrace Coleman Project Space in Bermondsey is intimate, domestic; shows span the two ground-floor rooms, the conservatory and garden shed. For Monica Ursina Jaeger's recent residency exhibition, Translocation, the shed was hung with blackout fabric and with its make-shift, corrugated iron roof had the feel of a wartime bunker:

Small 2D works made with ink and photographic transfers on concrete emerge from the dark. Fine white lines trace geodesic and grid structures – blueprints for buildings that might be or once were. Over these hopeful sketches images of realised but now crumbling, graffitied architectures are printed. Lone, skeletal trees are symbolic, perhaps, of former life or lives. There is a bleakness, a sense of foreboding. The delicacy of the works' execution (the humanity) seems futile in the face of this apocalypse.

Inside the house, Jaeger's geometries erupt from the page, industrial black frameworks jutting through and across the modest front room. I am reminded of Roger Hiorns' Seizure, not visually, but in the structures' crystal-like growth ("an architectural parasite", one of Jaeger’s press releases suggests). Works on paper visible through the black lattice are, again, crystalline compositions in ink and pigment transfer: housing blocks colonise rocks emerge from watchtowers; hand drawn outlines (fictional forms) protrude from or conjoin photographic representations, the real and imaginary coalesce.

"The long arc of trees hanging over the water seemed to drip and glitter with myriads of prisms, the trunks and branches sheathed by bars of yellow and carmine light that bled away across the surface of the water, as if the whole scene was being reproduced by some over-active Technicolor process … Extending outwards for two or three yards from the bank were the long splinters of what appeared to be crystallizing water, the angular facets emitting a blue and prismatic light washed by the wake from their craft. The splinters were growing in the water like crystals in a chemical solution, accreting more and more material to themselves, so that along the bank there was a congested mass of rhomboidal spears like the barbs of a reef, sharp enough to slit the hull of their craft." - Ballard, The Crystal World, p68-69