MERNET LARSEN and her ‘irrational’ geometry.
By Rosanna Albertini
(From “Mernet Larsen: Things people do” some studies
at James Cohan Gallery, New York)
It’s a painted world based on measurements, but staging the least reasonable forms and social stories. A nosy face sends the nose inside another face to see what, who, why to describe? It’s delightful nonsense.
Bodies in the drawing are supported by a metrical grid like fish in the net. The artist brings them into a space that seems constructed, at times, with broken shards of glass suspended in mid air. I love her studies. The geometrical preparation is still visible, it refuses analog replicas of life, although colors suggest odd metamorphosis: a piece of sky that fills a human block sitting at the table, a tree who plays being human. Green light blue men similar no eyes no legs maybe the table is a cloud pretending to be solid.
There is no way a single viewpoint can explore these visual stories without feeling destabilized, or without engaging the many viewpoints at work inside each piece, or conflicting with the natural perception outside the piece, until the brain isn’t sure. Except, Larsen’s people look as if shaped by a pasta machine, caged in parallel lines. This is evident. Forward or backward, parallels run like freeways dragging bodies out from the natural space, maybe into a timeless land.
In this blog I usually don’t split art history hairs. I try to forget I was an eighteenth century philosophy scholar for a long time. But I can’t dismiss the reference to El Lissitzky and Chinese landscapes I found in Larsen’s statement and in every essay written about her. By old habit, I plunged my brain into Russian axonometry, Proun volumes floating in virtual spaces, [Proun: Design for the confirmation of the new], and the revolutionary hostility against the idea and practice of perspective since European renaissance painting.
“Space has been limited by perspective, closed into edges. In art, bodies of numbers have become more rich…” El Lissitzky. Mathematical thoughts defy infinity, political passion feeds a search for limitless expansion of geometrical ideas beyond Euclid, unconditioned by gravity or historical frames.
And really Chinese landscapes are light, slow motion eye movements presenting trees water and mountains not as they are, they are not realistic, just as a continuous expansion in space. The vanishing point? Impossible.
I can see Mernet Larsen inspired by both.
Yet, I would like to link her unique perception of our present reality, her search of an essence, to a post industrial experience I had not a long time ago, walking through the factory of Ferrari, near Bologna. I had the awkward sensation of moving my feet and legs across multiple crossings of invisible, parallel lines designed for robotic creatures. Humans weren’t welcomed. At every step they had to negotiate their space with fast metallic ‘artuditus‘ programmed to be efficient, not to observe good manners.
The factory is a climate controlled pavilion where air and humidity are adapted to the needs of chemical areas, fusion pits, and protected containers in which the car’s single separate organs and limbs are generated, with no intervention of human hands. Only robots can keep the required level of precision. They often look like the long bar legs and arms of Larsen’s creatures. Tropical plants in pots give the illusion of a green house. Some historical Ferraris at one of the edges look like a monumental bunch of flowers. Nobody knows why such marvelous technological champions are not able to win the races.
Although the factory makes it all right, the result is not what everyone expected.
“I want the mechanisms of my paintings to be fully visible, each painting an index of my painting behavior: measuring, layering, carving, texturing, coloring, pasting.”
“These paintings are at once a tribute, affectionate parody, and critique of Renaissance narrative painting. They reflect a longing for something lost, and a desire for a sense of space and narrative unity more in accord with contemporary concepts of reality.” Mernet Larsen
It’s always illusion. Geometry is based on mathematical magnitudes generated by the human mind, it is a space with no equivalents in nature. Outlines and forms we discover through our senses: mountains or houses or horses, “are absolutely different from the space of geometry.” Poincaré, 1905.
But the human landscape infects Larsens’ geometrical figures with attitudes that it is impossible not to recognize. The arms grow following the position of shooting, become longer when uncertainty fills them, shrink in the act of waiting. Heads like bricks little gray hearts maybe not beating how to survive monsters who are bigger in the distance if one doesn’t have legs to escape? Shaped and reshaped by movement, and by sense of humor. Heads, witty heads without bodies are able to smile behind their flatness, even between the lines, they are still human.