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Cosmic Nature

"Local Stellar System" by Natalia Porter
"Helix" by Alicia Marvan

Casa de Arte features works by Natalia Porter and Alicia Marván

One artist looks for inspiration to the infinitely expanding cosmos—once thought to be immutable—one to the emphatically mutable and evolving natural world on earth, in the current show of two women artists, both from Mexico, at the Casa de Arte.

Artist Natalia Porter’s more spectacular pieces are collaborations with astronomers and their scientific organizations worldwide and constitute artwork expositions of their labors and discoveries. One piece is a large metal plate with numerous tiny holes marked with identifying numbers. A component of a complex instrument in which light from remote galaxies is captured via an eight-foot-diameter telescope and focused on the plate, such that each hole represents a galaxy. Whereupon, fiber-optic cables plugged into each hole transmit the light to a spectrograph for spectra analysis, and the resulting spectral data used to map echoes of the big bang (called baryon acoustic oscillations).

A particularly handsome work is a disc representing the celestial equator—the earth’s equator extended into the cosmos, so with the solar system sun at the center—with little lights on either side of the disc representing the fifty star systems closest to the sun, and colored—the little lights—corresponding to the temperatures of the stars, the hotter stars tending towards blue, cooler stars tending towards red, mid-temperature yellow to white. While several failed stars (brown dwarfs) are represented not by lights but brass beads.

Wall copy talks about how early astronomers made drawings and constructed models of the universe (as much of it as was visible with the telescopes of the time) that broached scientific accuracy and were often extremely beautiful. These works are in a tradition begun by Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo, and Kepler.

Porter is from Mexico City. Whereas artist Alicia Marván is from Michoacán, west of Mexico City in the Central Highlands, a region with a rich tradition of distaff handicraft arts such as embroidery and basketry, to both of which crafts her art pays tribute by both emulating and expanding on the tradition. But she is a nature artist first and foremost, in a comprehensive sense of the word nature, incorporating ideas about the evolution of species—including the human species, and so involving technology—to concerns about invasive species.

Some of her work on display involves technology together with embroidery. Starting with some basic design element of her own devising, she uses a computer app that elaborates the element into a more complex design or pattern, often suggestive of some organic item, a seed or a leaf perhaps, or some fibrous organic structural material, phloem, xylem, greatly magnified. Then draw-transfers, then embroiders, the computer design or pattern—the ones that she likes—onto fabric, and mounts the result like a painting or drawing that is also slightly sculptural, because of the minimal three-dimensional quality of embroidery, but also because sometimes she incorporates a small section of wire amid the embroidery thread, to raise the embroidery a millimeter or so above the fabric surface. Lots of amalgam of one sort and another going on here.

Other more explicitly sculptural works offer an imaginative solution to the problem what to do with invasive plant species. Maraván’s solution, make art of them. The sculptures, including one massive bundle and several wall-hanging shaped coils of pachysandra vines—a notorious invasive species in the Michoacán region—that she acquired helping a friend clear the pest plant from his property. The overall title of the pachysandra series is “Unwanted.”

Two other minimalist-looking graphic/sculptural works consist essentially of sprigs of pachysandra vine attached to background fabric, much like the way the Lilliputians attached Gulliver to the earth.

Her installation also includes a large embroidery piece on black felt with white lines radiating from a focal point that she said she made to complement Porter’s astrological theme art. Tie the two shows together, as it were.

Both artists’ work continues on display through September 15.

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