Drawings in Light: Arts Magazine

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

Nature and the Human Environment: Two Minnesota artists explore human interaction with nature, with mesmerizing yet different results.

By Tamatha Sopinski Perlman

MINNESOTA ARTISTS Jantje Visscher and Mary Griep will present concurrent exhibitions of their new work in the Minnesota Artists Galleries, as part of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) this summer. On view from June 15 through August 12, both exhibitions explore connections between the natural and constructed worlds, but in very different ways.

Griep’s wall-sized, scale drawings of sacred spaces in her Anastylosis series delve into the mysterious power these places have over us, while Visscher’s constructions from her Drawings in Light series seem to dissolve the lines between physical and perceptual worlds.

Visscher’s interest in the perception of natural forms and patterns has long influenced her art. In her 1984 MAEP exhibition, “Harmonic States,” she showed her Moire series, comprising paintings with precise lines radiating from a central point overlaid by a perpendicular field of parallel lines, creating the visual effect of motion. Viewing the moving patterns in these paintings reminded us of viewing nature.

In her Drawings in Light exhibition, Visscher continues her exploration of the world of nature through the lens of science and geometry. In the new works, lights shine on strips of clear, shiny plastic (she uses either acetate or “petg,” a kind of polyethylene, which is a common and hard-to-open packaging material). The plastic is bent or scored to make curved lenses, causing shimmering reflections of light and shadow to fill the gallery walls. Technically, these are known as cusp caustic lenses, the result of light reflecting off a curved surface that focuses the individual rays into bright lines or curves. The patterns create mysterious and complex visual harmonies reminiscent of nature’s undulating and repetitive forms.

The repeating patterns Visscher employs create works of art that seem to float in front of the wall, neither waiting to be approached nor recognized. Others appear to pull inward, creating recesses into which the viewer is invited to enter.

Visscher’s constructions create organic and iconic shapes. Reaching fourteen feet up the wall, Woven Light (2005) consists of many vertical plastic strips, one nested into the next. Joined at the top, they resemble Gothic arches, or in the next moment, perhaps huge wings. The patterns render the plastic strips nearly invisible, creating a mesh of otherworldly light receding into space.

In Dancing Wall, wave-like strips are layered one upon the other. Each strip has a uniquely patterned reflection, derived from bending the plastic into many copies of the same shape lens. Visscher relates the patterned effect to DNA; each layer follows its own instructions to reproduce many times. “Ultimately, the works are rhythmic and non-specific, leading the viewer’s eye through sequences of patterns with a kind of musical beat,” said Visscher. “That’s what nature does, too.

Anastylosis is an archaeological term that refers to a method of restoring a monument using as much of the original architectural methods and materials as possible. Griep’s Anastylosis series charts her reconstruction of eleventh- and twelfth-century sacred spaces from around the world.

For nearly seven years, Griep has drawn the physical and spiritual spaces of Chartres Cathedral (France), Angkor Wat (Cambodia), Thatbinyinyu (Myanmar), and The Palace of Governors (Mexico). Her highly detailed, scale recreations capture Griep’s personal experience with the spaces. She has mentally dismantled and reconstructed each building on paper in her effort to gain a greater understanding of these spaces and how they continue to speak to us. Multi-layered and rich with her own reconstructions, the drawings themselves are mounted on boards that contain further drawings of niches and glimpses of the past. Her generous use of collage incorporates photographs and photocopies from her research and study. Conversely, the artist tears off parts of the paper to show where the buildings have been plundered. Bits and pieces from previous works end up in newer drawings, opening pathways of communication between places separated by geography and religion. Griep’s anastylosis restores the spiritual, emotional, and historical lives of these structures.

The large scale of these detailed drawings helps close the gap between the awe-inspiring experience of visiting the actual site and viewing the two-dimensional art. The works are invitations to first scan the façade from a distance for its monumental impact, and then to study the buildings at close range in order to appreciate their delicate architectural details.

Griep’s first reconstruction, completed in 2000, is a thirteen-by-nine-foot drawing of the west façade of Chartres Cathedral. “The act of drawing becomes meditative,” Griep explains. “I’m thinking about the process of building. I’m interested in what it’s like to be in those spaces.”

A deeper understanding of the buildings brings Griep closer to the cultures that created them. This is personal—she seeks answers about the craftspeople, architects, and rulers who designed and built each edifice. She asks the larger question of why humans need these great monuments in our lives and why they continue to resonate with us today.

Tamatha Sopinski Perlman is MAEP Program Associate at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Citation: Tammy Sopinski Perlman, "Nature and the Human Environment: Two Minnesota artists explore human interaction with nature, with mesmerizing yet different results.," Arts 30, No. 3 (May/June 2007): 16-17.