When maths meets art: Inga Svala Thórsdóttir and Wu Shanzhuan at Hanart TZ

Artists-cum-science-enthusiasts fuse mathematics with art via rigorous methodology and fascinating philosophical concepts. 

“Circles Vibration – Bracket Bridge” at Hong Kong’s Hanart TZ Gallery showcases unique conceptual works that reach beyond the senses to tickle the mind.

Inga Svala Thórsdóttir and Wu Shanzhuan, '14 Circles Vibration The Little Brackets', 2015, pencil, watercolor and ink on paper, 41 x 31 cm. Image courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

Inga Svala Thórsdóttir and Wu Shanzhuan, ’14 Circles Vibration The Little Brackets’, 2015, pencil, watercolour and ink on paper, 41 x 31 cm. Image courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

Fusing science with art

On show at Hong Kong’s Hanart TZ Gallery until 28 November 2015, “Circles Vibration – Bracket Bridge” is an exhibition of collaborative works by seminal conceptual artists Inga Svala Thórsdóttir (b. 1966, Iceland) and Wu Shanzhuan (b. 1960, Zhoushan, China). Featuring paintings, steel sculptures and mixed media installations centred around the simple form of the circle, the show displays a striking aesthetic while embodying rigorous philosophical inquiry and scientific methodology.

According to the press release, the works are “inspired by a combined sense of mathematical purity and philosophical playfulness”. A series of paintings demonstrate the geometric process through which the artists discovered mesmerising bridge-like forms within overlapping circles, while minimalistic steel sculptures offer a solemn, concrete and tactile presence.

Installation view of "Circle Vibrations - Bracket Bridge" (2015) at Hanart TZ Gallery. Photography by Kitmin Lee. Image courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

Installation view of “Circle Vibrations – Bracket Bridge” (2015) at Hanart TZ Gallery. Photography by Kitmin Lee. Image courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

In his essay for the show, Hanart Founder and Director Johnson Chang writes that Thórsdóttir and Wu are “enchanted by mathematics’ tight erotic rigour, its funky scientific priesthood, the geek’s hermetic delight [and] ecclesiastical snobbery”. He writes:

[As] science enthusiasts, [Thórsdóttir and Wu] have for a long time traced the perimeter of the mathematical system to ponder its form. As artists they observe how the ‘form’ of mathematics itself might hold its secret to enchant and, quietly, proceed to cannibalise its magic and beauty for art.

A symbiotic collaboration

Thórsdóttir and Wu have worked together since the early 1990s. According to Ocula, the partnership “goes beyond collaboration [because] their meeting was a formative experience that allowed for a symbiotic creative dialogue”Ocula writes:

Wu’s extreme complexity of thought is mirrored in Thórsdóttir’s extreme purity, a polarity that is evident in the insight and perspective that they bring to their works.

Inga Svala Thorsdottir and Wu Shanzhuan. Photography by Thomas Fuesser. Image courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

Inga Svala Thórsdóttir and Wu Shanzhuan. Photography by Thomas Fuesser. Image courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

According to Chang, the present show stretches back to the pair’s 1992 discovery of the Perfect Bracket – a mathematical concept embodying an almost “transcendental” geometric and philosophical significance. For Thórsdóttir and Wu, the Perfect Bracket is a metaphor for knowledge, with the brackets acting as frames of reference and its contents representing the entire field of significance. Chang writes:

[…] the question Thórsdóttir and Wu pose is: If one were to gradually bring the two brackets towards each other, perhaps even approaching the point of touching, would the profundity of understanding then be pushed to approach unfathomable limits?

Over the last two decades, the pair moved on from the Perfect Bracket to the Little Fat Flesh, the Little Fat Flesh-pattern, the Arctic Fox Arc and, finally, the Bracket Bridge. Chang continues:

Thórsdóttir and Wu demonstrate how a serious artistic pretension to mathematics might open up this discipline for vested interests in the political and social realm. The geo-politics of the melting North Pole and the politics of global bridging are [their] latest concerns.

Installation view of "Circle Vibrations - Bracket Bridge" (2015) at Hanart TZ Gallery. Photography by Kitmin Lee. Image courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

Installation view of “Circle Vibrations – Bracket Bridge” (2015) at Hanart TZ Gallery. Photography by Kitmin Lee. Image courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

The Bracket Bridge

According to writer Liu Tian, who wrote an essay for the exhibition, the Bracket Bridge is the latest continuation of Thórsdóttir and Wu’s unique artistic journey in geometry and mathematics. Liu writes:

The ‘bracket bridge’ is derived from the ‘circles vibration’. Curiously enough, vibration is something a bridge has to sustain and overcome, yet here it has been turned into the foundation and cause of construction […] In real life, a bridge is designed to sustain mechanical oscillations […] But the Bracket Bridge is derived backwards from such vibrations – which means that it is in itself a vibration.

Chang further explains in his essay:

The wavelength of the natural frequency of material substance can cause a bridge to collapse if the natural vibration of the bridge replicates its material wavelength, so the artists have designed the Bracket Bridge with the ‘natural frequency’ of the Perfect Brackets. But, at its ‘natural frequency’, the Bracket Bridge is poised at exactly the precarious limit of material tolerance; therefore its form demonstrates ‘mathematically’ the tolerance limit of connectivity.

Installation view of "Circle Vibrations - Bracket Bridge" (2015) at Hanart TZ Gallery. Photography by Kitmin Lee. Image courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

Installation view of “Circle Vibrations – Bracket Bridge” (2015) at Hanart TZ Gallery. Photography by Kitmin Lee. Image courtesy Hanart TZ Gallery.

For Chang, what underlies Thórsdóttir and Wu’s art and intellectual pursuits is a deep commitment to “the Other” and “a prior condition of connectedness”. Exhibiting a fascinating blend of physical forms and conceptual constructs, the show

reaches beyond the senses to tickle the deeper levels of the thinking mind; and resonates with the larger questions of contemporary existence.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Chinese artists, painting, sculpture, installation, mixed media, collaborative art, art and science, events in Hong Kong

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