A perfect synthesis of Art and Mathematics: Bernar Venet in Singapore

New York-based French artist Bernar Venet has been exploring the notions of indetermination, disorder, chance, and unpredictability through art for decades. His solo exhibition at Art Plural Gallery has been a bold introduction to Singapore. The two month show closes on 24th November 2012, so if you are in the area do catch it this week.

French artist Bernar Venet - mathematics & art at Art Plural Gallery

The artworks on show include paintings of mathematical equations set in free plastic forms, which are part of Bernar Venet’s latest series. His Saturations and Shaped Canvases comprise mathematical formulas that boast a total degree of abstraction. Talking at the gallery, Venet explains that where other artists in the past have used diverse disciplines such as religion, botanics or geometry to be the framework, subject or motivation of their art, he draws from the field of mathematics. The artist passionately notes that, uniquely, “art is a discipline in itself, that feeds itself using other disciplines…to go beyond anything that was thought before.”

Rather than using the formal concepts of mathematics in art, as has been done by artists such as Donald Judd and others who very radically and demonstratively utilised mathematics as a basis for their work, Venet pursues the linguistic aspect of mathematics. The artist is not dealing with compositions any more, but a language. He sees this language or discipline as a way of pushing his painting process beyond the conventional confines: “a new proposition… presenting a work of art that is not figurative or a truly abstract painting.” He references ‘polysemic’ paintings – those having one meaning – and the alternative ‘pansemic’ paintings – having an infinity of interpretation. Venet states that he is attempting to create something outside of both of these categories, to be not at all figurative or representative, but also not entirely abstract. The artwork reveals itself to me as an alternative category that simultaneously exists as both one and many interpretations.

French artist Bernar Venet - mathematics & art at Art Plural Gallery

A painting of a pure mathematical digram is only one level of signification, with no possibility for interpretation. I have always enjoyed thinking that as a language, Maths (or physics), has been said to be the universal one. All beings in the universe must understand it, 2 plus 2 is the same throughout the cosmos, and even though the manner or significs of communicating it may differ, mathematics remains the same.

However, Venet has also used the equations in such a way that we catch snippets of text, phrases, numbers, and figures that start to overlap, blur, or be truncated by the edge of the cavass. As most of us are non-mathematicians, we cannot recognise the singular meaning of this particular equation, and may start to piece together a more plural meaning in the form of our own ideas on it’s significance. Words come into view: ‘couple’, ‘imagination’, ‘probability’, ‘two random’, ‘correspond to’, ‘when the three’, ‘since the transition’, lies on the’, ‘problem’, ‘boundary’. This story of the relationship between things could apply to other sorts of relationships – between people, countries, lovers, families, cultures, paintings or universes.

French artist Bernar Venet - mathematics & art at Art Plural Gallery

Visually arresting as well as intellectually so, the canvases take on unusual shapes and feature layered, overlapping equations. The gallery is a-glow with a warmth of golden hued canvases possessing beautiful surfaces that seem to emanate light. Venet has started using colour because: “Gallery walls are generally white. Colour has the basic function of elevating my figures from the wall. If I choose a background colour, yellow for example, the visual impact is that much greater than if I paint my diagrams on a white background. The signalling effect is much stronger. One understands that this is a work of art, that it is not simply a text written on the wall, with the aim simply of informing.”

The show also features new sculptural reliefs from the GRIB series, an extension of the original wooden Indeterminate Lines that were developed between 1979 and 1983. The works included in this show were made from 35mm steel plates torch-cut by hand. The technique adds to the unpredictable nature of these ‘scribbles’ and gives these works a rougher character and more accessibility than their predecessors. The scribbling of the GRIB wall pieces logically connects the action of drawing in a random two-dimensional gesticulation and the physicality of a precise three-dimensional figure. With these new works, Bernar Venet sees a very wide field of possibilities and new propositions.

French artist Bernar Venet - mathematics & art at Art Plural Gallery

French artist Bernar Venet - mathematics & art at Art Plural Gallery

“Today, I have much more freedom in my choice of subjects. I select them for their originality, for their remoteness, on the visual level, from anything, as far as I know, that other artists have ever painted.”
– Bernar Venet

Venet on the use of Mathematics in his work:

Venet on Abstract Art – a great definition:

Words by Nicola Anthony

Images / video courtesy of Art Plural Gallery and the artist


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