The Common, an arts journal I have contributed to in the past (Jeremiah Dine and Rachel Barrett), recently published this piece I wrote about Martha Willette Lewis. Around the time for the final draft, I shared the piece with Martha and she annotated my work to include quotes and elaborations. While I didn’t include many of them in The Common piece, I wanted to share her insights, quotations and and a brief bibliographic record of influences. You can see Martha’s work in Flat/ Not Flat at Artspace New Haven.
Below you’ll find my piece as well as Martha’s notes (italicized).
To see the posting at The Common, ( I recommend clicking around to see all the great writing there) be sure to click here: http://www.thecommononline.org/features/martha-willette-lewis-unreal-atlas
Martha Willette Lewis: An Unreal Atlas
( an uncertain atlas) ( an atlas of uncertainty)( the unreliable atlas)?
( armchair travels with unreal atlas) ?
( crossing space-time with a sheet of paper)?
“Upon arriving in the capital-F Future, we discover it, invariably, to be the lower-case now.” William Gibson: talk for book expo, ny, may 2010, Distrust That Particular Flavor
Our relationship with maps has changed drastically in the last decade, from the pinpoint ease of Google Maps to global positioning systems rendering us a blinking blue beacon on a grid of streets. (with Google Maps and Earth as well, things are slightly out of date, our information filtered by those who have paid to have their businesses mentioned, some “sensitive” sites like munitions plants and wealthy neighborhoods blurred pixelated and blocked. The satellites select what we can see, and, like looking up in the sky at distant , now defunct stars, what we see in street view is what was in the past now impersonating the present and the “real”, what has been sanctioned as a place holder, a sign for a real – time location view through the cyberreality of a lit screen, or less satisfyingly a grainy printout.) Our coordinates are positioned and we propel ourselves across a landscape, already discovered, (although, go to a place like Madagascar, on Google Earth, poor and relatively unimportant politically, and it’s a vague blur of green trees with no specifics, a sort of “here be dragons” induced by indifference. Go to the pacific trash vortex, a massive floating island of plastic debris , symbol of contemporary environmental doom, and it remains invisible to the satellites all- knowing gaze. It simply does not exist. 2)
Rarely are we explorers in the completed cartography of our planet.
(The zones have been carved , quantified, divided, even if not explained. There is a certain DISAPPOINTMENT in such certainty, which quickly gives way to doubt, suspicion and disbelief: what is REALLY there? What is being concealed? How many ways can the story be told? As Oscar Wilde said: “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism 3)
Visual artist Martha Willette Lewis has given us new, unreal spaces to explore by combining diagrammatic drawings, biological systems, and topographical forms. These spaces manifest as works on paper that are often folded, crumpled, or bisected. Lewis takes visual cues from systems that are usually not in contact and, in doing so, creates a skewed sense of reality. Hers is a hybridized vision shared by artists and technological innovators. The paper and drawing are real, but the vision is of an impossible place.
Lewis provides a constructed topography for her unreal spaces. One folded work invoking a map, “Folded Stellar Hive, 2013,” lives as a three-dimensional form. The drawing, like a common map, folds in on itself. In this work, Lewis builds a place for us out of things we recognize, but she creates an amalgam well beyond our possible range of experiences. Filled with color and disorder, the piece’s patterned perimeter begins to yield to the complex forms that mesh within. The geometric forms evoking the spiritual forms of mandalas and rose windows blossom across the paper to build the structure of a hive.
(Again, the scale telescopes in and out between the vast and the tiny creating a giddy disconnect as one’s eye ” travels” across the image and the surfaces. The collusion between depicted space and actual fold hint at a meta-discourse on maps as objects in space themselves, and the map as a diagramming of spatial experience which render the giddiness into the strong suspicion that nothing is what it seems to be here.) In “Elemental Reasoning and Limited Resources, 2013,” ancient gothic vaults and swirling pools of deep space bleed into a pixelated grid. An architect or an engineer could attempt to read this as a technical drawing, as it appears factual, and is based on facts, but the result is fiction.
Lewis also creates topographies in painted, crumpled paper. The complexity of these crumpled forms expand imagined space by giving them dimension. Lewis embraces the paper’s weight and volume, and the work’s objectness becomes a physical presence greater than the viewer thought possible for paper alone. Lewis’s works are worlds within worlds and exist as their own tiny satellites.. In “Brane 3, 2013,” the painted crumpled paper form could be a landmass, a brain, the physical cosmology of our universe, or an abstract object. Lewis, a polyglot of various disciplines, intends it to be as all of these. (yet the work hints at all of it. It is telling that the artist thinks of these works more as models then as sculptures).
Like maps, Lewis’s works are compiled into an atlas, but one that is unreal. Her forms evoke charts, diagrams, and maps but often comingle their unlike disciplines. Rather than direct the viewer to a known destination, this unreal atlas delves into the land of exquisite variability, (which ultimately serves more to unsettle than to locate. One is set adrift, into an impossible place of nested games and serendipitous meandering. 4)
“. . . In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.”
“On Exactitude in Science” or “On Rigor in Science” (the original Spanish-language title is “Del rigor en la ciencia”) , a one-paragraph short story by Jorge Luis Borges, a written in the form of a literary forgery.
Literary forgery (also known as literary mystification, literary fraud or literary hoax) refers to writing, such as a manuscript or a literary work, which is either deliberately misattributed to a historical or invented author, or is a purported memoir presented as genuine.
2)The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine debris in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N and 42°N. The patch extends over an indeterminate area, with estimates ranging very widely depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area.
The patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. Despite its size and density, the patch is not visible from satellite photography, since it consists primarily of suspended particulates in the upper water column. Since plastics break down to even smaller polymers, concentrations of submerged particles are not visible from space, nor do they appear as a continuous debris field. Instead, the patch is defined as an area in which the mass of plastic debris in the upper water column is significantly higher than average.
3) The great library work that plays on the multiplicity of readings from one place is Italo Calvino’s “invisible cities” in which Marco Polo tells the great khan tales of the places within his empire when in fact Marco is only describing his home city of Venice. Invisible Cities (Le città invisibili) by Italian writer Italo Calvino. published in Italy in 1972 by Giulio Einaudi Editore.
4) The word “serendipity” was invented by Horace Walpole in 1754 as an allusion to Serendip, an old name for Sri Lanka. Walpole explained to one of his main correspondents that he had based the word on the title of a persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, the heroes of which ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of ’.
Incidentally, the original Persian name for Sri Lanka (and in earlier times Ceylon) was Sarandib, a corruption of the Sanskrit Sinhaladvipa which literally meant ‘the island where lions dwell’. Sinhalese, or Sinhala, is still the name of one of Sri Lanka’s national languages, the other being Tamil.
And, this leads us to that other great travelogue of logic and accident, Alice in Wonderland:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where – ” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
” – so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
(Alice in Wonderland 6.45-50)