Notes from the Studio – Nika Neelova 'an Anonymous Philosopher’s View' / by Claire Mander

the Artist’s View

Nika Neelova in the Sculpture Shock studio, photo by AK Purkiss

Nika Neelova in the Sculpture Shock studio, photo by AK Purkiss

Melencolia I of 1514 is an engraving by the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer. It is an allegorical composition which has been the subject of numerous interpretations. It depicts the Dürer’s Magic Square and the truncated rhombohedron, which became known as the Dürer’s Solid.  There have been various articles disputing the precise shape of this polyhedron. Although Dürer does not specify how his solid is constructed, it has been noted that it appears to consist of a distorted cube which is first stretched to give rhombic faces with angles, and then truncated on top and bottom to yield bounding triangular faces whose vertices lie on the circumsphere of the azimuthal cube vertices.

Polyhedra have been part of the fabric of mathematics for two thousand years. Anything which is bounded by flat surfaces and which has well defined corners has a polyhedral form. It has a significant presence in architecture as well as in nature, in the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms. They have been used widely in philosophical or scientific explanations of the world around us. As well as being part of the practical discipline of geometry, polyhedra have acquired symbolic value as artistic motifs appearing as an evolution of the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition, in studies of linear perspective, in ornament and disguised in architecture and headwear. In nature a striking example of polyhedral structure are crystals. Bounded by flat planes, their obvious geometric features contrast strongly with the more irregular qualities frequently found in natural forms. In the 19th century, the study of polyhedra and crystals led to the geometric analysis of symmetry.

In his analysis of cinematic moments, Gilles Deleuze describes the movement of temporality in a crystallized formation,

‘what constitutes the crystal-image is the most fundamental operation of time: since the past is constituted not after the present that it was but at the same time, time has to split itself in two at each moment as present and past.. Time splits in two dissymmetrical jets, one of which makes the present pass on, while the other preserves all the past. Time consists of this split and it is time that we see in the crystal... we see in the crystal the perpetual foundation of time.’

The Borgesian aesthetic contains numerous allusions to the spatialisation of time, its nonlinear and bifurcating nature. Borges regards the movements of time as flowing from the future into the past and thus as a ceaseless production of the past. In his short story Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, he imagines a civilization that has developed a novel relationship to metaphysics, ‘For them the world is not a concurrence of objects in space, but a heterogenous series of independent acts.’ In this civilization producing, discovering and exhuming are one and the same, so the archaeologists of Tlon can just as easily invent the objects they exhibit as unearth them.

Similarly, the object-crystals displayed in the installation question their own origin, whether they have been created just now or in fact originated elsewhere a very long time ago, like unearthed pieces from an unfamiliar landscape or rock formation. The installation alludes to an excavation site, a descent into archaeological time toward eroded fragmented stones pointing to another system of beliefs. All the fragments are parts of each other and are completing each other, though the entity itself is never presented. A system of equations colliding with the forces of entropy and decay leading to the deconstruction of a devised system.

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Artistic, Sacred, Metaphysical Space: North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower – Claire Mander

Nika Neelova,  North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower,  Holy Trinity Sloane Square, 2013, photo by AK Purkiss

Nika Neelova, North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, 2013, photo by AK Purkiss

When faced with the challenging environment of the magnificence of Holy Trinity Sloane Square, she was filled with awe at the multitude of architectural detail, the overwhelming scale of the space and its sacred function.  Described by former Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman as the ‘Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement’, its architect, John Dando Sedding, believed that a church should be ‘wrought and painted over with everything that has life and beauty—in frank and fearless naturalism…’, an aim which he achieved not least in the monumental stained glass windows by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.

Nika Neelova,  North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower,  Holy Trinity Sloane Square, 2013, photo by AK Purkiss

Nika Neelova, North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, 2013, photo by AK Purkiss

Neelova had a challenge before her:  how to create a work that responds and encapsulates a place so laden with artistic, sacred, metaphysical and spatial enormity.  Her eye quickly moved from individual architectural elements and rested on the geometric patterns repeated throughout the church.  Her research took this further and she quickly understood that all space can be explained through geometry which strives to reduce space’s immensity to a human scale, within the boundaries of human understanding.  Everywhere there was evidence of the ‘sacred geometry’, the belief that God created the universe according to a geometric plan, which is the foundation of much sacred art and architecture since ancient times.  Plato reasoned that the entire universe could be understood through the interpretation of the five Platonic solids, which are polyhedral forms (namely solids in three dimensions with flat faces and straight edges), on which Neelova based her work.  While this exploration took her into an increasingly abstract world of thought, she discovered the overwhelming presence of polyhedra in nature, in particular in the complex and compelling forms of crystals. Nature and mathematics became one.

Nika Neelova,  North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower,  Holy Trinity Sloane Square, 2013, photo by AK Purkiss

Nika Neelova, North Taurids. Following the Meteor Shower, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, 2013, photo by AK Purkiss

Neelova then applied her research to the physical act of creation.  She folded a wooden table top to form two hollow polyhedral vessels.  These two wooden structures were used as casts into which she poured concrete, wax, marble dust to create fragments of the whole. Every one of the shapes could be fused together to recreate the two original polyhedra: all the fragments are part of each other, completing each other.

The origins and materials of the object-crystals in the installation are intentionally ambiguous. Resonant of the site of an archaeological dig, the fragments link the past to the present both in terms of material and systems of belief. She is presenting fragments of a cogent representation of the universe resulting in a quiet, contemplative work which does not battle with its environment but becomes part of it.