Text by Joseph Allen Shea
A powerful polarity is at play in Bianca Chang’s body of work Light Maps. When encountering the incredibly focused, restrained and pre-destined execution, the work initially appears as a clinical opposite to the seeming randomness of many of the compositions. This apparent dichotomy dissolves during further examination into the hand-cut paper to clearly show us that the most chaotic forms in physics and nature are, in fact, within their own regimented complex systems.
The works present a very specific and organised rigidity while proposing an acceptance of the chance that the universe delivers. There is a feeling of the workings outside of one’s control, those that are more powerful than man, that ask us to calmly relent to what is actually a beautiful, possibly divine, order. With this acceptance is an idea of destiny and fate, a pre-determined arrangement that is comforting, a way to breath out and accept a natural and universal power. Only then may you find these same poles existent in yourself.
There is a feeling of quietness and relief in understanding an almost fatalistic future in the compositions found when the artist lets gravity guide her decisions. Several of the works in this series are mapped out by letting chance and consequence harmonise, particularly the Gravity Study, 2013 series, by dropping markers onto a page and then cutting the bank of paper wherever they have come to rest. Variables such as airflow, temperature, humidity, scale, weight and surface merge alongside unconditionals, like gravity, to take decisions outside of the artist’s control.
For an artist known for her particularly cerebral, deliberate and precise arrangements one imagines this is not a process that comes without flux and in conversation with the artist we learn of her difficulty, and later comfort, in relinquishing control over the compositions.
Chang uses mathematics, and simple geometry to create a universal language in her work. Geometry and maths that we, even if unaware, use and see everyday in nature. Chang explains, “I like the idea of mathematics as a universal language and the artworks reflect that. They use basic concepts of geometry and mathematics and in that way are almost exempt from cultural, social and historical preconceptions or traditions. Mathematics is a language that has always governed nature, human existence and the universe.”
To communicate her ideas about the very strict structure in organic and natural forms, Chang uses well-established mathematical sequences, particularly the Fibonacci series. Fibonacci numbers are well known as an integer sequence where each of the subsequent numbers are the sum of the previous two (where the first two numbers of the sequence are 0 and 1). This series regularly appears in nature, most obviously in the arrangement of seeds on a sunflower spiralling outwards from its own centre or the cross-section of a nautilus shell. Its intimate kin, the Golden Ratio, can be seen applied in the works Colour Study, 2013 series. Many of the artworks relationships to each other are (through scale and position, inside the work or in their presentation) based on this Golden Ratio. Without being too overt these systems guide us, mostly subconsciously, into a feeling of comfort and understanding, a place of ease and rest. We feel as if we already know this space and these relations, which of course we do as we are surrounded by it in nature, or if in an urban environment, by modern architecture (based on nature). This is an important position undertaken by the artist to open the viewer to the work.
The artist involves herself in such systems to create the base for a departure. A place to be within oneself. As if the greatest space, massive and outward folding can be just as important as the single and utterly unique human mind. Chang develops her language without symbols and void of vernacular so the viewer can draw from one’s own experience and internal rhythms. A quest of many artists but very rarely as clear as this. Like the Concrete artists of the 1930s, who like Max Bill believed that their work must be free from any symbolic relationships to reality, this universality keeps the access points wide open. The intriguing part of Chang’s approach is that without the symbol and icons of the modern vernacular she communicates with a language very much about reality and what surrounds us, seen or otherwise, in every aspect of our lives.
Acknowledging that the forces of nature, randomness, organic variation, physics and chaos theory all return to mathematics there is a reassuring feeling of absolute accountability. A oneness, a divinity and fatalistic destiny outside the viewer’s control. It should not be of surprise to us that Chang is interested in galaxies, in orbits and the vastness of the universe. The known and the unknown, the chance to explore new worlds, though one imagines new worlds that consolidate the findings in our own.
The melding of science and art is key to Chang’s approach. The language of the works is one of commonality, it is about humanity and a shared environment, its position is not personal or emotional but free, open and inclusive and by removing the artist’s preference, ego and personality we are allowed to enter this work alone and with our own experiences. To bring our own self to a place quite empty to make our own choices and relationships with the minimal gestures and symbols.
The simplicity of the work brings an almost blinding brightness and light, one as simple or as deep as we are willing to allow. There is an openness and in turn an ultimate honesty and generosity as wide as we can imagine it to be.
Her attention and belief in mathematics in nature is an important identifying factor in Chang’s work. As if a key to understanding the relationship between regulation and chance in her work, it is the realisation that these two seemingly opposing positions are actually interdependent that gives access into the works. As opposing as the two tools most present in her work, light and shadow, Chang chooses the widest opportunities of chance to communicate to the most precise, the narrowest, the most unique – a single human mind – the one thing that will clearly be (and universally agreed) never the same twice. A subject as narrow as a slither of light or as wide as time unfolding in both directions.