Drawing Studio and Program Co-ordinator at Monash University Stephen Garrett examines the optically challenging artworks of Caroline Durré which blend patterns and perspectives.
Whence arises all that order and beauty we see in the world? Isaac Newton
Caroline Durré refashions old fortified structures, fixed at the apogee of their design into seemingly multidimensional objects. Her stellated forms, these polyhedral shapes, are covered in tight arabesque designs resembling a hedge maze or parterre garden.
Like all objects created through human intervention, their design and form mark a distinction from the natural world. Before Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species was published, in 1802 William Paley famously distinguished between a stone and a watch as a classic example of the difference between the natural world and human design.1 He argued that if we were to see a stone on the ground we may never question how it came to be there, or for how long it may have been there. But if we were to find a watch on the ground, then our response would be different. Our response would be based on the artificial nature of the object within the landscape. We would be confronted by its design and intricate mechanism. Paley extended his metaphor further to argue that the watch resembled our universe as being just as organisationally complex and designed. Although Darwin’s theory of evolution provided contra argument to Paley’s idea of intelligent design as the cosmic order, at the heart of the debate there was still organic versus artificial systems, or put more crudely: God versus Man. The groundwork was laid much earlier of course by thinkers such as Bacon and Descartes and the rise of Humanism. Bacon stated in The Great Instauration that:
For the end which this science of mine proposes is the invention not of arguments but of arts, not of things in accordance with principles, but of principles themselves; not of probable reasons, but of designations and directions for works. And as the intention is different, so accordingly is the effect; the effect of the one being to overcome an opponent in argument, of the other to command nature in action.2
Nature was seen to be haphazard, messy even. Almost biblical in his intentions, where God gave Adam control over the naming of things and control over nature, Bacon reasserted the position of humanity as he saw it: to command nature in action.
Coming at it from all sides, Durré positions her work through the language of strict design, playing within these well-trodden thoughts and histories. Turning to the language of traditional European thinking on design as the ultimate source of power and influence, Durré conflates these arguments, compressing the elements into a single visual system. When we view a work such as Structure with parterre or Under The Skin (arabesque), we perceive a crystalline stellated form. The work induces in the viewer a sense of getting lost in a psychic hedge maze, or the imagined space of a mental landscape. Durré, in trying to represent the 'unrepresentable’ space and complexity of knowledge, allows for the viewer’s full absorption into the visual field. Travelling in and out of the design, we are held in place as the space of the image unfolds before us. Nowhere is central on the form, yet everywhere is. Even within Durré’s smaller etchings of these images, we are offered a more contained but nonetheless powerful demonstration of movement.
What we see is an unfolding of the fold. Although the design of the polyhedron is fixed, or at least appeasing the edge of the frame, the tessellated surface of each plane on the image provides another level of anamorphic perspective. We expect the shape to move or rotate before us, to be able to see the wonder that occurs. But this is illusionary, like all drawn perspective: a trick of the hand to fool the eye. Durré plays with the idea of a fixed position. Having a multi-perspectival viewing angle, it is we, the viewers, who shift in front of the work, constantly repositioning ourselves to the frame, in the hope we may see around the corner of the form into the next plane. The form is contained by its edge, each point unfolding into the next plane, echoing the excess of the Baroque to which this language once belonged.
These images are made to be a spectacle. Like the vision of the perfectly manicured garden, where hedges and shrubs are clipped to perfection and adhere to strict design codes, Durré mixes complex forms of geometry with decorative arabesques and an idea of perceptive vision and belief. It is easy to argue that her forms, which appear to be becoming more and more complex as they evolve, contain a secular code, echoing the arguments of a Cartesian logic. But I would argue there is something more here. And that is a deep curiosity for knowledge systems and an artist intent on uncovering what they are through a visual dialogue. It is often easy to dismiss the condition of pattern and repetition of form as meaningless and futile, but that would be to also dismiss the condition of its long history. Here lie politics. Contained within these images is a language born through power, from knowledge systems and from wealth. Each one of Durré’s multifarious forms is complex with seductive surfaces, tracing within them our continual quest for a form of truth.
Stephen Garrett is the Drawing Studio and Program Coordinator in the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture at Monash University, Melbourne.
1 William Paley Natural Theology, Kessinger Publishing, Montana 2003.
2 Francis Bacon The Great Instauration, The University of Adelaide Library, 2004.