As far as I know, Megan Mosholder is the only solidly emerging Atlanta artist working in traditional parabolic curves generated from ultraviolet-reactive thread. Thus Mosholder is, arguably, Atlanta’s dominating force in this specific art.
Globally, however, Megan Mosholder’s string installations are not rare. Artists like Sabrina Barrios (who also refers to her installations as “3-D drawings”), Jeongmoon Choi, and Sebastien Preschoux are all creating massive, glowing, and impressive ultraviolet string structures. And without the seeming indulgence of luminescence, artists like Megan Geckler, Gabriel Dawe, and even the craft duo Lorna and Jill Watts (“Knits for Life”) are all participating at very advanced levels in an exploration of parabolic string/yarn art. Furthermore, parabolic string art can be traced through many systems of maternity/paternity, e.g., from Henry Moore’s stringed sculptures through Surrealism and Dada; through Max Ernst’s Lissajous Figures or Duchamp’s ‘mile of string’ or Picasso’s guitars; through Mary Everest Boole’s curve stitch; through religious tradition; through rock painting; through spiders, perhaps the inventors of string art; through DNA strands and various cellular or viral structures.
Mosholder’s art — that is, the direct parabolic curve and other base mathematics familiar to many scientists, artists, and school children — is not and never could be a differentiated form.
But just because an artist is not individuated — her work not differentiated — does not mean that she nor her art do not play a vital role in the movement of the times, or of art altogether. By not differentiating, she holds to the argument that it is perhaps the blank architecture — the un-artist-ed architecture — that makes the largest statement toward and in response to our current sociopolitical condition. Mosholder’s work is participatory — it does not seek to overwhelm or compete with other artists in her genre, so while it might spell the death of an artist in last year’s art-fame culture, it will undoubtedly spell her success in next year’s metaphysical culture.
But in understanding the artist who is undifferentiated within a movement and not causal to a movement, we must focus less on the who and when of string art, but focus on the what and why. That is, what exactly is string art and why does it exist?
The medium of string art is not weaving, though they are both fiber arts. (Similarly, fencing is not a house and trees are not a forest, though they are all wood.) String art is concerned with the architectural translucency of fibers, whereas weaving is generally concerned with the architectural solidity of fibers. That is, string art, as its name suggests, focuses on the string as not only material, but resultant work, whereas weaving may focus on the string as material, but not resultant work. Thus, in cases such as Janet Echelman, whose megalithic string-based structures have graced parks globally, the distinction can be made by a review of whether or not architectural translucency is intended or created, which for Echelman, counterintuitively, it is neither, even if a visual translucency is achieved. For Echelman, the string is cause and not effect. Similarly a square of translucent lace is architecturally solid, even if translucent.
To show how necessary translucency is to string art, one only has to look at the works of Duchamp and Henry Moore:
In 1942, at the request of André Breton, Marcel Duchamp designed an installation for the First Papers of Surrealism exhibition — the installation was profoundly disturbing to many attendees and what David Hopkins, Director of the Institute of Art History at the University of Glasgow, has called “one of the most audacious exhibition installations of the early twentieth century” and likewise a “succès de scandale.”
But can string art have such an inherently scandalous nature that it can only be described in French? Duchamp did not think so. The artist denounced detractors of his work by emphasizing the ubiquitously translucent quality of string: “You can always see through a window, through a curtain, thick or not thick you can see always through if you want to, same thing there.” For Duchamp, the material itself did not obstruct the view of the artworks, and his placement, much like his other works, despite what is said so often, were not for the pure sensationalism of being challenging, but for the purpose of the analysis of material and placement.
Likewise, British artist Henry Moore, most famously known perhaps for the use of negative space in his sculpture — who, along with Barbara Hepworth, practically invented the hole — likened his uses of string to a “birdcage”; that it was the visibility of the interior that “excited” him and that the strings’ power was its ability to be looked beyond — to contain the form of the hole.
Duchamp and Moore represent the two major styles of three-dimensional string art: installative, in which an artist attaches strings directly to the exhibition space’s extant architecture; and sculptural, in which the artist attaches strings to a portable object, both of which Mosholder employs in her practice, including her pieces for Tied Up At Home, opening Friday, May 20, at 7:00 p.m. at Blue Mark Studios.
This distinction — installation versus sculpture in string art — is important as much as it allows us to understand scale of experience and location of the viewer, but it matters very little in understanding the true nature of the medium. That is to say that while the attachment point in string can change the attributes of the artist’s statement, it cannot change the subject; if the same figure is drawn on a solid wall or a balloon, it may introduce attributes of permanence or temporality, but the symbol and its interpretation remain the same. Namely, that the translucent nature of string art creates an overlapping object that exists simultaneously within the space, and that parabolic string art, because it directly references planar mathematics, naturally refers to the simultaneity of space and its originating or resultant architecture.
Mosholder, in her installations, does not divorce often from a parabolic curve, complex parabolic curve, or other architectural device. This standard within her work implies a natural association with Mary Everest Boole, a mathematician and math educator, who, near the turn of the 20th century, brought to light the “curve stitch”, a method of developing parabolic curves using single lines of string on sewing cards.
Boole described these sewing cards as “the means of finding out the exact nature of the relation between one dimension and two. . . . There is another set of models, the use of which is to provide people . . . with a means of learning the relation between three dimensions and four. The use of [Boole’s] books . . . is to provide reasonable people . . . with a means of teaching themselves the relations between n dimensions and n+1 dimensions, whatever number n may be.”
If we can understand parabolic string art — which, regardless of Mosholder’s awareness, is so dependent on the ideas of Mary Everest Boole’s curve stitch — to inherit, even if in some small way, the intention of its origination, then we can suppose that all parabolic string art follows; that it teaches the relationship of n and n+1, “whatever number n may be.”
So what number is n? Perhaps in Mosholder’s installations, where n is not a proposed three-dimensionality such as in Henry Moore’s sculptures, but a real space — a gestalt — it is four-dimensionality: space with a history of previous lives, with future potentials, with karma. Mosholder’s installations then tow the (n+1) fifth dimension: the dimension of projected overlap. Projected, because her parabolic curves extend from an artist-created mathematics; overlap because they exist concurrently. This fifth dimension — projected overlap — we call “metaphysics.”
Then what of the string that ties the two together in relation? How is it simultaneously the relational tool and the metaphysical dimension?
In his essay, “The Symbolism of the Mandala,” Jung describes a patient’s dream:
“In the sea there lies a treasure. To reach it, [the dreamer] has to dive through a narrow opening. . . . The dreamer takes the plunge into the dark and discovers a beautiful garden in the depths, symmetrically laid out, with a fountain in the centre.”
What Jung describes here is the mandala in both of its functions: an access point to an architecture of metaphysics and the architecture itself. Through a dream (itself mandalic, but let’s avoid confusion), a patient moves from one world to another through a “narrow opening.” This is the function of the mandala as an access tool to the internal, or to the meta-external, as it were, depending on the belief system.
The mandala is at once the moment of overlapped understanding and the bridge between it, what Maggie Grey in “Encountering the mandala: the mental and political architectures of dependency,” refers to as “where microcosm and macrocosm unite.” For the dreamer in Jung’s work, the mandala served as both the structure of the doorway to the innermost self, and the “garden in the depths”, the structure of the innermost self. The portal is self-referential: the metaphysical existence of the structure and the structure share the same form, even if in an inverse correlation (i.e., the narrow opening out of water into a garden with a center fountain which produces water through a narrow opening).
This concept may be easier in secular understanding, where the eye is mandalic. For the perceiver, the experience of reality is simultaneous to reality itself, and the eye is the entry point. And much like the three-dimensional line that corresponds exactly to its ideological counterpart — the two-dimensional line — both the mandala and string art are self-referential. But this is not surprising, this comparison of mandala to string art: string art has been used in mandala explicitly.
In political metaphor, the mandala is found in levels of wealth or power. It is the constructed blueprint of society; the unspoken and unseen, yet still experienced, complex relationships that exist for individuals.
In our current culture of technological and societal intersection, we understand that architectures differ from individual to individual, from group to group. At moments of intersection, different persons interpret different events or things as consistent to their individualized architectures. So we are stuck with two understandings, which may have trouble in overlap: that of the inherent architecture of existence, and the understanding that any attempt to universalize an architectural ideology would be a little too close to the still-remnant though purportedly (and less increasingly) vestigial fascisms of the 20th century.
But all of this is settled (metaphorically) in the generalized mandala of parabolic string art. This generalized mandala reminds us that there is an architecture, without a commitment to or enforcement of the structure of that architecture. It is instead a reference to structure itself. It is an attempt at an undifferentiated stability that is cathartic in an uncertain balance of the individual’s power in today’s societal overlaps.
I spent a good portion of the early 2000s in Atlanta aligned with various New Age groups, some of which are defunct now, some of which are cults now and some which still exist with the “good intention” of providing spiritual evolution to those who can afford it. This is, for myself and many others that I know, part of Atlanta’s flavor. Furthermore, contemporary Atlanta’s celebration of comics and role-playing games (Dragon*Con), Atlanta’s deep relationship with cartoons (Cartoon Network; Adult Swim), the massive influence (or is it confluence? or repetition?) of this spiritual humanism seen in, but not limited to, the queer/drag community, yoga communities, etc., and the fact that while writing this article at Octane Coffee, I was asked to join a Reiki/astrology/metaphysical discussion group: all of these life elements are essential to the representational ideologies of Visionary and Fantasy art, once restricted to pejoratively described nerds, Deadheads, middle-class self-indulgence, and (sin of all sins) lowbrow art.
One of the most important relationships of Megan Mosholder to contemporary Atlanta art is this: we are undeniably entering (or maintaining) an artistic period where the recovery of Visionary’s decorative metaphysics and transportational experiences through art are considered worthwhile. Current Atlanta artists such as Xie Caomin, whose mandalic work directly addresses mathematics and metaphysics, or the paintings of Atlanta-based artist Stacie Rose, who is also an artist in Blue Mark Studio’s Tied Up At Home group show. Or the mandalic caves of Sarah Emerson. Or Mike Germon’s metaphysical surrealisms. Or our relatively new recovery of metaphysical painting, seen loosely in Wihro Kim’s work in Tied Up At Home. Or so on. There is definitely a metaphysical portal open in Atlanta, and Megan Mosholder’s string work, in all of the genius that is her medium and her application thereof, a genius that I likely have only scraped the surface of here, is illuminating a structure around, and perhaps through, it.
A string walks into a bar, where the bartender says, “No strings allowed.”
The string leaves the bar. He twists himself up. He musses his hair. He walks back in.
“Aren’t you that string that was just in here?”
The string responds: “No. I’m a frayed knot.”
Megan Mosholder’s newest work can be seen in the group exhibition Tied Up At Home, which opens Friday, May 20, at 7:00 p.m. at Blue Mark Studios, located at 892 Jefferson St., Atlanta, GA, 30318. Other artists in Tied Up At Home include William Mize, Wihro Kim, Stacie Rose, and Ivan Reyes. The show is curated by William Mize.