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Swarm from the art world ether


Some of the big names in town can take your breath away. We’ve got pieces by Sarah Sze and Julie Mehretu, Trenton Doyle Hancock and Shahzia Sikander, Felix Gonzalez-Torres (okay, so he’s the late FG-T) and Matthew Ritchie, Michal Rovner and Fred Tomaselli and Yukinori Yanagi. They’re all at the Fabric Workshop and Museum.


The show at the Fab is “Swarm,” curated by Abbott Miller and Abington’s Ellen Lupton. It’s got lots of great work and ideas(image, a detail of Sze’s construction at the Fab).

The concept is swarming, or the pattern of behavior that is based on contiguous and preceding actions –it’s what bees do and crowds do, and these days it’s often what artists do. It’s a concept whose time has come thanks to the computer, which can figure out patterns and also generate patterns (see Roberta’s post here on some internet swarm art).

It also can generate art, and there’s plenty of it in this show. Some of it looks not that different from artist-generated systematic art (I’m thinking of the fibonacci craze or perhaps work by James Siena) or Xylor Jane.

The show includes examples of swarms from science — including ant art — and examples of artistic swarms — mark-making based on some system of response to the previous marks. It also includes work that is not literally swarm behavior, but which suggests it.

The computer has been a great enabler of swarm analysis, and the show includes demonstrations of this too.

All in all it’s a great show. Among my faves were not computer-generated patterns, although I liked a bunch of those. Here’s my list: for starters a vertiginous construction from Sarah Sze (definitely not a literal swarm), made with such delectable fragile items as quarter moons cut from styrofoam plates, and rings cut from styrofoam cups; matches and rulers and tape measures, and all kinds of bits and pieces suggesting it’s a rickety structure on which we have built our lives (top image, Sze’s installation).


Then there’s the faux petrie dish embedded in an end table. Inside is an overhead video of a crowd compressing and dispersing, a sort of mandala of what look to be men in suits behaving like the June Taylor Dancers; the piece, “Seeds,” is by video artist Michal Rovner (image, Robner’s “Seeds”).

Shahzia Sikander’s “SpiNN,” which Roberta and I had seen previously in New York, a video animation of an Indian miniature, in which people and winged creatures multiply into crowds;


Trenton Doyle Hancock’s painting/collage of a tangle of trees and disintegration and words. The composition is breathtaking, the layering mezmerizing. It’s a fantastic world (image, Hancock’s forrest, including a hole through the bottom right corner of the canvas).


There was so much else to admire in this energetic show, from Siebren Versteeg’s “Long Division” light project on the floor to Yukinori Yanagi’s live ants tunneling through a sand image of a dollar bill (see Roberta’s post on other ant work from Yanagi as well as swarm work by Ed Ruscha) to Julie Mehretu’s loci of intense action amidst a cityscape filled with energy lines. Lots more. Great show (image, Yanagi’s “Philadelphia” dollar bill, with ants tunneling).