São Paulo

Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Natureza geométrica/biología (Geometric Nature/Biology), 2018, branch, rubber bands, ropes, metal, dimensions variable.

Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Natureza geométrica/biología (Geometric Nature/Biology), 2018, branch, rubber bands, ropes, metal, dimensions variable.

Daniel Steegmann Mangrané

Mendes Wood DM | São Paulo

Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Natureza geométrica/biología (Geometric Nature/Biology), 2018, branch, rubber bands, ropes, metal, dimensions variable.

Some gallerygoers may remember the duck-rabbit illusion used in the psychology of form, which demonstrates that perception depends on the mind’s expectations of what one will see. But its blurring of the dichotomy between seeing and knowing depends on two recognizable animals. What if one takes such a lesson to the realm of geometric abstraction and to the opposition between nature and culture?

In Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s recent exhibition, a árvore entrelaçada (The Tangled Tree) (all works 2018) occupied the center of the gallery. The work consisted of cables hung from the ceiling’s exposed rafters, intersecting to form an irregular, open, downward-pointing structure, vaguely reminiscent of an upside-down pyramid or Venezuelan artist Gego’s seminal netlike Reticulárea, 1969. Hanging from the cables were 164 elongated brass and nickel forms, their varying weight and distribution articulating the structure’s angles. One initially wondered if Steegmann Mangrané had intended for these objects to mimic pieces of vine or perhaps rope, or even some animal part. As it turned out, they represented the pods of the tree known as chuva de ouro (golden rain). But this “tree” of cables lacks a trunk; its reticular branches do not spring upward one to another but rather suggest lateral transfers between one branch and the next. Consequently, the work reminded one less of the traditional image of the tree of life (with a single vertical trunk from which life flows into distinct branches) than of the entanglements between species, and perhaps even between the organic and the inorganic.

Such an entanglement was shown more literally in Natureza geométrica/biología, (Geometric Nature/Biology), a sculpture in which the two sections of a branch sliced in half are held about an inch and a half apart by metal wires and are suspended horizontally within three tensed cables hung from floor to ceiling, suggesting a mutual intertwining of natural and artificial forms. Steegmann Mangrané’s exploration of these connections suggests his interest in Amerindian philosophies that see the nature-culture divide as less fixed than we often imagine, and the life of nature and of things as imbued with humanity.

On the gallery walls, the artist displayed eight watercolors executed on graph paper; some were presented individually, and others were paired. Together, the works recalled his Lichtzwang (Light Duress), an ongoing series begun in 1998 and composed of some four hundred watercolors. In these new works, the gridded support is isometric, made up of triangles instead of squares. Steegman Mangrané has filled in individual triangles with watercolor, creating sequences of triangles, rhombuses, trapezoids, and parallelograms that abut corners with one another and shift directions, following the path of a barely visible drawn line, while hue—yellow, navy blue, or brown—manifests various degrees of transparency and saturation, evoking a tension between the geometry of the support and the technique’s liquid application. At times, color emphasizes the surface plane; at others, it seems to float in an evanescent background. Some sequences of shapes reappear across multiple sheets, but they are always transformed: rotated, mirrored, elongated, or differently hued. Such a migration of form speaks to the way in which a simple set of procedures can result in a vast field of variable elements and their attendant aesthetic perceptions, allowing for an exploration of color, time, and spatial relations. But are these watercolors essentially geometric abstractions, or do they represent something beyond an elaboration of their own underlying grid structure? The title of the series, “Cobra-cipó” (Vine Snake)—that is, an animal named after a plant—suggests one answer, namely that hard-and-fast distinctions may be misleading. Steegmann Mangrané’s works engage perception in order to challenge the expectations regarding nature and culture within which perception functions.