Exhibit of Works by "Fractal Expressionist" Mauricio Zárate Opens at AAAS
It was the early 1990s, and Mauricio Zárate was at the University of Southern California studying film. For a documentary class, he had the urge to do a piece on Los Angeles itself, on its complex array of networks and constant hum of activity. That rumination led him to chaos theory, and chaos theory lead him on an unpredictable course that produced a decade-long burst of bold visual creativity.
Some results of that work will be on display at AAAS headquarters in Washington D.C. beginning Thursday, 27 January, in an exhibit called "Evolutiva." Featuring roughly 30 photographs and paintings, the exhibit will explore an intersection of art and science, with the works driven by Zárate's fascination with chaos, fractals and the emergence of order from within complex dynamical systems.
The exhibition will run through the end of April in the atrium and gallery at AAAS, 1200 New York Ave. NW in Washington. The opening will feature a slide lecture by Zárate, "Paths Crossed," scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. A reception will follow from 6 to 8 p.m.
A fractal is a geometric shape or curve that repeats itself irregularly, like a mountain range or a coastline. Zárate's paintings are often bright and dramatic, conveying a sense of dynamic growth and evolution. He classifies himself a "fractal expressionist," after the term coined by physicist Richard Taylor at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Clearly he is exploring the boundary between science, mathematics and art, appealing to the viewer's senses, emotions and intellect at once.
"I wanted to work with the same dynamics and the same concepts as the scientists who were working with chaos theory were working with," he said in a recent interview. Like the abstract expressionists of the 1950s, he started with the pretext that "an accident is something that can trigger the development of a work, but then through pictorial techniques analogous to iteration and self-organization, the final output goes beyond the abstract expressionist style and into the realm of the new genre of fractal expressionism."
Along the way, Zárate says, he has been influenced by such volumes as Benoit Mandelbrot's "The Fractal Geometry of Nature"; "The Beauty of Fractals: Images of Complex Dynamical Systems" by Heinz-Otto Peitgen; and "The Computational Beauty of Nature," by Gary Williams Flake.
Zárate was born in 1969 in Cali, Colombia, and left for the United States in 1992 to study film at USC. He returned to Colombia in 1995, where he painted and founded [Paradigma+Dinamica] a film production company that did commercials and cutting-edge visuals in partnership with MPC Publicidad for several clients in Colombia and South America.
But, he says, the art scene in Colombia was disenchanting and funding was scarce; the focus on conceptual art was so strong that painters and sculptors felt themselves relegated to an artistic underclass. Like many of them, he left his home country, and in 2002, he landed in Miami. Since then, he's also spent time in Los Angeles, Eugene, Ore., and Washington D.C. Soon, Zárate says, he'll move to New York.
Through all of those changes, he's continued to paint pictures and take photographs that explore his principal themes.
He describes his work as having several layers. There are random shapes, and shapes which appear familiar but which appear randomly. There are panoramas that seems abstract but that have concrete elements in them, elements tending toward the "fractal archetype"the appearance of dendrites and spirals, for example.
"The next layer," he says, "is when I started to work with the idea of emergence, or how order emerges from chaos."
Zárate says he will pursue his own continuing evolution during the AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington next month [17-21 February 2005]. "To keep reiterating fractals would not be an interesting progression," he says. "I'd fall into the pattern of the artist who finds an idea and repeats it eternally. I'm not into that."
Instead, he plans to take return to film and video, interview as many scientists as he can at the Annual Meeting for a documentary called "Futures Changing."
"I want to go directly to the scientists, not to ask them about theory or their equations or their scientific experience, but more their cosmological perception of reality, the way they relate their work to art, and what are the positions they have toward art," Zárate says. "I haven't see anything that that deals with how scientist and the artists have a similar stance on reality, but work in different ways. I would like to focus on that, and weave it with the work that I've done."
As part of that process, he wants to use systems biology software to evaluate his own workthe 400 paintings and 4,000 photos he's produced over the past 10 years, looking for the patterns of interaction between concepts and images that are submerged there.
Beyond that, Zárate simply wants to see his world through the scientists' eyes.
"I don't know if my work can have an impact on the scientists," he says. "That's why I want to talk with them on the cosmological side, on the perception of reality, to see if there are elements in the arts that have influenced them or not, or if it's a myth that art and science go together hand-in-hand. Or is it really an attractive process?… I want to see and to know what's really going on in their minds."
Edward W. Lempinen
27 January 2005