Rob Licht’s “Tangle/Untangle Number 2”

Color drips from artist Marianne Van Lent’s Landscape with Vas, a painting of cellular shapes of bright pink and lime green over smudges of white, obscured landscape, and a distant and defined black. The resulting image is pleasing though abstract, a collision of forms that float together in layers drawing your eyes closer. The painting is not particularly joyous, yet somehow its effect is one of happiness and satisfactory contentment.

Likewise, Weights and Measures by Elizabeth W. McMahon is an energetic blast of color, a chaotic background of circles and streaks leveled out by more orderly rows of opaque circles and semicircles that seem to dance before your eyes.

Various mixed media paper cut outs flow horizontally across Carla Stetson’s Fluid Dynamics in a mapping of rivers that snake and overlap one another in fluid curves. The background is pitch black, which only intensifies their hues, and the chaotic jumble of water current joins together into a complete whole with impressive visual balance.

These are three pieces in Order/Chaos: The World That Surrounds, a group show at Corners Gallery this month, juried by Dowd Gallery of SUNY Cortland Director Erika Fowler and Ithaca College Professor Bill Hastings. The show explores the order and chaos in the world that surrounds us, from Barbara Page’s mapped confusion of subway routes to Pam Drix’s meditation on all of the people who stood in Birkenau before her. Or more accurately, the show explores how order, as artist Mark Oros explains with his included piece, “is the interpretation of chaos to meet our instinctive need for pattern and control.”

In Lindsey Glover’s photographs Transmission Tree and White Trunk Tree, for example, she studies the push and pull between the human need to landscape our surroundings and nature’s propensity to defy imposed order. In both photos, one landscaped and one natural, two trees grow far higher than the ones that surround them, their long trunks scenic anomalies.

Rob Licht’s Tangle/Untangle Number 2 studies chaos and order in a different situation, in which the artist documents his attempt to bring order to tangled fishing line on the shore of Nova Scotia. “My efforts produced a momentary ordering of the jetsam I found around me,” he writes of one photograph where the colored fishing line is carefully untangled in tidy stacks, “which, ultimately, the ceaseless action of the tides reclaimed. What I initially saw as chaos that required obsessive reorganizing soon revealed itself to be a natural organization that simply contradicted the human impulse to neatly arrange and define the landscape.”

Order, then, is in a sense relative to who is defining both order and chaos, and it’s fascinating to see throughout the show how inexplicably connected the two entities are, entities that from a distance seem at means with one another yet simultaneously are so interconnected that one cannot truly exist without the other.

Perhaps one standout from the show, which again explores chaos in a different sense as well, is Fold/Cut/Bind I and II by Laurie Snyder. Two hand-bound artist books, Snyder’s works are composed of a series of discarded photograms made by her late husband, John Wood. The mostly abstract photograms are beautiful in their own right, with their use of organic expression and nostalgic qualities, but what makes the pieces most intriguing is how they function in the context of the show. By taking discarded prints and turning them into something complete, Snyder created order that was not originally there. Likewise, the act of using these prints was likely an act of archiving memories, of producing some sense of resolve for the artist herself as the pieces came together.

As Order/Chaos makes clear, chaos surrounds us in our everyday lives, inevitable and expansive. From a pile of scrap metal to an upturned parking lot to an experiment with fire (other subject matter in the show), chaos is everywhere. And yet, somehow we are able to muse and seek patterns, creating order to help shape what we know. There’s a balance between the two, miraculous and alluring. One must simply be open to both ends of the spectrum. •

Order/Chaos: The World That Surrounds is on display at Corners Gallery, 903 Hanshaw Road, through March 1.

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