Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
New York-based, Canadian sculptor Lucy Pullen, who studied spatial analysis and visualization for two years after receiving a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and an MFA from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, demonstrates her mastery of both science and art in “What If,” her current exhibition of sculpture and drawing (on view through January 21, 2022). The featured works—a new edition of “100 Closest Stars,” first realized in 2016; powder-coated steel “Outliers” (2021); and 16 monoprint “Zoom Portraits” (2021) developed from drawings made during video calls—evoke the near infinite expansiveness of our technological environment, as well as the claustrophobia of our pandemic times. Trapped in an e-meeting, we can nonetheless visit the stars.
“100 Closest Stars” consists of 100 3D-printed crystalline forms ranging in size from a baseball to a football, arrayed together along one long wall in a grid five sculptures high and 20 across. Appearing in a variety of colors—from vibrant scarlet, vivid blue, and bright green to Day-Glo yellow—each “star” is rendered using the astronomical data that locates it in the night sky, a process that involves a form of spatial analysis called Voronoi geometry, which produces the unfamiliar, faceted shapes. Each form is unique, its angles and facets reflecting the shifting position that it holds vis-à-vis our planet as we plummet through the depths of space in our expanding universe. Solid yet vertiginous, “100 Closest Stars” evokes both the immensity of space and the intimacy of an object that can easily be held in one’s hand, or—through mathematics—in one’s mind.
The wire-frame Outliers #1–3 depict three stars that were too large to be 3D–printed. Like their smaller thermoplastic cousins, these steel sculptures are brightly colored in fluorescent orange, neon yellow, and sky blue. While their spindly forms seem weightless, almost without substance, they fill most of the space in the gallery, routing viewers around in a geometric dance. Though the Outliers sit solidly on the ground, one can’t help but see them as though they were floating in space, crystalline bubbles visible only at their edges.
In the “Zoom Portraits,” Pullen presents a series of images of other artists, made over weeks of planning for an exhibition disrupted by the pandemic. The source from which the original drawings were made—the digitally transmitted faces of others on Zoom—represents an instance of humans being transported, scanned, and reproduced, reduced to data just like the stars. As an epigraph from poet Mei-mei Bessenbrugge printed on the wall has it: “A person, being of cosmic origin, can be at one with a star.”
“What If” is solidly based in mathematics, but it is hardly dry. Pullen’s work expresses a poetics of numbers, a seeking for knowledge expressed in a language of abstract description that, for those conversant with it, expresses hope and wonder as much as any certainty. That poetics, normally opaque to the non-numerate, comes alive in this remarkable exhibition.