Madeline Hollander, installation view of “Entanglement,” 2024. Photo: Guang Xu, Courtesy the artist and Bortolami, New York

Madeline Hollander

New York


Choreographer and visual artist Madeline Hollander’s “Entanglement” (on view through March 2, 2024) is one of the most interesting recent sculptural exhibitions to engage the philosophical notion of “quantum entanglement.” Rather than trading on Deleuzian idioms and hackneyed “rhizomatic” platitudes—which, even if applicable, merely describe the ubiquity of synthetic processes, having little to do with sculpture’s necessary domain of optical perception—Hollander’s work homes in on the relations of linked relata. Motion serves as the demonstrative element that tethers her relata together, and she executes her pursuit in a choreographic key, using her background as a dancer to address the somewhat unintuitive metaphysical notion that relations are not intrinsically reducible to their relata.

Hollander most effectively engages this idea of “relata without relations” in her “Entanglement Choreography” (2023) series, a sextet of ivory-painted vessels combined with rotating parabolic mirrors. The mirrors are bisected into luminous hemispheres of color (golden yellow/ruby red, aquamarine/turquoise, purple/ember), denoting left or right from center and indicating where the motorized spin begins. Inside the receptacle is an argent, wiry dancer, reminiscent of Giacometti’s desiccated humanoids. But where Giacometti’s figures droop and sag—totems freighted by the body’s burdens and traumas—Hollander’s humanoids wind and curl in sprightly pirouettes, prodded into concentric movements by a concealed turntable. The contraption recalls wind-up ballerinas springing from jewelry boxes, which, today, may be tucked among other outmoded novelties in dusty antique stores. But Hollander does not simply service childhood memories—the abstracted dancers, cast via lost-wax molding, have elongated arms that wash over their knees and feet, each body looping in a serpentine swing. They are more snaking-coil than human-dancer.

Approaching one of these works, the viewer sees only a holographically projected portion of the rotating figure hidden below. The surface reveals a convex medley of distorted head, shoulders, and helicoid ligaments flowing in and out of one another in a cascade of circuitous silver annals. The effect is as perplexing as it is captivating. Running a hand through the expanse at the pedestal’s top, befuddled viewers come to realize that the image is a mind-dependent phantasm. Then, peering below, they see the neatly arranged sculpture. Hollander has chosen not to explain the mechanics of her arrangement, and the revelatory divulgement plays just as an important role in the work as the specter-ballerinas. In overturning illusion, Hollander’s embrace of exposition licenses “Entanglement Choreography” with an instructive gambit.

Madeline Hollander, Entanglement Choreography I (figs. 1, 7, 13, 19), 2023. Glass optical mirrors, cast aluminum, electric turntable, and wood pedestal, 24 x 24 x 32.5 in. Photo: Guang Xu, Courtesy the artist and Bortolami, New York

Hollander has effectively made inventive artistic materials from what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance” and what the contemporary Greek physicist Fotini Markopoulou calls “quantum graphity.”1 In the coarse-grained terms of a non-specialist, this designation describes a phenomenon in which a duet of matter is generated or interacts such that spatial proximity is necessarily shared; that is, the quantum state of the particles cannot be descriptively isolated from the shared state. According to Stephen Boughn, a physics researcher (and detractor of Einstein’s theory), “Einstein was not challenging the veracity of the predictions of quantum mechanics but rather its ontological interpretation.”2

Today, the veracity of Einstein’s rejoinder to the dilemma brought about by Schrödinger’s equation is hotly contested. Hollander makes no attempt to adjudicate this debate. Her more modest ambit is to explore how kinetic sculpture can illuminate such a theoretical paradigm, without taking a stance on the theory’s credibility. In turn, quantum entanglement serves as her theoretical fulcrum. The mind-dependence at play in viewing Hollander’s projected dancers posits space as such a fully interconnected network. Our optical perception plays an active role in generating the holistic sculpture, which means that the work does take a position on a perennial query in the philosophy of perception. To the question “If a tree were to fall on an island where there were no human beings would there be any sound?” it answers with a resolute “no.” The holographic element of the sculptures requires our perception. But Hollander also engages a related theoretical issue. The grains of jointed matter that Einstein theorized are metonymically captured not by the existence of paired dancers (the relata)—the delimited holographic image and its posterior source—but their shared, 24-sequenced choreography (the relation). As Bough notes, Einstein conceived of “spooky action at a distance” as an ontological interpretation; similarly, following Hollander, the percepts behind our observation and its mind-dependent networking expound the processes of a jointed spatial reality.

Hollander, who trained under Yvonne Mounsey at the Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica, is no stranger to the treatment of movement and patterning as fundamental. In much of her work, movement supervenes over the constituent entities who perform the moving. In her more gesturally attuned performances, such as Ouroboros: Gs (2019), which featured a cast of museum staff and professional dancers in hard hats and high-visibility gloves, it was human relations that figured as motifs par excellence.

Humans are not entirely sidelined in “Entanglement,” but they are marginal (although Hollander apparently originally intended to place a human inside a parabolic mirror prior to settling on sculptural ballerinas for “Entanglement Choreography”). Nevertheless, the human is suggestively operative—in both name and action—in Bob, Charlie, and Alice (all 2024), three Möbius-like, aluminum kinetic sculptures bent into trefoil knots. These works require activation by gallery staff who, working as intermittent performers, activate the spheroids into a slow, self-propelling tumble-traipse. One of the sculptures moves with tight central nodes; another skids with an S shape; the third plunges and slumps with a drunken gait.

These works, too, have Einsteinian roots, their titles following the appellation of particles in a 1935 quantum mechanics paper published by Einstein, Nathan Rosen, and Boris Podolsky. Here, however, the viewer is at pains to liken the observable phenomena of fleetingly self-propelling sculpture—where the movement can be trivially explained—to the entangled correlations that “Entanglement Choreography” more aptly elaborates. We are told that these sculptures have the capacity for perpetual motion, though the walls ensure that this promise is ultimately unattainable (and in my viewing, the sculptures did not trek beyond a modest few feet); on the other hand, were it to obtain, Einstein’s conception of quantum entanglement would be an all-encompassing theory. Bob, Charlie, and Alice are more effective as homages to an experimental program little known among laypersons. The “Entanglement Choreography” series, on the other hand, impresses theoretically, technically, and optically.


1 Einstein used the phrase “spooky actions at a distance” in a 1947 letter to Max Born. See Max Born, The Born-Einstein Letters 1916–1955 (New York: Macmillan, 1971). A 1935 paper by Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen (abbreviated as “EPR”) is often credited with popularizing the concept of entangled quantum states and action at a distance. See: “Can quantum–mechanical description of reality be considered complete?” in Physics Review 1935, pp. 777–780.

2 Stephen Boughn, “There Is No Spooky Action at a Distance in Quantum Mechanics,” Entropy 2022, 24, 560, p. 2.