Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Discussing Symmetry's Portal with Artist Margarida Sardinha of Portugal

I've been following the work of Lisbon-born artist Margardia Sardinha since I first discovered and interviewed her in late 2010. Perhaps it was our shared interest in Magical Realism that captured my attention. In our first interview I was impressed with the breadth and depth of her studies and experience. Since that time she has produced several award-winning works including HyperLightness ad absurdum and London Memory multi+city.

To best appreciate this interview and the work it discusses, I recommend beginning with yesterday's Introduction to the Alhambra.

EN: How did you first become aware of the remarkable designs in the Alhambra?

Margarida Sardinha: The Alhambra is embedded in European culture. Thus I cannot tell the first time I heard of it for it was a long time ago. But the first time I visited the site was quite recently in 2011 and I was overwhelmed by its beauty and geometrical splendour. There are only 17 modes of geometrically dividing an Euclidian bidimensional plane and these are shown in the extraordinary Islamic designs of the Alhambra.

EN: It seems evident that earnest artisans in both the Western and Islamic traditions have had spiritual aims in their work (Sistine Chapel, for example) but they have approached this in utterly different ways. Can you speak to these two different approaches, the representational and non-representational?

MS: Our Western Biblical passage “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth:” (Exodus 20:4-6) and the Quranic words "No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision: He is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things." (The Noble Quran, 6:103), and "Remember Abraham said: 'O my Lord! make this city one of peace and security: and preserve me and my sons from worshipping idols.'" (The Noble Quran, 14:35) both forbid the figurative representation of God but for some reason later in the Bible the Solomon’s Temple is described as having cherubim and other figurative artifacts. Thus artists used this as a starting point, nevertheless this does not mean they did not use geometry. Geometry is at the heart of any religious art and the Western one is no exception as explains Charles Bouleau in his book The Painter’s Secret Geometry. In his book he explains how Western artists concealed sacred geometry underneath a veil of figurative depictions and the example of the Sistine Chapel is a good example of that; for Michelangelo even distorted the images according to perspective and gave geometrical symbolic or occult meaning to each of the sections.

EN: Is Symmetry’ Portal your response to what you encountered at the Alhambra, or something more?

MS: My work circles comparative religion so Symmetry’s Portal conveys the Islamic spiritual dimension. There is within the Islamic spiritual universe a dimension that can be called 'Abrahamic Pythagoreanism,' or the prospect of seeing numbers and figures as keys to the structure of the cosmos and as symbols of the archetypal world, and also in how the world is conceived as the God's creation in the sense of Abrahamic monotheisms. It is this possibility within the Islamic intellectual universe, with none or very little outside influences, which allowed Islam to develop a similar mathematical philosophy to the Platonic-Pythagorean tradition of antiquity but with a totally sacred characteristic. It is also this innate element of Islam’s structure that allowed the creation of a sacred art of an essentially geometric nature, and natural sciences that sought to penetrate into the very structure of physical existence, not by penetrating through the molecule and the atom, but by ascending to the world of mathematical archetypes to uncover the key structures that are reflected in the heart of matter. Islamic art is essentially a way to ennoble geometrically matter united by calligraphic forms that incorporate the word of God as revealed in the book, the Holy Qur'an.

EN: Please describe Symmetry’s Portal, the work you have created.

MS: Islamic spirituality had to develop a sacred art in accordance with its own form and revealed message and also its essence. The doctrine of unity, which is central to the Islamic revelation coinciding with a nomadic spirituality that Islam made its own, has brought to light an aniconic art where the spiritual world is not reflected in the sensible world through various iconic images, but through geometry and rhythm, arabesques and calligraphy that directly reflect the celestial worlds and finally the supernal sun of Divine Unity. Symmetry’s Portal comprises 30 works and a 3D film that deconstruct symmetry and generate illusory semblances. Thus, Symmetry 's Portal is a body of work of optical illusions where the symmetric and random are diluted in three-dimensional works originated from two-dimensional planes. Hence, symmetry’s isometrism is deconstructed or complemented by three-dimensional polyhedra where the image’s similitude evokes various illusory spatiotemporal dimensions. The inferences of such structures are also related to our dual understanding in the form of

Absolute = Random = Symbolic Continuum Relative Determinate

Where the cancelling-out of the respective mind effected differentiations results in a non-polarized symbolic continuum. This symbolic continuum is not static for it is a flux of consciousness that albeit relative to each individual it is absolute in essence – a paradox in itself that implies the self-referential framework of the individual and his/her correlation with absolute or innate forms. Thus, they refer to individual spatiotemporal events in the fabric of nature where immanence and transcendence are undifferentiated. This multidimensional interlace lies both in three-dimensional photographic works of large format as well as in the experimental film that constitute the showcase. The thirty works and the film "Symmetry's Portal" which comprise the exhibition were devised based on the geometric-mathematical descriptions of Keith Critchlow -- where the study of Islamic patterns is analysed via metaphysical and cosmological principles --, Marcus du Sautoy and Roger Penrose.

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Symmetry's Portal will be open to the public through February 15 at the
Centro Ismaili in Lisbon. Directions to the Exposição.

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