Manfred Mohr and the SciArt Quest

"space.color.motion" at Bitforms Gallery,

529 West 20th Street, NYC 12/5/02 - 1/11/03

When Art and Science Collaborations, Inc. was founded, back in the 20th century, most artists who joined ASCI used science as a means to artistic ends. However, in this millennium the SciArt movement has evolved as more and more artists have begun using art as a means to scientific ends. Brandon Ballengée's attempts to breed extinct frogs back into existence, exhibited at Exit Art in the 2000 show, "Paradise Now," was a prominent example, and is often cited to explain the SciArt movement.

That said, Manfred Mohr was a SciArt pioneer before ASCI was conceived, and before Ballengée was born. Mohr has used the computer to generate art since 1968. He had the first one-man show of computer art at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris in 1971. And from the beginning his art has sought to chart n-dimensional hyperspace.

Mathematicians who dealt in n-dimensional spaces maintained that it was impossible to visualize more than n = 3 dimensions of space, therefore one shouldn't try. Rather, one should leave such n > 3 dimensional space to mathematicians. Perhaps this hubris was just the catalyst needed. Visualization is the province of artists, and Mohr was probably the first who seriously took up the challenge of drawing in n-dimensional space.

I feel his early work can best be described as difficult. In the art world, difficulty can be a virtue. Several of his black and white line drawings were exhibited in the first room at Bitforms Gallery. One could understand the concept he was after. One could appreciate his line drawings for the sheer beauty of their geometry. Row after row, and column after column one could study the changes in the lines as Mohr attempted to rotate an n-dimensional figure in space. But mostly one would admire his perseverance in tackling a visualization so difficult to grasp.

Then Mohr began to write computer code to create computer animations which rotate six dimensional figures before our eyes. Now color was used to define his planes. It was a decisive break through. This work was seen in the second room at Bitforms, displayed in "handmade computer stations and flat screens." What has changed most is the visceral engagement of the viewer. It is no longer just the concept of a figure drawn in six dimensions, but a visual multi-dimensional reality that's spellbinding when the mind tries to inhabit it.

Has he done it? Has Mohr accomplished what no mathematician thought possible, and revealed a six dimensional world before our eyes? Or is it an illusion like M. C. Escher's impossible spaces?

If you study an Escher, eventually you can spot the tricks, and you admire the illusion. But for as long as I studied Mohr's animations, I only found myself drawn further in. It's an experience no one interested in SciArt should miss.