The Spectacle of the Cycle: Norman Mooney

By On March 2, 2012 In Art

Waterhouse & Dodd’s New York location last week opened an exhibit featuring new works by Irish artist Norman Mooney. Dealing with sculpture and installations, Mooney’s work demonstrates natural processes, with relationships between time and space evident in these works.

The majority of the pieces on display in Norman Mooney: New Work are referred to by their titles as “stars,” “flowers” and “seeds,” evoking complex natural objects reduced to simplistic mathematical shapes. The more spherical works on view are isohedrons with sharp and strikingly prickly cores, the central vertices from which points extend in many directions like sunrays. Instantly, the works present a conflict for the viewer: on one hand, one wants to examine the works up-close from multiple angles; on the other, he or she may be reticent to approach works that bloom a sense of ominousness in their sharpness. Altogether one feels a perversion against avoidance, like seeing—and the desire to feel—a beautiful but poisonous-to-the-touch Amazonian frog.

It’s interesting that the works in their tangibility attract a desire for touch, because the meaning of the pieces resides in the intangibility of the metaphysical, how the pieces affect the space around them and vice-versa. “Shadow and light and color are really what define the work,” Mooney told me. “It’s more about that than it is about the mass.”

© Amber Star No. 2

Whether fixed on a wall or freestanding, Mooney’s sculptures cast enigmatic shadows, warped and exaggerated copies of the host pieces themselves, which slowly creep across the room as the sun meanwhile makes its pilgrimage across the sky. Some works, such as Amber Star No. 2, made from cast amber glass and aluminum, also double as prisms, and reflect a cascade of light and color in the surrounding room as the light plays between its many surfaces. These features make the work engaging, small events existing in the play between the fixed object and the shadow—also fixed at its origin, on a flat plane rather than the three-dimensional space—that revolves around it depending on proximity to the light source, allowing for always-changing and ephemeral configurations.

© Sun No. 2

There’s a hypnotism involved with each of the works: the designs draw the eyes towards a central point, and hold them there. At the same time, one wishes to approach each from multiple angles. By observing Golden Sun No. 1 and Sun No. 2 in cropped photos, it may be difficult to understand the true shape of the works, much like optical illusions. These works possess a flatness that the other sculptures do not have: rather than points extending in every direction, these works are flat star-shaped surfaces piled onto one another, and from a side- or isometric-view evoke a kinetic wave shape contrasting the flatness seen head-on.

Standing before Mooney’s work, recognizing the play of contrast is key. From the density of the sculptures’ cores against their rays that conclude in a sharp point, to the relationship between tangibility and the metaphysical, the works cleverly invite inspection on their surfaces while masking some hidden truth beneath—creating a sense of wonder when the invisible processes of nature become more concrete.

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