Symmetry, revealing patterns, and trying to stop time...

On several occasions, my dear friend Alice and I would find ourselves sitting in the back of Spec's (a somewhat famous hole in the wall bar in North Beach, San Francisco) drinking ale on a foggy afternoon. The change from our drinks, combined with any we found in our pockets, splayed on the table as fodder for the design argument that would ensue. Without too much thought, one of us would arrange the coins in a pattern, attempting to achieve a perfection of order that would end time as we knew it. Her approach was systematic.  The coins were balanced on either side of an imaginary line, mirroring each other in placement and form. When they seemed perfect to her, she would offer them as her position. Then we would wait a few moments. When time did not end,  the arrangement opened to me. I would move a few coins or move them all, but in my layout there was never symmetry. I attempted to place the coins in relation to one another in a suspenseful, yet balanced manner...circles of varying sizes and colors with no imaginary line dividing a reflection. Symmetry is often considered an economy of design that hedges toward simplification. I was interested in complexity but I have learned, over time, that those two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

I have  been aesthetically attracted to imperfection as a form of perfection for most of my life. I like things that are considered misshapen, dirty or deformed... the wavering curve of a river bank, desert stones, a broken and bent tree. In film class, I allowed the film to lay on the floor while editing, embracing the scratches and mars created by footsteps and chairs. I allowed my intuition and impulse to guide my work. It was assigned once to me to design a container to "contain something intangible". I felt this "something intangible" in my chest. It was active, moving, hollow, delicate and empty. Driven by intuition, I dyed paper with tea until it fell apart. I collected sticks and string and wax. I had no drawings. When asked what I was trying to contain, I suggested that if the viewer could not tell when I completed the work, then I have failed. If it is "intangible", how can I even know what it is?*

Photo of broken and reformed ice.

For those who love order, nature appears a mess. But the apparent mess comes from viewing nature at a scale that is different from the scale that the order is obvious. Science breaks this concept down for us and seeks to find the underlying orders extant in nature. With the amount of complexity in our humble world alone, an economy of design allows us a rest in the process of perceiving. Considering a world without some symmetry or economy would be deafening. Everything  differing from everything else...could we even perceive it? If every particle was completely different we would be required to experience everything as new, simultaneously and constantly. That sounds exhausting. My point is, patterns can be found in even the most chaotic environments. An economical way to discover patterns is by using symmetry. 

The same photo of broken and reformed ice with reflectional symmetry on two axes

Patterns can appear complex or simple. Our experiential universe is vast in scale and content so sometimes it is difficult to see the patterns put before us because we are not viewing them at the relevant scale. On the other hand, our minds naturally make connections that indicate patterns. We connect things that are seemingly unrelated. We see faces in places where there are none.  Sometimes it just takes a different perspective to identify the patterns before us. Nature provides us with endless connective possibilities. Identifying patterns allow us to  connect to life.

Reflectionally symmetrical broken ice at the same scale as the original photo but repeated in pattern.

My creative process, is really about capturing a moment in time and unfolding it to reveal what is hidden. I have taken photos I that find interesting for color, shape, form or content of the natural environment. Photography is a medium that works with time, both with its function and in its ability represent a moment that is lost in time. That moment being visibly documented as a point in an infinite chain of events.  For the sake of simplicity and economy, I have mirrored the images to suggest the beginnings of patterns using simple reflectional symmetry. The subjects are asymmetrical and somewhat chaotic before the mirroring process. They posses a subjective perfection that I find satisfying (not enough to stop time as we know it, but...) enough to entice further experimentation. The scales of the original photos vary between each other but once mirrored, are "distant" enough to see patterns unfold.

 If Alice and I were sitting at Spec's now, I would argue that my new found affinity with symmetry was only a matter of scale and that anything is symmetrical if you look at it from far enough (or close enough) in the distance...and that reflection is a form of flattery. I will take either, however they come.

*I wish I had a photo of the sculpture to share. It was so fragile it collapsed after a few moves across town. Artistically speaking, a drawing would have been nice here too. The final work looked somewhat like a milkweed pod with a skeleton of sticks serving as structural ribs. The sticks were held together with wax and thread. The scraps of tea stained paper were delicately stitched in large x's to look like stretched gut but without the tension.