Surfing Squirrel by Maria K. Lemming
I Know What I Like — Or Do I? Part Three:
I may not always know why I like a given work of art, but I can usually tell when a given piece makes me simultaneously smile and think.
So, I’m on more sure footing on this outing. In the two previous posts, reflecting on work by Jennifer Stewart and Tina Oloyede, I was travelling in dim light without much of a trustworthy, critical GPS. I knew I didn’t much like the road fractal art is currently on: creating beautiful objects for their own sakes and systematizing such empty eyecandy as the apotheosis of fractal art through both Fractalbook high-schoolish clique commentary and the mostly prettified gunk factory-made by "winners" of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest.
The fractal art I find exciting is often consciously processed in the direction of representation and can, broadly speaking, be "read" as a visual text — usually through the avenues of perceiving a narrative structure or through aesthetics via close scrutiny of how the piece utilizes design elements.
But there’s another puzzle piece crucial to today’s post, and it takes the form of a simple question. Why is fractal art ordinarily so humorless? Seriously. I mean, if it’s not bludgeoning viewers with strum und drang, it’s drably overreaching for profundity by being saddled with befogging titles that sound heavy but are merely an unfathomable or obscure lexicon. This predilection for sobriety and graveness also extends to the work of many new wave 3D fractal artists as well. Why do so many 3D affictionados seem content to staidly rebuild the halls of Montezuma or plumb the mecha-guts of steampunk machinery? Buoy up, boys.
I’ve been a smiling fan of Maria K. Lemming‘s fractal art since I first chanced upon it on Usenet in the late 1990s. No one else currently working in the discipline possesses a comparable and keen sense of recherché whimsicality. If, as Lenny Bruce once claimed, that laughter is "the only honest art form," then Lemming might be our purest genius.
Take Surfing Squirrel above (please!). The addition of a googly eye to the rodent form should come off like digital quackery; our own eyes should roll in response. Instead, the laugh lines around my eyes crater even deeper. The resulting transformation is beyond silly. It’s become somehow archetypal with the staying power and viral qualities of an Internet meme
which, of course, it is (even if the furry dude is technically water-skiing).
While you’re chuckling, you might overlook the precision of the piece’s composition. There’s energy everywhere. Note how the motion lines lift the tail off the board. Note how the waves, resembling the harmonic squiggles of voice recognition software, suggest a capricious sense of shooting the tube. The interwoven white threads in the "wave" evoke the froth of breaking whitecaps. The taut, horizontal lines rippling on the squirrel’s "fur" hint at both speed and tensity. Lastly, the fragmentized frame gives the entire piece a tilt-a-whirl, off-kilter ambiance that insinuates a gnawer wipe out is assuredly imminent.
Shy Sumo Wrestler by Maria K. Lemming
This work begins its rising mirth with the oxymoron of its title. What sport revels more in fleshly close encounters than sumo wrestling? How could any bashful athlete in this particular profession ever be competitive? There’s no hidey holes or panic room on a sumo mat. The two competitors are staggeringly exposed.
And in more ways than one. Those mawashis (the loincloth belts worn by the wrestlers) leave little to the imagination. In fact, the sport enjoys assaulting the eyes with plump, dueling buttocks (now there’s a phrase I don’t think I’ve ever had occasion to use before) and bashing barrel chests. Given the high degree of body friction involved, the image could have easily veered off in a more titillating direction — perhaps something like the erotically-charged work of Karen Jones. But Lemming is more interested in a kind of enamored gleefulness. Her soft, rounded, feminine forms are not intended for arousal but are subtly used to suggest the girth and grace of the wrestlers.
Shy Sumo Wrestler shows that fractal art does not have to be intemperately processed to trigger a leap from abstraction to representation. What we have here is a cubist cut-up of a trial of strength by combat with ancient origins in ritual dance. Remarkably, the piece feels like a still life that’s fully in motion. It’s all backs and butts — guts and belts — beef and brawn. And, what’s most awe-inspiring, is that it’s grounded in the wry notion of one timid warrior misplaced in a world where vulnerability is terra incognita.
Lonely Girl and the Ship by Maria K. Lemming
Lonely Girl, a solitudinarian, who made her first appearance near the turn of the century, may be Lemming’s most enduring achievement — a fractal character who is every(wo)man. She’s endearing because she carries on in the midst of adversity. She’s courageous, faces her fears, and hangs in. But she has no companions to give her good cheer and boost her spirits. In the end, she discovers what we all know but fear to admit: we’re alone. In other words, she’s us.
Lonely Girl is trapped in an absurd existence of being inexplicably transported from one Fringe event to the next. No pattern for her ongoing transferrals is apparent. No explanation is provided as to the purpose of her reoccurring time-slip travels. Worst of all, she is forced to journey solo without the benefit of any comrades. No wonder she’s so lonely.
Here’s Lonely Girl considering a fresh fractal landscape. Zap. Here’s Lonely Girl on a Framed Road. Whoosh. Here’s Lonely Girl incarcerated in a lollipop. Zing. Here, in a personal favorite, is Lonely Girl meeting the New World. Bam. Here’s Lonely Girl confined in the Haunted House. Scared…and, as always, alone.
But the loneliest Lonely Girl of all is Lonely Girl and the Ship. Adrift without a life raft. Forced to tread water with only brots for arms. Doomed to bob atop the waterline while she waits for the welcome companionship of passing sharks. Poor thing. She can’t even go down with the ship. Even drowned company is better than none.
Yes, Lonely Girl and the Ship would be the most lonesome, most melancholic fractal ever made…except…
…except Lemming, in her artistic wisdom and human kindness, made certain that Lonely Girl will never truly be completely lonely because…
…because you are spending time with her right now. Every viewer becomes her yokefellow.
She has us.
Next up in the series: Nothing.