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September 9, 2013 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Comprehending Complexity

Networks large and small make up so much of our world, from biology to the stock market. Theoretical physicist Shaun Hendy says the true nature of complex systems such as these can only be understood through how they act collectively, rather than by looking at each small part making up the whole. Hendy’s most recent research into complexity has been around innovation, and his book with Sir Paul Callaghan, Get Off the Grass, attempts to get at the root of what is holding New Zealand back when it comes to innovation by examining our economy’s reliance on agriculture.

order, structure, pattern is a sculptural expression of Hendy’s research by Wellington artist Gabby O’Connor. Installed at Toi Poneke, the sculpture is instantly recognisable by those familiar with O’Connor’s work, as it mirrors the faceted shapes forming her notable icebergs. The facets of order, structure, pattern are negative space, however, defined by a complex lacing of rope between long extension cables. The resulting nets are stretched floor-to-ceiling through Toi Poneke’s L-shaped gallery in three distorted rectangular panels. The first panel is largely blue, a colour O’Connor was avoiding for this project until a supply shortage forced her hand. This panel feels rather abrupt before the rest—red, pink, orange and yellow—dominate most of the gallery. The plugs where the extension cables meet are satisfyingly distributed throughout the nets, and act as a subtle reminder of the inspiration for the work.

What is particularly striking about order, structure, pattern is the way its form connects to Hendy’s explanation of understanding complex systems. The work is made up of lines, connecting hundreds of pathways along thousands of metres of rope and cable. Each length of rope is made up of hundreds more smaller intertwined strands. These lines do not connect any discrete, and attempting to discern meaning from individual lines is futile, for their meaning is reliant on their relation to the system as a whole. The work compels the viewer, but it also pushes them away, requiring them to view the structure from afar.

You can hear Gabby O’Connor and Shaun Hendy talk about their collaboration at Toi Poneke on Saturday 14 September, 1 pm.

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