Art that invites contemplation.
Untitled is a ongoing master series of black-and-white photographs of living plant elements found in nature.
“A romantic typology of form” is an ongoing master series of 368 two-dimensional sculptures (or planar representations of form within space) of parts of plants. I use light to “direct carve” form out of nature, which I then position within a portrait frame that functions as a base for my sculpture. It is contemporary digital technology that makes it possible for me to slowly build each image, one exposure at a time, as I monitor my progress on the liquid crystal display (LCD) screen, a device exclusive to digital cameras.
I direct carve in the presence of the object, extracting form from it and its surrounding. First, I gradually obscure the background of the black-and-white photograph by varying settings on my camera and flash. Next, I polish the form with more or less bright directional light to bring out its three-dimensional features. Last, I detail the areas where I want to draw attention by carefully positioning the plane of focus and making sure that there is no movement. The end result has less to do with the object as seen in nature as with its form and the expression of feelings.
The individual sculptures convey existential feelings that relate or affirm a sense of existence, e.g., isolation, elevation, presence, attractive, or love for another. Because it is intimate feelings that forms engender in me, and that I express through my artist process, I call my typology romantic.
Sinking an isolated circular form (head) within a portrait frame expresses isolation. Positioning a similar circular form (crown) toward the upper part of the frame suggests elevation. Vertically stretching two slender, intertwined forms (stems) projects femininity, youth, seduction, confidence. Orienting a curved form (leaf) in such a way that it appears to cradle something illustrates maternal love.
Individual sculptures, placed one with regard to the other, compose small, titled series that I call Odes. These Odes are Epicurean in that they celebrate the urge to fulfil needs, such as the seeking of meaningful relationships or the development of intellectual and creative pleasures of the mind.
The curves of the serenely complementary subjects of “Ode 11 to Tranquility” appear free and still. In “Ode 2 to Friendship,” two vertical tubes engage each other but maintain a respectful distance that honors their mutual esteem. “Ode 4 to the Endless Column” pays homage to Brancusi. These two photographs could, if shown one above the other, continue forever. When read from top to bottom and left to right, the images that make up the grid of “Ode 7 to The Garden of Epicurus” convey growth and life.
My influences belong to visual arts—sculpture and photography—and philosophy.
Brancusi’s work teaches me to find within matter a subject and the expression of its essence. It is with arduous direct carving, with a hewn for Brancusi and light for I, that forms are shaped and brought to life. Brancusi’s form takes flight (Bird in Space), moves swiftly over the seabed (Fish), or goes to sleep (Sleeping Muse). My form is sunk and isolated (Untitled #90), raised and glorified (Untitled #149), or stretched and offered for attention (Untitled #157).
Pepper No. 30 and Eroded Rock No. 51 by Edward Weston, guide me on how to express an action, an embrace and a seductive pose, as deprived of human representation. In my work I use such visual metaphors (forms that are used in place of the human figure) as well as symbols (forms that are suggestive by reason of spatial associations) to help convey existential feelings.
Photographs of assemblies of sculptures by Brancusi, such as The Child in the World: Mobile Group (1917) that combines Little French Girl, Endless Column and Cup, inspire me to create small series in which affinities between pieces are displayed and a greater meaning is emphasized with a title. I qualify the series as odes because they are marked by exaltation of feeling.
I have found comfort and support in the philosophy of Epicurus. While influencing my work process that requires contemplation, awareness and stamina, his teachings inspire me to live a simplified, fulfilled and sustainable life.
My art arose in reaction to the greed of the increasingly money-centric society in which we live. While money has always played an important role in the functioning of capitalist economies, the selfish and excessive desire for more has developed to the extent of threatening humanity and our planet.
I respond to our society’s quest for symbols of wealth by offering art that depicts free, humble, ephemeral and readily available natural elements of the environment, such as buds, twigs, stems, leaves etc. I elevate these elements to the status of art, so that we will look at them and possibly even be reminded of their intrinsic values—aesthetic, nutritional, medicinal and environmental. Each plant is a gem—food for certain species, medicine for others, and a powerful producer of oxygen and absorber of carbon dioxide for all. As such plants help fight global warming and reduce the devastating effects of climate change on our environment.
Furthermore, I use natural elements to reflect the prevalence of existential feelings in our society. These feelings may be exacerbated by current technologies that influence our ways of living and interacting with one another. Cellular telephones as well as social media that enables users to exchange at a distance with ease, may contribute to an enhanced feeling of separation. Moreover, Ideograms used in electronic messages, such as symbols indicating approval and emojis of facial expressions, may convey a relative feeling of connectedness. Because of the frequency and relative nature of the feelings, we may be more aware of our and others existential statuses.
Spending time in nature, working with plants, has brought me back in touch with my feelings and helped me reassess what is important in life. I have since taken leave from my profession as a high-end single-family architect to focus on my art.
Anna Agoston, 2019