What do a Victorian mathematician and a Modernist painter have in common? How are an English author of the 19th to 20th centuries and a professional French translator of the 20th to 21st centuries thematically related? There are really only two people involved, Edwin A. Abbott (1838 – 1926) the author of the satirical dystopia FLATLAND A romance of many dimensions (1884) and Mokha Laget the painter of the whimsical, yet disciplined series CAPRICCIOS (2019 )
Let’s begin with Mokha Laget whose works were on exhibition in ALCOVES 20/20 at the New Mexico Museum of Art. The presentation of Alcoves in which non-juried and self-selected works by contemporary New Mexican artists are displayed in a series of rotations is an essential element in the purpose and philosophy of the New Mexican Museum of Art. Free and nonjudgmental support of local artists is crucial for the mission of the museum, the artists, and the viewing public. The practice started under Robert Henri, one of the most influential founding artists of the museum when it opened in 1917. Mokha Laget is, therefore, sustaining a century’s old traditional while creating ground-breaking works of modern art.
Ms. Laget is literally breaking apart the traditional shape of the canvas and the forms she creates within that geometric picture plane. She pushes into and pulls away from the boundaries of squares, rectangles, and other polygons, to create unique, heretofore, unidentifiable configurations, but these configurations are still geometrically based. Her deeply saturated colors and her ambiguous shapes create an illusory environment in which objects simultaneously hide behind and jump in front of each other. Her source of light is steady and seems to originate in the space above her constructions. There are no shadows. When the shapes intersect, like a Venn diagram, the field of contact is not a mixture of the two adjacent colors, but takes on a color of its own Therefore, the shapes are both two dimensional and three dimensional at the same time, depending on the perspective of the viewer. The objects retreat and protrude. They visually and geometrically interact with each other. The mind of the viewer can manipulate the facing optical field, shifting vertical or horizontal lines and obtuse or acute angles, transforming them into alternate architectures. Her geometry tries to reconcile the contradictions between the plane and the solid. We can move from point to line to square to cube. Depth moves on the diagonal to penetrate the picture plane.
Perhaps, the geometric artist she is most strongly influenced by, is Joseph Albers who stated that art should “present, not represent.” Laget herself has written: “I like to involve the viewer in playful unreliability.” That viewer must interpret the image according to logic which is not always reliable. We cannot be passive, when travelling through the world of Mokha Laget; we must be curious and daring explorers of her contradictory visual world.
When looking at her work, we seem to be hovering above the canvas, looking down. Now imagine a different point of view; imagine that you can lower yourself down to the same plane as the shapes indicated, so that you are literally on an eye-to-eye level. This is the point of view for all the inhabitants of FLATLAND who range from lines, triangles, squares, polygons, and circles. No matter how many sides you have, the person in front of you will only see you as a straight line.
Like Gulliver, we can follow the descriptions, not of Lilliput or Brobdingnag, but of the lands of Geometry as written by the author, a Square, his naïve narration providing a pointed satire of government, religion, and social hierarchies. Look at Mona Laget’s paintings and have fun applying these concepts. Compare her flat landscapes to this imaginary world.
There is a class system; the higher the number of sides, the higher the social position. Not surprising, the lowest class is a straight line - all women are straight lines. Isosceles triangles are the workers and the soldiers. Equilateral triangles are the middle class Squares and pentagons are the professionals. Hexagons are the noblemen rising in esteem as they acquire so many sides that they are virtually circles, who are the priests and the ruling class.
Conformity is a guiding principle “Every human being in Flatland is a Regular Figure.” Irregular figures that populate the universe of Mokha Laget cannot be permitted since they could not be recognized, identified, or categorized, leading to chaos. Such unpredictability, disorder, and surprise are, in fact, the cornerstones of true art. Citizens of FLATLAND did at one time foment a rebellion against such restraints. A Pentagon discovered color and started painting houses and figures, inspiring the Color Revolt. Like Laget, he used a light source from above, with no shadows or shades. Society erupted in brightness and creativity. Alas, the Counter Revolution prevailed, banning color and irregularity, the foundations of individuality.
Points of view are so important when experiencing Laget’s works, as the inhabitants of her world shift and float, opening pathways or mounting obstructions. Her points of view expand. The points of view in FLATLAND are restrictive , most obviously when encountering the Monarch of Pointland. The King of his own universe cannot conceive of anything beyond himself; he has no knowledge of length, width, height. He has no connections to others, showing no curiosity and no empathy. “Outside his World, or Line, all was a blank to him.”
Let’s rejoice in the planned irregularity and vibrant colors of Mokha Laget’s world and be grateful we not just Squares.
FLATLAND. A romance of many dimensions can be downloaded at: https://gutenberg.org/ebooks
Written by Sharon McCawley, Curatorial Docent at the New Mexico Museum of Art