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Kristiina Lahde’s Geometric Mind

Koffler Gallery, Toronto, January 22 to March 29, 2015

Kristiina Lahde’s art betrays a mind that loves to organize. Her recent works manipulate measuring tools, ordering them into new systems of geometric shapes and tessellated patterns. Lahde’s new body of work, currently on view in a solo exhibition at Koffler Gallery titled “Ultra-Parallel,” continues tending to these preoccupations. Working with standardized measuring tools as before, the exhibition sees Lahde trying her hand at larger-scale, three-dimensional works that make use of the gallery walls and space. The result is what we’ve come to expect of Lahde: structures with mathematic compositions that translate into striking visual rhythms.

In these new works, the expansion in scale is accompanied by a paring down of visual language. Compared to Lahde’s earlier collage works that veer toward the decorative, the tone of the show is laconic. Expunged of superfluous elements that may distract or mystify, her new constructions explicate their own conceptual and structural blueprint in simple terms. Placed smack in the middle of the room is the show’s largest work, From a Straight Line to a Curve, the title a reference to its own structure—a geodesic sphere. The spherical shell, several meters in height, is formed by dozens of yardsticks arranged in repeating triangular units. Despite the intricacy of the lattice, the quantity and the dimensions of its constituent parts—the yardsticks—are made easily legible.

An aesthetic of transparency is also evident in Tool for Making (2014), a relief sculpture of sorts that incorporates the instrument of making into the final product. Identical pieces of vellum paper, overlapping one another, are taped onto a green cutting mat. Each parallelogram-shaped paper lines up precisely with the increments on the mat, divulging the dimensions of the parts and the composition of the whole. In these works, the use of measuring tools as medium foregrounds the systems underlying impressive visual patterns. It reveals a particular ethos of art making that pursues clarity over myths.

As in Lahde’s previous engagement with measuring tools, many of the works in the show test the malleability of systems and standards. Her efforts to present oblique ways of apprehending units of measurement gesture toward the conceptual jokester Marcel Duchamp. In a work titled 3 Standard Stoppages, Duchamp dropped three one-meter-long threads from one meter high, and then transposed the random curves in which they landed to make three “meter sticks” with curved edges. The resultant tools preserved the length of the meter, but in the form of an idiosyncratic, meandering path. In a similar vein, Lahde peels apart the standard relationships between quantity and quality. Greater Than, Less Than (2015), echoing Duchamp, begins with three measuring tapes of equal length. Each tape is spliced in half lengthwise and the two ends are fixed to the wall. One strand of the tape is pulled taught and anchored at its halfway point at a right angle, while the other half simply hangs, its form dictated by gravity. Duchampian humour is absent here, but what the work lacks in laughs it makes up for with concision. In a simple gesture, Lahde lends dimension to distance, proliferating its qualitative possibilities.

Conceptual systems are the kernel of Lahde’s works, but her use of found materials tethers these structures to the world of objects. The yardsticks used in such works as Straight Line to a Curve were scavenged from antique and junk shops, though Lahde could have easily obtained them with a single trip to the hardware store. The thrifted measuring sticks bear different labels and signs of wear, their idiosyncrasies a seeming affront to the standardized measurement system to which they conform. Against the minutiae of mathematic precision informing Lahde’s works, the material imperfection is jarring.

Such unquantifiable qualities that surface in the show temper the cool rationality of Lahde’s art. When the mathematics predominates, as it does in some works, it feels too antiseptic. In the most engaging works, materials were brought into systems in which they aggregate and behave in seemingly irrational ways—when measurement tools sag and bend, when straight sticks form undulating planes. While precise measurements underlie even these works, the mathematics helps to wring out the arbitrary and the deviant.

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