Sylvan Lionni is often described as an artist who works with social geometry – the social patterns by which we tend to organize space. Truly, although he often uses bright colour scales and complex techniques, Lionni seem to subordinate both colour and method to the notion of spatiality – the effect of two contrasting colours or a printing method is merely perceived as an enhancement of the artworks’ geometrical functions. Overall, Lionni focuses on shape: figures, lines, edges and measurments.
Thinking of geometry, one easily thinks of mathematics and static form. The rules are clear – it is in no way possible to imagine a square circle or a triangle with four sides. Thus there is both a calming sense of certainty and a harshness or callousness to this calculative system, depending on a rationalistic logic which goes way beyond the human behaviour. Or at least, so it seems. Still, Lionni works with social geometry, a word that implies some kind of interaction. And thinking closer, one discovers that geometry is in fact inseparable from the notion of action or movement. A pattern, for example, is always dependent on repetition. Contemplating one of Lionni’s works, or even a piece of dotted wallpaper, the experience of pattern demands a thinking of possibility. Even if all we can see is a 30”x30” cut-out of a dotted pattern, to call it a “pattern” we need to be able to imagine that the dots could continue occurring by the same mathematic logic forever, were there only an infinite canvas.
In his exhibition Chromosphere at Stene Projects, Lionni works with enhancing this sense of geometrical interaction and possibility. The show involves nine objects by which eight are depicting the same motive: unfolded boxes in what appears to be soft cardboard. The ninth object is a paper orb by the foldable sort. The works are simple and materialistically immediate, playing with the concept of two- and three-dimensionality. One cannot help but to imagine folding the orb together, compressing it into a solid, flat mass of paper. The unfolded boxes create an opposite effect – consisting in a symmetrical, flat surface, only in our heads taking shape as cubes. Ironically, they are not possible to fold or even crease; Lionni has produced them all in solid steel. Still, in spite of the certainty of symmetry and the harshness of unfoldable material, Lionni’s works thus introduces the possibility of action, interaction and sociality. Intentionally or not one visualizes the cubes, one takes part – by unfolding the folded and folding the unfoldable mentally. And so there it is: the breaking of static geometry and introduction of sociality. That is, a social geometry.