Monday, November 21, 2011

Euclidian lace - Christina Bryer

“My work is geometry. I do the work.”

Aperiodic blooms, merit award, 7th International Ceramic Competition 2011, Japan

       I have been a privileged witness to the development of Christina Bryer’s tile installations and porcelain mandalas over many years. Their deception is fabulous. Beyond the superficial embellishment these fragile objects reminiscent of frozen lace or French patisserie are solidly grounded in mathematics

Her starting point is a fascination with aperiodic tiling and Roger Penrose. In periodic tiling you can trace a piece of a pattern as in the example below, and recreate it by infinite repetition in either direction. In other words, the pattern can fit into a lattice.

Aperiodic tiling lacks this simple translational symmetry. If you trace a piece of this pattern, you have to rotate it to find a match:

Pentaplexity (Graphics: C.Bryer)
Penrose's infinite aperiodic tiling is generated by pentagons with the help of his famous ‘kites’ and ‘darts’, plus thin and fat rhombuses (or diamond shapes). Bryer likes using the pentagons themselves rather than the kites and darts, and the five-, three- and one-point star patterns which unfold in the pattern.

                                                                                                    Daisy field

Additional inspiration comes from repetitive patterns contiguous with infinity in the Alhambra mosaics for example, as well as nature’s tendency to construct complex geometries on micro and macro levels such as unicellular organisms, DNA strands, and stellar configurations. Bryer avoids the term ‘sacred geometry’ but this is of course how mathematical laws in natural forms are popularly referred to.

The implicit link with metaphysics is ineluctable. Even if you don’t subscribe to assumptions held by philosophers from Descartes to Kant to Frege, that Euclidean geometry is a paradigm of epistemic certainty, or the idea in platonism that mathematical truths are discovered, not invented, I invite you to pay attention to the multiple layers and complex overlaps in Bryer’s UpDown below. Patterns within patterns, shifting substrata, stars and pentagons, dazzlingly cohesive, move and loop without upsetting the overall harmony - making it easy to entertain  notions of absolute principles and Islamic ‘hidden one-ness’. 

       Digital 2D UpDown
The strict discipline involved in crafting the patterns evokes a meditative state of mind (we tend to forget in how many cultures the artist, monk and mathematician are often the same person), and Bryer doesn't control the unfolding of the pattern but follows  a “quest into the unfathomable depths of the web of aperiodicity from which straight lines, circles, rhythms and scaling emerge by themselves.” Contrary perhaps to expectation, she notes that “starting with the absolute of the grid frees you to work with infinite possibilities.”

  Tanit tile murat, Ibiza 1995
www                    ce


Bryer’s work forms part of a long discourse that goes back to  Renaissance parquetry and marquetry. Vasarely (1930s) and Agam gave us 3D kinetic effects through repetitive elements in painting. Escher (1930s to 1960s) introduced a 4D timeline in his bird/fish transformations. Nowadays there’s talk of 5D hyperspace and in A New Kind of Science Wolfram posits that “all processes, whether they are produced by human effort or occur spontaneously in nature, can be viewed as computations.”

Bryer will tell you that the centres are fractal, which Mandelbrot explains as being able to split into parts, each of which is a reduced-size copy of the whole; and that depending on the decisions you make, recognisable ‘seed patterns’ unfold in the infinite tilings namely ‘stars’, ‘cartwheels’ and ‘suns’ –which she prefers to call exploding or yin stars, cartwheels, and contracting or yang stars.

                                       Star                                Sun                                 Cartwheel

Anyway, Bryer has to contain or ‘stop’ the patterns from their tendency to infinity and gives them a border. The choice of a circular (plate) presentation with soft edges immediately places the patterns in the arena of women’s craft and art and the Pattern and Decoration Movement of the 70s. Artists  like Judy Chicago, Sonia Delauney, Miriam Shapiro and Joyce Kozloff come to mind. And when Bryer meticulously ‘cuts’ into the clay to allow an interplay of shadow and light, she claims the patterns. They are no longer digital, but gestural and plastic.

The silent earth
I see the fact that these mathematical ‘truths’ are comfortably situated in the discourse of female craft of doilies, swatches, flounces, and indigo designs, as an ingenious (although not intended as such) infiltration. They innocently decorate walls in homes like tiles in temples while hinting at  a much bigger picture.

PS See Christina's beatiful after the rain close-ups on Hartbron, Montagu.


  1. The fact that the work is not intended as an infiltration is an indication of how strong it is - that it does not set itself up in opposition to anything but is an intense exploration of its own form is refreshing. Not quite sure why Christina is not better known - great work.

  2. Lovely, such a wonderful representation of the process behind Christina's,work.Good to see the frameworks again .They are beautifully perfect, amazingly complex and yet simple.

  3. Lovely work, intellectually grounded and deep.

  4. I have been fortunate to have worked with Christina on one or two projects. What stands out for me is what I call her 'intelligence for materials': an understanding of the nature and potential of substances, that I find exceptional.
    (a lovely & clear article on her work, thank you....)

  5. Wonderful post! I've been composing music using aperiodic rhythms - it's amazing how these patterns draw you in without flaunting their hidden complexity.