“As above, so below.” So said medieval European alchemists and astrologers. The idea that the lives of ordinary people reflect broader universal patterns harks back to the earliest beliefs of Hindus, Buddhists and Hebrews, among others, for whom the triangle was an important symbol. Triangles also play an important part in Serra Fels’ “blueprint” paintings and wood sculptures at Parse. Echoes of the Hindu Shri Yantra, the sacred mandala for the origins of time and space, as well as the geometric Hebrew kabbalah, appear everywhere in her works, which Fels says reflect all of the people whose personal and social histories, as well as DNA, go into the making of a single individual. Painted with a thin pigment wash on antique French meteorological tables, they suggest mysterious diagrams, perhaps of the arcane secrets of the soul, or maybe mystical alchemical algorithms of how many angels can fit on an atom of DNA. While visually intriguing, their effectiveness reflects the way they resonate with an aura of concealed yet extensive esoteric knowledge.
Similar triangulation appears in Fels’ hutlike sculptural installations (pictured), and if they look familiar it may help to know she was one of the artists who created the Music Box installation of sonic shanties in Bywater earlier this year. These structures, which mirror the forms of rooftops or mountain ranges, are more precise and convey, on a smaller scale, that sense of mystery we associate with ancient obelisks and Egyptian pyramids. Constructed of antique wooden slats in receding triangular patterns with triangular doorways, they are imposing yet airy. Like the paintings, they suggest a sense of intimate personal space mingled with the impersonal mathematical geometry of the infinite, reminding us that according to Albert Einstein — as well as the ancient Hindu and Buddhist sages — time and space, like energy and matter, are one and the same. For Fels, dealing with the intimate, as well as the infinite, is all a matter of perspective.
Between You and the Mountains: Sculpture and Paintings by Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels
Wednesday through Saturday
Parse Gallery, 134 Carondelet St.