Sala Diaz, the San Antonio art space on Steiren Street renowned for site-specific installations, currently houses Atramentite, a collection of intricately-wrought sculptural pieces by Megan Harrison, an SA-based artist known for her monochromatic drawings of fantastic geographies and obsessionally-rendered repetitive forms.
Derived from the Latin atramentum, atrament is black ink or dye and blackness itself. Harrison’s geologic twist brings ink’s uses for drawing, painting, and writing to meditate on the similarity of processes in the natural and made worlds. To spill ink is to tell a story; storytelling is picturing a world.
Recalling natural history exhibitions, the left wall of the darkened front room is lined with three small transparent cases lit by small lights that reveal five-sided and cubic crystalline forms sprouting from rock-like white masses; a vitrine displaying a larger cluster of mineral-like objects dominates the back of the room. The exhibition’s single two-dimensional piece hangs on the right wall. Though quite large (five by 10 feet across), the drawing seems to map details of something quite small—a matrix of crystal bonds seen on the molecular level, perhaps. The piece’s main function, however, seems to be to disengage the viewer from the seduction of the cased works.
Unabashedly sensuous and teasingly successful in mimicking precious minerals, Harrison’s Atramentite exhibits are made of ink, paper, and plaster. Some feature gold and silver wires that simultaneously enhance the evocation of monetary value and disrupt the reading of natural, rather than constructed objects.
In the side room and back hallway, the installation continues with improbably large crystal-like columns (some over seven feet long) that seem to sway in a geologic wind, rising from the floor in twisted angles that defy gravity. Like the small exhibits, the large paper forms are covered in swirls of marbled ink that has been carefully floated in washes that continue uninterrupted along all facets of the columns.
Finally, on naming the effect “marbled,” it dawns on the viewer that she is seeing, perhaps, depictions of machined stone. Crystals grow and attain their geometric shapes by replicating atomic bonds countless times over, resulting in a glass-like material that is often marred by internal fractures—but translucent rather than opaque, and certainly not presenting the lines and swirls the artist has adroitly laid down in ink.
Harrison knows this well, having studied crystal exhibitions in Denver and Houston. While viewing her installation, she remarked that she delights in presentations that pop from one reading to another. Seeing, alternately, careful mimesis and then the artist’s technique, is a part of her intention. “The crystal form is a contrast to the structure that the ink makes,” Harrison said, going on to explain that she practiced floating ink for several months before she was happy with the swirling effects in her surface designs. Her technique uses aleatory effects to some degree—determined by the properties of ink in an aqueous solution, but it differs from the natural formation of crystals both in duration and formation. “The shape of the crystal is based on the molecular bonds of individual atoms; it’s called the cleavage point,” Harrison explained. “So, if you have a crystal that’s a square, you can keep breaking it down to the first atom, and they will all have that same structure.”
Ink dries in seconds or minutes, but the process reminds Harrison of not only geologic time, but astral dimensions, too. “Look at this,” she said, pointing to the patterns on one of the large columns, “The ink, the way that it self-organizes itself is a wonderful experience … it reminds me of the bands on Jupiter. It is an honor to watch it work itself out. I feel that it is a shared process with these things on a universal scale.”
For those familiar with Harrison’s earlier pieces: her drawings of floating islands, rushing clouds, and meticulously rendered walls of tiny bricks, the Atramentite show may seem confusing. But there is a connection, claims Harrison. Her earlier work, she said, “was inspired by the stories of explorers … that vision of something in the distance; but also the suffering of the exploration, the endurance involved in that. … Endurance, definitely. It took a long time to get to where I was comfortable with this new aesthetic.”
”So, you’ve moved from the journey to the destination?”
“Maybe that’s right,” Harrison replied. “I feel that I am putting myself on the continuum between the microscopic and the universal, and finding that place where I fit into all of that.”
Megan Harrison’s Atramentite will be on view at Sala Diaz through October 13.