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Babak Golkar: Grounds for Standing and Understanding
Charles H. Scott Gallery, Vancouver
January 18 to February 26, 2012
By Michael Harris
There is a “sometime” rule in nature whereby patterns will repeat as fractals - a single leaf mimics the pattern of a branch, the branch mimics the pattern of a tree and so on. Some take this as evidence of a higher intelligence, and others as proof of life’s mechanical, blind, godlessness. But, whether fractals are expressions of divinity or merely of mathematical laws, they do exist (to the human eye) as evidence of beauty, of some mysterious “rightness.” What child, on realizing a leaf from the fern frond is a miniature of the larger thing, doesn’t stare a little in wonder?
And it’s that wonder, I’d argue, that Vancouver artist Babak Golkar mines in his installation at the Charles H. Scott Gallery. The central imaginative moment in Golkar’s Grounds for Standing and Understanding is a Persian carpet that he’s covered with architectural models (in wood, painted white) of Dubai-worthy towers. The viewer quickly realizes though that these toy towers are actually three-dimensional extensions of the patterns in Golkar’s rug. It is an expression worthy of semi-psychedelic films like Pan’s Labyrinth, or perhaps simply the stories of Lewis Carroll. We instinctually imagine the towers rising, like so many loaves of bread, from the tightly scrolled and fugue-like patterns of the rug.
The rest of the gallery, a single box of a room, has been interrupted by a maze of white walls, a scaled-up version of the angles and patterns seen in those abstracted towers. The wall element (roughly finished, unfortunately) dominates the gallery-goer in the same way the gallery-goer dominates those tiny buildings on the rug.
Which brings us to the first kind of fractal Golkar’s work invokes. This is a standard fractal which expresses a regressive idea of scale the same way a fern leaf does. The rug holds an almost primordial codex, a simple, two-dimensional math. This is then expounded by Golkar’s model buildings though the patterns of the rug are still legible. When Golkar takes things one step further, making the walls of the gallery into even larger abstractions of the rug’s pattern, the viewer loses a sense of the pattern’s purity. As with life, we cannot see the pattern, the rules, and the logic of things, except during those rare moments when we’re granted a bird’s eye view.
But the second kind of fractal, and perhaps the more interesting one, is a play on time, instead of space. The art of the Persian carpet dates back at least to 500 B.C. That Golkar would find, encoded within the carpet, a blueprint for towers recently constructed in the Middle East is a kind of magic in itself. Dubai begins to look like a mere expression of some ancient cultural DNA.
Of course, the meaning or “message” of these ancient patterns is fuzzy at best, coming to us through the gauze of history and all the way from antiquity. But, then, ferns are much older than that. The beauty of fractals after all is the way they spin themselves inexorably out forever and forever. Even if we can’t properly read them, we can still marvel at the gifts they bring - be they a three-inch leaf or the 200-storey Burj Khalifa. The Burj’s architect, after all, was inspired by the organizing principles of a simple desert flower.