Shapiro's paper diamond prototypes form the basis of her polygonal ice wedge series.EXPAND
Shapiro's paper diamond prototypes form the basis of her polygonal ice wedge series.
Courtesy of Lauren Shapiro

"Iterum Tensio" at Bakehouse Contemplates Tension as an Agent of Change

It goes without saying that, lately, things are feeling a little tense. Differences of opinion are nothing new, but recently, the gap feels especially wide. Democrats and Republicans, men and women, black and white — the disparity among these groups has reached a particularly alienating discord.

This tension has birthed the optimal conditions for difficult, necessary change and further proves that societal evolution requires a delicate balance. Pull too tightly and the framework snaps apart; apply just enough pressure and a new, more cohesive structure can emerge.

"Iterum Tensio," an exhibition curated by Ombretta Agro debuting Thursday, February 1, at the Bakehouse Art Complex's Swenson Gallery, is a meditation on this subtle equilibrium. Presenting the work of local ceramic artist and Bakehouse resident Lauren Shapiro alongside that of sculptor and mixed-media artist Ryan Roa, "Iterum Tensio" embodies the premise that tension can produce two entirely different outcomes and aesthetics.

Agro's exploration of tension is rooted in a fascination with patterns — their rhythm and repetition, both in science and society — an obsession that emerged in 2009 after she saw a documentary about origami. "It was really interesting to understand the connection between visual art, composition, and mathematics embodied in origami and paper folding," she says. "That triggered an exhibition I curated in 2014 called 'Unfolding Patterns,' where I invited artists to reflect on this connection between left brain and right brain: mathematics and art."

That show, which ran in New York, was the prequel to a show at ArtCenter/South Florida in which she exhibited artists re-creating manmade or natural patterns in an effort to illustrate how the two overlap. Agro sees "Iterum Tensio" as a third iteration of her exploration of the patterns that commonly arise when tension is applied to a precarious structure.

Agro has produced the show as a guest curator at Bakehouse, which is undergoing a bit of a transformation under its relatively new director, Bibi Baloyra. Hired in 2016, Baloyra has concentrated on bringing a new contemporary art program to the studio residency, which is designed to provide enhanced feedback and conceptual discourse for their artists.

"This show, for example, is part of a series we call Baked in House," Baloyra says. "We ask a consulting guest curator to select one of our artists and pair them with someone they worked with or know of and create a surprising pairing which creates a new dynamic visual language around two unexpected entities coming to the gallery."

Ryan Roa's Plane Drawing #09 (2018).EXPAND
Ryan Roa's Plane Drawing #09 (2018).
Courtesy of the Bakehouse Art Complex

For the show, Agro was immediately drawn to Shapiro's work, whose practice reflects on the inherent fragility of her medium and the delicate balance required to bring her works to life. Shapiro is often inspired by the rhythm and repetition present within a natural ecosystem; her sculptures contemplate the delicate balance required to keep these ecosystems churning. Twisted Helix (2016), an amalgamation of clay geometric shapes fused together to produce an axial sculpture, is inspired by polygonal ice wedges and contemplates the fragility of the planet's water systems — how melting ice wedges on one continent will tip the balance and cause seas to rise on another. For "Iterum Tensio," Shapiro will exhibit a mix of new and existing works, building upon her recent tendency to include molds of local plant life into her work.

In dialogue with Shapiro's work, Roa adds an interesting aesthetic and conceptual contrast that further supports the counterbalance effect of tension. A resident of the Deering Estate's Artist in Residence program, Roa creates work that frequently highlights racial strife and societal tension. But where Shapiro's works are delicate and inherently fragile, Roa's interpretation of tension is virile and sensual. Using black rubber bungee cords hooked on walls, ceilings, and floors, his Plane Drawings are pulled taut to create flattened, patterned planes. In his series Tension Sculptures, Roa uses found objects and construction materials to bolt these objects into place. The physical force required to make these works, along with a series of charcoal rubbings imprinted on tar paper with Roa's body (the artist was actually injured by the effort), reinforce the contention that conflict energizes change.

"When I curate a show, I look for artists that are talking about a specific topic in very different ways," Agro says. "What attracted me to combining these two artists is that they're so different and yet dealing with patterns and repetition in diametrically opposite ways. In Lauren's case, the tension is mental; in Ryan's, it's physical."

In this way, Agro highlights the symbiosis of tension: It can be construed as mental or physical, gentle or forceful, malleable or tough, yet the result that tension produces is almost always something improved.

"Iterum Tensio." Opening reception 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, February 1, at Bakehouse Art Complex, 561 NW 32nd St., Miami; 305-576-2828; bacfl.org. Admission is free. The show will remain on view through March 4.

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