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EMERGENT NETS Reference No.: A2018101800001 Publisher: Richard Hassell Title: Emergent Nets: Optical Sutras Author(s): Richard Hassell (Australia, 1966) ISBN:under application Status: Assigned Edition: New Format: Ebookr Language: English Date of publication: 2018-10-16 Date of submission: N.A. Comment: N.A. Graphic Design Template: Duet Design, Singapore All rights reserved. No part of this book may be photocopied, scanned, digitized, or otherwise reproduced, aside from rare exceptions, as stipulated by copyright law. The scanning or digitizing of the book, even for personal or home use, by a third party is also strictly prohibited under copyright law.


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EMERGENCE AND SUTRAS Emergent Nets: Optical Sutras is a series of artworks on paper and metal of geometric constructions. The title of the series and exhibition combines two concepts – Emergence, and Sutras. In philosophy and systems theory, Emergence occurs when “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” meaning the whole has properties its parts do not have. These properties come about because of interactions among the parts. Emergence plays a central role in theories of integrative levels and of complex systems. For instance, the phenomenon of life as studied in biology is an emergent property of chemistry. The Sanskrit word Sutra means “string or thread”. The root of the word is siv, that which sews and holds things together and is related to suna meaning “woven”. In literature, sutra means a distilled collection of syllables and words, an aphorism, rule or direction, hanging together like threads with which the teachings of ritual, philosophy, grammar, or any field of knowledge can be woven.


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OPTICAL SUTRAS These artworks similarly, are composed by following short geometric rules that weave together to create an optical effect, to make a “kasina� - a Buddhist term for a visual object of meditation. The result is a complex net, path or structure, which has emerged by following a series of rules or procedures, and which possess variable beautiful effects which are revealed only at particular distances from the work. The details appear to be important, but they exist only to embody the system. The closer you get, the less meaning there is, while the further away you stand, the easier it is to comprehend. The Emergent Net series are not only perceptual artworks, exploring visual phenomena, they are also intended to inspire philosophical contemplation. The winding paths, hidden patterns, and ordered complexity prompt musings on the nature of the cosmos and our challenge to see it clearly.


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emergent nets


This first Emergent Net is the one that alerted me to the possibilities of this series. It is very simple and almost regular, but it is the subtle deviations from regularity that set up a very interesting visual field. It appears to twitch and ripple, and suddenly there are shooting diagonals that flow around the net. From a bigger distance, you can see a more maze-like pattern, rotated on the diagonal..

This net is based on a space-filling curve and has a single knot design with slightly different shading in two versions, which correspond to the two prototiles. The first version was finished in July 2015. I was playing with designs that were based on spacefilling curves tilings, and could see it might be interesting to try and wrap the line of the curve around itself. This design actually started as a three dimensional 3d-print, as an architectural screen, an idea which has been ongoing with these tiling experiments and which have shown up in the Screen series.t. After working out the net idea, I was interested to focus attention on the fact that it is actually a single thread that runs through the net, and in a very interesing path that wanders all over the net, despite it looking quite ordered. So I cut the thread and left the ends dangling as a start and end point, from which you can trace the whole path, only to end up where it starts.

This 3D print presented at Bridges conference in Korea in 2014 is a design for a single breezeblock which forms a non-periodic screen. The geometric system behind this is the same as the system for Net I as well as Screen I. The principles discovered in this design have informed the rest of the series.


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N ET I Ochre Variant


I first developed this artwork in May 2016, and then kept playing with it for the next two years. The final version shown here has a fugitive interlocking pattern, a slightly rotated interlocking squiggle of light and dark lines, which flickers in and out of view. From a greater distance, an interlocking maze pattern becomes increasingly obvious.

This net design is based on a square tiling, but uses a double thread rather than a single thread as in Net I. It is based on a different space-filling curve, but still has 2 basic knots, which are similar but differently shaded

Generative sketches and studies show a little of the embedded pattern in the net. I use a combination of CAD software, sketches, drafts, scans and iterative processes, seeking a result where the patterns are on the edge of perception.


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N ET I I Ochre Variant


The Gosper Curve is one of the more famous space-filling curves due to being featured in Martin Gardner’s recreational mathematics columns in Scientific American magazine in the 1970s. Bill Gosper coined the name Flowsnake for it, as a pun on Snowflake. This net is based on the curve. The design was at first too subtle, and did not reveal its complexity. This prompted me to add the beads to the design as a way of enhancing the reading of the pattern, they add a variation in density which made the underlying patterns easier to detect.

Net III is based on two hexagonal prototiles. I had earlier worked out some 3-dimensional screens where there is a single tile front and back which form two different space-filling curves on the front and back of the screen. This design twists that front and back together, making something very complicated. Additionally, I wanted to have it end as a neat hexagon, so there is additionally manual “repairs” to get the single thread working with enforced perimeter condition - if I had followed the fractal snowflake perimeter it would have been much simpler.

Some of the studies that led up to Net III. The sketch in the middle shows me tracing where there were some troublesome areas which had to be adjusted to get the continuous thread with no “islands” or “loose ends”. Islands are the hardest to detect.


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N ET I I I Ochre and Emerald Bead Variant


Net IV is based on a hexagonal space filling curve I developed many years ago. It has 4 basic knots. The net creaetes several different patterns which are percieved at different times: a swirling light and dark pattern, elements that seem to curve around like pythons, and lines and hexagons of various scales that seem to pop up then fade. After the self-imposed difficulties of Net III, I decided that for Net IV I would follow the path of least resistance and use the shape naturally made by the space-filling curve. This guarantees no islands or loose ends, and makes the tidying up of the edge much easier. The fractal edge versions are purer from a system point of view, but the neat edge ones feel satisfying as being a more functional-looking net.

Some of the elements which make up Net IV. The four basic tiles at the top are of two types, the difference between the similar looking ones are whether the thread loops over then under, or vice versa. This is necessary as space-filling curves have direction, so for the net to be neatly woven, the looping must follow the direction of the threads.


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N ET IV Ochre Variant


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Net V has a strong rhythm, of close-spaced vertical bars interspersed with wider spaced bars. It creates the illusion of diagonals and a pleasingly irregular dispersion of elements. After resting the eyes on it, pale horizontal lines of various lengths flicker in and out of the view, and diagonals start to appear.

Net V is based on an unusual space-filling curve, where the tiles are only ever oriented up or down, but never rotate 90 degrees to the left or right. The prototile knots have quadruple threads on the left or right and double threads on the remaining sides, which creates this strongly rhythmic pattern. It was not an easy net to solve, as introducing the warp and weft threads ended up with islands being formed, so a series of swaps had to be made to twist the islands back into the single path.

Hunting Anomalies: If the design simply revealed the space-filling curve, it would be very well behaved, but to make a woven warp and weft effect, other thread paths are included to support the path, which complicates matters immensely as the desire is to have a single path. Trial and error can sometimes result in a simple solution by changing the looping within the knot, but sometimes there is no choice but to manually track down these detached islands and swap out knots such that the island becomes a loop of the single thread.


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N ET V Ochre Variant


Net VI gives the impression of a series of overlapping rectangles, a little like a Mondrian composition. At the same time, chevron, zigzag and arrow motifs appear at different scales when looked at from a distance.

Net VI is actually based on octagons and squares, and incorporates a space-filling curve I discovered in 2011, along with an interesting vase-like fractal. The octagonal shape is natural to the pattern, although the true form is the lumpy vase shape you can see in the development images below. It also strongly resembles an antique snuff-bottle. All these elements - ancient script, the coin-like shape with the square in the middle, and the inscription-like motifs which appear, the Ying-Yang-like wrapping of the black and white pattern, made it seem to be a particuarly Chinese geometry. Hence I chose to make an octagonal form for the net, and trusted that all these elements would be part of its geometric DNA and subliminally percieved.

The space-filling curve this is based on is quite lovely - most clearly seen on the third printout in the top row, and reminds me of the ancient Chinese inscriptions on old bronzes, which themselves have a fractal character, I made an artwork of an ancient bronze vase that uses the pattern this geometry produced. On the top right you can see the motifs which still remain visible in the netting, these were islands until they were twisted into the main thread.


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N ET VI Steel Grey Variant


Net VII is composed of ochre twine and ruby beads, and has a leaf-like character, with wandering lines that swirl and curl. At times it seems to shift and you start to see a series of diagonal lines, at other times you get concentric hexagons or a hexagonal spiral across the entire net. Net VII is a bit of a chimera, bred from two different triangular space-filling curve designs. I recently developed a technique where the substitution process can be made more complex by using different substitution rules in sequence - provided the varied composite tile arrangements follow the same matching rules - the patterns get even more incomprehensible to our pattern-detecting brains. We can still sense there is order, but the complexity is outside our ability to grasp it. Is there any point to this? It was triggered by my problem with scale - the page and viewing distance affects how many elements are on an artwork - roughly between 400 and 700 tiles - before they are too small to be clearly seen or too big to show an exponential pattern nicely on a physical page in front of a physical human being. This cross-substituting technique gets me more combinations that fall into the sweet spot of number of tiles on a page.

Two different versions of Net VII, that show the sensitivity of the pattern detection to quite subtle differences in the design. The earlier version on the left had slightly thinner twine and smaller beads, on the right the twine is thicker, the beads larger, and I added a twist to one of the knots. As I do these works I get familiar with their character and hidden patterns, which gives further ideas for how they might be developed in future into other graphic works such as the nets, screens or tessellations, and perhaps into textiles, or architectural facades.


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N ET VI I Ochre and Amethyst Variant


Net VII is made of amber beads and warm grey twine. I really enjoy looking at this net as it constantly seems to shift character from geometric to natural, and from completely random to ordered. Large patterns seem to swirl through it, and sudden alignments take your eye outwards only to have a swirl bring you back to the centre.

Net VIII is based on a new tiling I developed, which is closely related to the Penrose Tile. The tiling is already aperiodic, upon that I developed a plane-filling curve, upon which this net is based, so it is aperiodic line over an aperiodic tiling which gives iNet VIII its frustratingly unknowable order. It amazes me that it is woven from a single thread, even though I developed it! The five-fold geometry suggested the decagonal shape, which is formed by a true arrangement of the tiles, however the edging is embellished by me to emphasise the star form, as I knitted together the loose ends to create the single path.

Completing the works involves literally tying up loose ends. The space-filling curves I have been developing are not as simple as the Gosper Curve which has a start and and end at any size. These curves are discontinuous at the edges when finite, but if they were infinite they would be continuous, as they always resolve perfectly inside the curve. Hence on several of these pieces I need to manually stitch the ends together to create the continuous condition I am seeking.


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N ET VI I I Grey and Amber Variant


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Screen I was developed back in 2012 at the start of my exploration into space-filling curves. I was curious about the architectural possibilities, and made both 3-dimensional and 2-dimensional studies. I liked the outcome, and a small set of 3 black and white prints was issued, one set of which was auctioned by the Deutches Architecturmuseum to raise funds. After than the idea remained in the background, then as I developed the Net series over the last two years, it occurred to me that the screens had a similar semiabstract character to the nets and would be a good companion set. I particularly like that they can be developed as breeze-blocks, and incorporated into architecture.

Screen I is based on a simple square space-filling curve, and came about because the curve ran through the corners of the square, which has all kinds of problems for tessellations and tiling designs. So I punched a hole at the corner of every square to get rid of the joining problem, and then explored how the curve could be expressed as differences in the space around the holes, the concentric rings being a kind of abstracted countour map of an uneven bevel around the hole. The technique can be applied to almost all space filling curves, and each screen has its own unique graphic character, despite having identical or very similar “breeze blocks�. This design, if made in 3-dimensions, can actually be made with a single block, with a different design on the front and the back.

This Net and Screen series of artworks is based on graphic transformations of tiling systems developed around space-filling curves. I feel I have just scratched the surface of the graphic and ornamental possibilities of these tiling systems - just think of what has been done over the millenia with simple square tiles laid on a basic grid.


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SCR E E N I Ochre and Green Variant


Screen II has a series of jagged tripods that are arranged on a complex branching structure. The staggered, spiraling shapes reminds me of the way dragons are depicted in Chinese decoration, and combined with the holes in the screens it is very similar to the classic motif of the dragon chasing the flying pearl. So my nickname for this screen is “The Red Dragon�.

Screen II is based on my old favourite - and first ecounter with space-filling curves - the Gosper Curve or the Flowsnake which was discovered in the 1970s. The motif is based on the underlying hexagons, and uses two tile designs. Using the same process as Screen I to transform the curve into a motif, here the holes are at the alternate hexagon vertices. Also like Screen I, it can be made in 3 dimensions with a single breezeblock with the two patterns on the front and back.

This Net and Screen series of artworks is based on graphic transformations of tiling systems developed around space-filling curves. I feel I have just scratched the surface of the graphic and ornamental possibilities of these tiling systems - just think of what has been done over the millenia with simple square tiles laid on a basic grid.


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SCR E E N I I Red and Celadon Variant


Screen III has a lyrical curliness and soft energy. It appears to undulate and dance a little like a Balinese dancer. The pattern can suddenly switch and a series of diagonal and horizontal lines flash back and forward.

Screen III is based on equilateral triangles, with a hole at each apex. Unlike the first two Screens, the pathway on Screen III is not a standard width, in this case it widens and narrows which gives it the more lively character. Like the other screens this can be made in three dimensions, but it has a lot more tiles - 8 versus 2 in the first two screen designs. However, like them it can be made with blocks with the different design front and back, as each tile has its “opposite“ design so in this case it would take 4 blocks to make the pattern in 3 dimensions.

The base tiles for Screen III. There are 4 joining conditions on the edge, wide blue band, narrow blue band left, narrow blue band right, and no blue band.


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SCR E E N I I I Teal and Violet Variant


Screen IV is very appealing to me. Despite its similarities to Screen I, it has a greater diagonal energy and seems to pulse and swirl. Between the regular jade green paths and the diagonal paths of cream eyelets, there is a continual perceptual shift, and patterns emerge and recede with fascinating regularity.

Screen IV uses the same 2 tiles as Screen I, but adds in a third tile. For the three dimensional version, the third tile is based on a diagonally symmetrical tile, so the design can be used as its own opposite with the pattern is applied rotated 180 degrees. This diagonal DNA changes the visual character of the screen, embedding much stronger diagonals in the design when seen from a distance.

The extra tile, on the right, and the different substitution rule gives a completely different character to the pattern, when compared to Screen I, despite sharing so much in geometry and base tiles.


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SCR E E N IV Jade and Magenta Variant


The mirror versions of the screens play with the aspects of perception, illusion and depth. The mirror create the illusion that the “holes� in the screen are actual holes. The reflection then becomes a moderator that affects the perception of the dark bars and light eyelets. Against a dark background the light eyelets stand out, while against a light background the dark bars stand out. In effect, there is no figure and no ground, only 3 figures which continually shift in our perception to the foreground. The mirror also changes focal length so we alternate between looking at the screen design, or through the screen to the background.

When we work with perforated metal screens in architecture there is an effect related to the scale of the screen that is quite surprising. Too small a scale of hole, and proportion of void, and the screen just becomes a tinted veil. Too large and it is impossible to see through, as the surface of the metal is too eye-catching compared to the background. There is an optimal size and proportion of hole which, at a given distance, allows the screen to be perceived as surface, and the space behind it to be seen through the screen simultaneously. In the image on the right, a simulation to test the effect, you can see the Musica Aperiodica pieces planned to be placed on the gallery wall opposite, reflected in the mirror.


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SCR E E N I Mirror Aluminium Variant


Screen IV appears to be four patterns at once, a light green diagonal pattern, and a jade green rectangular screen are the first two to appear. Two more elements emerge after some time, depending on the background, an angled dark screen between the light diagonal patterns, and a light rectangular maze between the dark jade screen.


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SCR E E N IV Mirror Alumininium Variant


Screen VII has a very interesting quality in that the pattern sometimes appears to be angled at around 5 degrees across the screen, despite all the components being aligned with the regular dots. There is a palpable tension where the pattern appears to be trying to rotate, but is kept in check by its grid. This effect is created when there is a dark background in the mirror, against a pale background it appears quite stable and aligned.

Screen VII uses the same two tiles as Screen I, but with a different substitution formula. It is part of the magic of these patterns that they seem to have different properties simultaneously. This effect is caused by their fractal structure, where the tile arrangements are self-similar at different scales. The process of substitution by which they are created creates similar patterns at exponential scales. So in this case, where the basic substitution pattern is a square 5 x 5, the relations between individual tiles exist between groups of tiles scaled by a factor of 5, then 25, then 125 and so on. Due to this each tile is an essentional component of the pattern at every scale, and so can give different readings depending on how the patterns are being perceived and analysed.

This photo of the actual screen proves the final result is very close to the simulation opposite and demonstrates the continuous changing perception of the various patterns depending on background tone, colour and distance.


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SCR E E N VI I Mirror Aluminium Variant


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musica aperiodica


Musica universalis (literally universal music), also called Music of the spheres or Harmony of the Spheres, is an ancient philosophical concept that regards proportions in the movements of celestial bodies—the Sun, Moon, and planets—as a form of musica (the Medieval Latin term for music). This “music” is not usually thought to be literally audible, but a harmonic, mathematical or religious concept. The idea continued to appeal to thinkers about music until the end of the Renaissance, influencing scholars of many kinds, including humanists.

These works are based on aperiodic tilings, and use interlocked rings to create a chain mail mesh. The circles are based around intersections of the tiling. At major intersections, small polyhedra based on the drawings of Johannes Kepler and Jamnitzer are floating, like stars being seen through a mesh curtain. These recall the ancient Greek drawings of constellations by linking the major stars. This design is a Penrose Tiling. Unlike most presentations of the tiling, this motif gives it a calm and peaceful nature. The polyhedra here are placed at the 5-fold intersetions. The figure is intriguingly ordered but difficult to grasp, it is very evenly dense, but not uniformly distributed.

A plate from ‘Mysterium cosmographicum’ (The cosmic mystery) by Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) published in 1596. The different spheres represent the orbits of the planets, their ratios being equivalent to the distances to the planets. The outer sphere represents the orbit of Saturn. Kepler suggested that distances between the planets could be explained if different regular solids were drawn within the spheres. Although incorrect, this was the first mathematical cosmological model.


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M USICA APE R IODICA I Gold and Polyhedra Variant


This design has a very different music to the previous version. Here the density is very uneven, and the rings bunch together or space out more widely, seemingly at random. Floating polyhedra are placed at the same ring condition, to highlight the diverse and irregular conditions within the circle. The music of this sphere is weird and dissonant!

This design is based on a 7-fold quasicrystal tiling, using 3 sizes of rhombs. The arrangement is produced by substitution, and is completely procedural, despite its random looking effect. The floating cubes are placed in the rings which demonstrate the same overlapping conditions, their locations highlight the complexity of the layout. Despite the lack of any internal symmetry, the surprise is the boundary condition - the edge profile demonstrates 7-fold symmetry, just as discordant notes can resolve into harmony at the end of a piece of music.

This illustration from Kepler’s 1619 book, Harmonice Mundi, graphically shows the Platonic associations of the regular solids with the classical elements: The tetrahedron corresponds to fire, the octahedron to air, the cube to earth, the icosahedron to water, and the dodecahedron to the cosmos or ether:


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M USICA APE R IODICA I I Gold and Polyhedra Variant


This design at first appears much more peaceful and symmetrical than the first two. But something odd happens inside the pattern. Shooting diagonals, verticals and horizontals appear, and they are not symmetrical. These shooting stars create constellations in the universe of rings.

Composed of on a tiling made from equilateral triangles and squares, this is actually an aperiodic tiling, which causes the strange visual effects. Different edge matching rules only allow particular arrangements of the tiles. Like the other two Musica designs, the pattern resolves at the edges to a symmetrical condition.

Perspectiva Corporum Regularium, published in 1568, was written by Wenzel Jamnitzer (1508-1585), a renowned Nuremburg goldsmith, designer, and inventor of scientific instruments. In this study of the five Platonic solids, Jamnitzer truncated, stellated, and faceted the regular solids to produce 120 variations, twenty-four variations of each solid. All these creations were illustrated by detailed engravings.


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M USICA APE R IODICA I I I Gold and Polyhedra Variant

BIOGRAPHY Richard Hassell is an Australian-born architect and artist who has lived in Singapore since 1989. He founded the architectural practice WOHA with Wong Mun Summ in 1994. WOHA has exhibited their work in the Venice Biennale in 2016 with a video installation entitled Fragments of an Urban Future and in New York at the Skyscraper Museum with Garden City | Mega City both in 2016. WOHA have received 11 President’s Design Awards, Singapore’s highest design accolade. Hassell’s art practice intersects with the architectural practice, and explores complex geometries and tiling. Growing up with his brother, mathematician Professor Andrew Hassell of the Analysis and Geometry Program at the National University of Australia, recreational mathematics including the art of M. C. Escher was an early source of delight and wonder. Since 2004 Hassell has extended M. C. Escher’s work on tessellations and symmetry into new geometries discovered after Escher’s death. These complex geometries have also been incorporated into the designs of WOHA’s buildings. Hassell displayed 3 artworks at the Bridges Maths Art Conference in 2014 in Korea, and presented a research paper on plane-filling curves. Strange Creatures was first exhibited in Singapore at Arndt Fine Art from 28th October to 3rd December 2016. Two pieces were also part of the exhibition Journey to Infinity: Escher’s World of Wonder at the ArtScience Museum from Singapore between 24th September 2016 to February 2017. In 2017 Hassell’s works were exhibited in Italy at the StadtGalerie Galleriy Civica of Brixen/Bressanone, in Portugal, at the Lisboa Museu da Arte Popular, in Madrid at the Palacio de Gaviria, in USA at the Deland Museum of Art and the Waterfall Gallery in New York. Textile works made with The Rugmaker of Singapore were exhibited in France at Maison et Objet, in a pavilion featuring a fractal design based on the art research.. In 2018 a large installation of over 20 pieces of Bats Birds and Butterflies was installed in the lobby of the SCBD Alila hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Fractal Relativity was shown at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore between June and September. Rugs from the collection were shown in Italy at the Milano Salone del Mobile and in France at Maison et Objet. Works will be on display in Italy at the PAN - Palazzo delle Arti in Naples from November to April 2019. A large public artwork is incorporated into the facade of 443 Queen Street building in Brisbane, Australia, to be completed in 2020. Hassell’s second solo show, Emergent Nets: Optical Sutras opens in Taipei, Taiwan at Gallery Sun in October to November 2018. New works that continue the Strange Creatures series will be shown in Art Taipei 2018. Hassell’s works are in private collection in the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, India and Singapore, and in the Australian National University collection.


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INTERVIEW Q. What am I looking at here? The exhibition presents a series of works based on geometry discovered since the mid-1970s. Whereas my last exhibition was on tessellations, these works are a little more abstract and architectural. Q. Why did you stop doing tessellations? I haven’t stopped, and in fact am compiling new works for a second edition of Strange Creatures, my tessellation series. But while I was doing the tessellations I was also coming up with the early versions of these works, and I thought they deserved their own forum. Q. What are Emergent Nets? - they sound very complicated! I would say they are complex rather than complicated. The patterns are an example of a phenomena called Emergence, where a system has properties that cannot be predicted by studying its parts. The old expression “The Sum is Greater than the Parts” is basically the theory of emergence. You can say life is an emergent property of chemistry, because it is built from chemicals and relies on their interactions, and yet if you study individual chemical molecules you could never predict that life could emerge from them. I make the nets through a procedure of substituting a bunch of knots for a single knot, this builds up the net automatically. Because the procedure is designed in a certain way, the nets have some amazing patterns and properties that emerge through the process. I didn’t design the patterns, they are an emergent property of the process, which I did design! When the patterns emerge I am as surprised and delighted as anyone, I can’t predict the appearance of the patterns. But I know how to produce them. . Q. Why do the patterns seem to be different when you stand at different distances from the artworks? There is some complex things going on between the artwork design, our eyes, our visual processing systems and our brains. Because of the procedure to make them, where a knot is replaced with a bunch of knots, which are then all replaced with more bunches of knots, the net actually has patterns of patterns of patterns inside it. We are not used to seeing this in our environment, usually we can glance at something and see the pattern, analyse it and understand it and move on. But in this case our eye keeps mapping parts of the pattern over other parts, and finding partial fits, or perceiving that there is a big pattern which somehow relates to a small pattern. Our eyes won’t let go, as it is unfinished business! This is not necessarily peaceful or pleasant, so some of the nets I would say are visually agitating, others are quite soothing. They all resist easy analysis though, which I think makes them interesting art, you can keep coming back to them and never quite feel you have understood them, even though they are built of rather simple elements.


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I think good art is something that keeps revealing new insights, for me these works do it in a rather dry and mechanical way which I find fascinating. Q. How about Optical Sutras, that sounds a little mystical? Actually it was while talking to Sunny Chou, the director of Gallery Sun, that the connection to Sutras came up. She said what I was trying to do - reveal hidden depths behind surfaces appearances - sounded similar to the purpose of Buddhist Sutras. I did some research and was amazed to discover that Sutra is actually the ancient Sanskrit word for a string or thread, and that Sutras are small rules or aphorisms that together weave into a set of teachings or philosophy. In fact the word Suture in English has this ancient root too. This was exciting to me, because the reason I love these patterns is that they are totally about hidden structures, and looking beyond the surface to perceive something bigger going on. They are inherently frustrating, the closer you look, the less you see. If you go up to them, there is really nothing much there, and it is quite lacking in sustaining interest. But if you relax, unfocus, look through them, then patterns appear. I could see immediately the connect to meditation, and the desire to let go of the ego and worldly things in Buddhism, to see more clearly the truth of the world. In fact there is a tradition of visual aids to meditation in Buddhism, devices called Kasinas which are objects to focus on during meditation. So I called the nets and screens Optical Sutras - they are artworks to contemplate and let the mind unfocus and perceive the systems and structures behind surface appearances. Q. I understand the nets are all made from a single thread? Yes, the nets have the special quality that they are one huge knot, rather than being composed of warp and weft, like a traditional cloth. That is another meditative possibility, you can trace the thread through the entire artwork from beginning to end, it takes a lot of concentration, yet it is also quite repetitive and soothing. This also has a philosophical aspect to it, you can see life as a very complicated journey, which while you are in it, you can’t see the pattern, but looking back you can see there was a pattern and structure to it. Then at the end, you end up right where you started! Q. What about the screens, how do they relate to the nets? The Screen series is closely related to the nets. These evolved from a few I made in 2012, and then every now and then I make another one. For the exhibition I have re-done all of them, and improved on them so they are a matching series. In the Screen series the same geometries are explored, but the way they are expressed are less as a path, and more as a field. Different aspects of the geometry appears in this format, and the multiple patterns are easier to detect from a single distance - the nets benefit from moving closer and further away to experience their different aspects. As an architect as well as an artist, I am interested in how these

patterns could appear in buildings we make, and the screen series are actually very applicable to buildings, and I am looking forward to developing them as real architectural screens. Q. Would they be too distracting in a building? It is something to be careful about! Architecture, unlike art, is something which frames other activities rather than being the focus of attention. So these screens would not be good in many situations. But some architectural situations, such as a boring long corridor, can benefit from having a complex visual stimulus that doesn’t get repetitive after many viewings. What interests me is the relationship of these geometric systems to the phenomenon of biophilia. Studies are showing that objects that share similarities to natural objects can engender the same positive health, wellness and relaxation benefits as natural objects. These screens, having fractal properties, can produce positive reactions, like we would get from looking at a mountain range or a landscape, as our brains associate fractality with nature. You can see the self-similar properties in cliffs and geological formations, in coastlines, or in the outline of trees. I will keep searching for the right combination of properties that can generate this effect. Q. But is this Art? It sounds maybe more like design or science? They are at the intersection of design, science and art. But I think that is quite an interesting place to be. Art is a way of making sense of the world, of interpreting what we see or feel, and producing things that reflect and communicate that understanding. These pieces are a way of learning about some strange aspects of the universe which are not well known to laymen, and are typically shared in very arcane and difficult language of the mathematician or physicist that make them inaccessible to most. Here you can just see it in a single instant and appreciate it with your eyes and say “cool” There was a school of art called Perceptual Art, which this work builds upon - an exhibition at MOMA in New York in 1965 (the year before I was born!) called The Responsive Eye collected together many artists who were involved in studying works with a “primarily visual emphasis”, these included Ad Reinhardt, Josef Albers, Victor de Vasarely, Bridget Riley and many more. I have recently become aware of the works of Francois Morellet with overlapping lines making interference patterns at the Pompidou centre in Paris, then I discovered he was included in this seminal MOMA exhibition. Q. That exhibiton was 56 years ago, is there anything left to say? Ideas cycle around and around. The field appears played out and well explored, so until new information comes along, and changes the game, it goes quiet. The geometries I am working on were only discovered in the 1970s through to the current time, so this new information is one aspect. Then there are the tools to explore it, in the MOMA exhibition, all the work is hand painted. There is a limit to what can be done with paint and brush. Now we have computers with immense power that can handle the calculations to make these works. Even so, quite often my computer crashes when developing them, as they are exponential structures, so they quite rapidly become enormous.

The last change is in the cultural environment - systems theory, complexity theory, fractals - these all emerged in the last 25 years of the twentieth century, decades after this burst of interest in perceptual art. Q. How do you make them, are they computer art? I have been playing with these geometries for over 14 years, so I have a huge library of sketchbooks, files, prints and digital drawing files with them categorised. It is a kind of library of aperiodic tiling and space-filling curves which I can draw upon. I have many things I have forgotten about until I go back through the files. The process of making them is quite laborious and combines many techniques. First I have the basic geometry from the tiling. This I know has its own geometric character, and I am getting better at predicting how designs might look when they go through the substitution process, where a tile gets replaced with a bunch of tiles over and over again. So I work on a hunch of what might look good and extract the tiling and then start applying designs to the tiles. This is a fun period of play, and I usually do it on long flights, as it makes the time fly by and I am usually annoyed to hear the plane is preparing to descend! Once something looks promising, I have to abandon the computer and work by hand. Somehow the computer kills the line of drawing dead, so I need to get life into it by hand. After than I get back into the computer to define the components, by working over the scanned drawings. Recently I have been doing this on a tablet, which is quite exciting. But at some stage I end up working by hand to get the lines right. After that there is a process of refinement, which can be very drawn out, doing test prints, small adjustments, looking at the work from near and far, getting the optical effect balanced and at the tipping point between different interpretations. The works in the show use two kinds of printing. One is an archival, pigment ink print on sustainable Awagami paper, which is a lovely paper made by a Japanese paper company in traditional ways, but for the digital printing process. The other pieces are printed on aluminium composite panel, using a process called Dibond. This creates a very hard, long lasting image that is fused into the surface of the aluminium. Where it is interesting is that the brushed metallic surface shines through the printing, so it is a very lively, reflective surface, which I then use to highlight aspects of the design. The aluminium is much larger and stronger than paper, and I have produced large pieces by tiling with the composite panels, which of course is how we clad buildings too. A typical piece might involve many hundreds of hours of work, and some of them have taken over 12 years to develop, not continuously of course, but as something that gets played with, then gets stuck in some way, and suddenly I have a breakthrough and can finish the piece.

In Paris at Maison et Objets 2017 Richard Hassell made a design for the WOHAbeing pavilion, where it was covered with The Beanstalk, a screen based on the same concept as the works in Emergent Nets: Optical Sutras. Inside the Corak Collection of rugs were exhibited for the first time.

Profile for RichardHassellArt

Emergent Nets: Optical Sutras  

Catalogue of the solo art exhibition Emergent Nets: Optical Sutras by Richard Hassell

Emergent Nets: Optical Sutras  

Catalogue of the solo art exhibition Emergent Nets: Optical Sutras by Richard Hassell