Oct 052017

Copying Lygia Pape’s The Book of Creation
September 2017

I first copied Brazilian-artist, Lygia Pape’s 1959-60 creation The Book of Creation while getting my MFA at Tyler School of Art in fall 2014 for Adele Nelson’s seminar, “Post War Abstraction in Latin America”. The work needed to be handled and manipulated to be understood, so I made a replica to go along with my paper.

In August 2017, Adele Nelson asked me to make a copy for her and these are photographs of that version. It was very interesting to have a chance to make this piece again, three years later. A journey into art and art making, it felt like an extended conversation with Pape who I imagined smiling each time she saw me discover something new. How could copying something for a second time be such a creative and open experience?

In March 2017 I had a chance to handle the Met Breuer’s facsimile, but it felt too slick. When making it the second time what I realized is that it must be painted, and that at its core it is painting. The radical gesture comes from not only “breaking the frame,” but also from taking the painting off the wall and manipulating it into different paintings. So the Met copy, not being painted, made the experience profoundly different from what could be experienced by handling a painted object.

Intrinsic to art making is making choices. I chose to hand-make as much as possible, over using modern techniques like laser-cutting, for the look and feel of the piece. This means the Solar System rings, cut with an improvised circle cutter, vary slightly in width and are a little rough at the edges. I punched the Seeds, so a few holes are not perfectly aligned. The Fields is unfinished on the back just like the one at MoMA, which I noticed after making the first copy. The Earth is a little dark, but it too varies between versions, and I don’t think it should be the blue of the water pieces. What I realized this time – after my painting class with Dona Nelson – is that the color part of the BoC is as important as the geometry.

For me the joy comes from the work being both literal and metaphorical. Literally: It is painting and about painting. See, this is how you mix colors. Each piece is literal in the telling a story of the Bible, of human history, of science, of technology. Metaphorically: It builds in abstraction by moving between literal topics like the solar system and abstract concepts like circles and spheres. Pieces like the Underneath exhibit this dual nature in the reference to water as well as the unconscious and unknown. In asking us to consider how a square is related to a circle, it leaves open the possibility that we will discover for ourselves the circle inscribed in the square made by halving and fluting the square which becomes the Wheel, and the circle outside the square made by the four water arcs. If all the work is painting and flat, many of the pieces can manipulated into sculpture, from the Keel of Time and Underneath, to Fire and the Bridge, and the Solar System which spins into the volume of a sphere.