Artist: Krista Paulsen
Exhibition: Posts + Beams
Gallery: Long Beach State University, School of Art, Merlino Gallery
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When I walked into Krista Paulsen’s Posts + Beams, fractals were definitely not on my mind. I was too busy enjoying the precise, delicate, loving, almost fetishistic tiny renderings of architectural details from buildings around the Long Beach State University campus.
In considering Paulsen’s work more carefully, it is in its way, quite fractal. Perhaps the best-known quality of fractals is self-similarity at various scales. And I’m not thinking about that quality here. Another fundamental aspect of fractals is high sensitivity to small changes in initial conditions. If you’ve ever played with a fractal generating program, you’ll know that giving it a seed of “1.5” vs “1.5001” will result in dramatically different results. And, in fact, this is precisely the quality at work in The Butterfly Effect.
A butterfly flaps its wings in the Rain Forest and a week later there’s a rainstorm in Texas.
We often take The Butterfly Effect as a general idea of complexity or indeterminacy, but it is very much about high sensitivity to small changes in initial conditions. Not everything works this way. The tides do not possess this quality. But the weather does. Accordingly, we can accurately predict the tides every day for the next 10,000 years. Yet as everyone knows, trying to predict the weather any more than a day or two out, is folly.
To my lazy eye, many of Long Beach State University’s buildings have roughly similar appearances. But to Paulsen’s much more keen eye, each is unique and beautiful. Paulsen’s boxes each feature 3 or 4 gouache renderings of the architectural details of an LBSU building. In the 8 boxes she explores:
- Parking Structure
- University Library
- University Student Union
- International House
- Central Plant
- Horn Center
- Brotman Hall
- University Bookstore
One of the strips usually features red brick. But the scale and pattern vary from building to building. Small changes. Through these small variations, mid-century architect Edward Killingsworth, as appreciated by Paulsen’s eye, used a restrained palette to generate a range of campus buildings. In her exhibition statement, Paulsen wrote of Killingsworth,
His mid-century architecture and simple color palette used on CSULB’s campus speaks strongly to my aesthetic and inspires me.
My dad made the boxes
In discussing her installation, Paulsen offhandedly mentioned that her dad made the boxes. Her dad the architect. Just a small detail. From viewing the exhibition, you’d have no way of knowing if the boxes were bought from a frame store, or made by Paulsen herself, or as it turns out, made by her architect father. A small detail. One that contextualizes Paulsen’s attention to architecture and detail. What did she look at when she was growing up? When I was growing up my parents’ friends had reproductions of paintings from the Huntington Library on their walls. Paulsen probably had a childhood invitation to look at more, and more carefully.
I made the numbers
It turns out that Paulsen would have simply bought numbered map tacks to put next to her boxes if she knew where to get them. Since she didn’t have time to sort that out, she made her own. The numbers are certainly a tiny detail. But Paulsen’s Posts + Beams is all about tiny details. And whether pre-planned or serendipitous, Paulsen’s tiny paper numbers dangling oh-so-delicately from pins are entirely consistent with the restrained elegance found everywhere in her installation.
Krista Paulsen, Buddhist Illustrator?
Twenty-five centuries ago The Buddha spoke of being awake. Of wakefulness. In the simplest of terms, most of us are awake for some part of every day. But he was thinking of a much more profound awakeness. One that so many of us are challenged to achieve. Especially now in our 21st century of distraction.
Here in 2017, we are still forced to watch ads by online platforms. But in a time, at least for the Global North, where attention is the only thing of real value, I believe the day will soon come when people are paid to watch ads.
Krista Paulsen is awake. And paying attention. This week in the Merlino Gallery she presents the fruits of paying attention to the small details of a large university campus.