Leaning in various directions, nine beige-colored and spotted dried gourds sit arranged in a square atop a Jenga-like wooden stand structure. While the bottom half of each gourd was molded into a stable, cubic form, the upper ends freely elongated into various natural and organic shapes.
This structure, along with seven others of varying heights, shapes, and materials, were aligned in a row down the center of the Gelb Gallery hallway, making up the “Modular Forms” exhibit by Andrew Mowbray, an artist and lecturer in art at Wellesley College. The exhibit featured dried Lagenaria gourds made with other materials such as foam, wood, and cement, which were molded into modular, lego-like shapes.
“I like [the exhibit] because [Mowbray’s] entire design aesthetic is very geometric and cube shaped, whereas plants and vegetables… aren’t supposed to be geometric like that, yet he manages to sort of force it to grow in a way that expresses its geometric degree,” said Anna Lang ’19.
The inspiration for the exhibit stemmed from a cucumber growing into the fence of Mowbray’s garden that eventually developed into an angular, square shape. A picture of the cucumber, along with other pictures of the process of molding the gourds, hung on one wall of the exhibit in order provide context for the viewers.
“I was really interested in [that cucumber’s] form and what it was doing and how it was functioning architecturally. So, based on that, I started to look into other vegetables and plant matter and thinking about how they could potentially be manipulated before and made into geometric shapes, instead of where we cut down trees and then cut them into boards and shapes that we can use… It’s more about this idea that we could create these modular, sustainable grown forms. So it’s more about potential and in some ways hope and thinking towards the future about different ways we could interact with nature,” said Mowbray.
Therese Zemlin, Instructor in and Chair of Art and the organizer of the exhibit, was initially attracted to the unique juxtaposition of the natural, organic shapes of the gourds with the cubic, geometric forms portrayed in Mowbray’s work.
“I thought [that the exhibit] touched on a lot of issues that have sort of been floating around in the school. For example, I think there’s an element of sustainability in the work. I think there’s an element of innovation and innovative thinking and creative thinking in the work, and I feel like there is an element of the interdisciplinary in the work — it’s gardening, it’s environmentalism, it’s sculpture, it’s design, it’s furniture, it’s legos, it’s toys. [Additionally, the gourds are] unusual, they’re funny, they’re sort of like little characters. So they’re geometric, but at the same time, each one has a little personality,” said Zemlin.
According to Mowbray, one major challenge of creating the exhibit was working with the living material of the gourds.
“It’s not like anything else I’ve worked with because the plant, it is living, so it’s more of a conversation, or it’s similar to having a participant that you’re working with. So they don’t do what you want them to do necessarily. It’s really a conversation back and forth, [and] they’re difficult to work with sometimes. And then, also, the amount of time that it takes a plant to grow, you can’t speed it up… While I’m working with them, they work at their own speed, the speed of growing, living things, so I have to slow down and be patient and work with them,” said Mowbray.
Situated at the end of the Gelb Gallery on top of a sturdy, wooden bench were various modular forms made of different materials such as foam, wood, cement, steel, and Lagenaria gourd. This structure was titled “Workbench” and is one of Mowbray’s favorite pieces from the exhibit.
“I like [“Workbench”] because I feel it really exemplifies this idea of process and working and also play in some ways too. This bench that you can sit on and sort of contemplate and play with these forms and rearrange them… There’s all different forms, and that’s a lot of what the work is about. It’s getting these different materials to kind of work together and follow these sort of rules or parameters that I set up,” said Mowbray.
“Modular Forms” addresses the natural and industrial life and its materials; this theme can be seen throughout the exhibit. One structure placed at the very start of the hallway contained a layer of orderly, symmetrical white blocks made out of cement. This piece, like the others in the row, was contrasted by a similarly modular stand made out of wood.
“I like this [piece] because of the contradiction between something very wholesome, such as wood, and something cement and almost not real, almost appearing like legos… that contradiction really creates an interesting thing about the role that nature plays in building things and how we’re breaking down these beautiful things to create these kind of forced buildings,” said Sarah Stack ’19.
“Modular Forms” went on display on February 13, and the exhibit ends on March 31.