Published February 6th, 2024 by Cory Eull
Stephanie Hunder’s exhibition bonds science and art through mathematical form and the impressions of native flora
What plants make you think of childhood play, or the nurturing air of an elder? What about a moment when sunlight filtered through branches and moved through the organic, almost imperfect geometry of a leaf? Or a moment when a flower’s petals became near ghost-like with the way they were illuminated? Stephanie Hunder's exhibition Tracing A Forest at the Gordon Parks Gallery recalls instances like these, offering up a series of collagraphic monoprints that are at once documents of plant and process as well as ethereal reminders of the math and magic consuming the natural world.
Having grown up near the Zumbro River valley in the Driftless, on land she lovingly refers to as “the tree farm,” Hunder transplanted some of the native species to her current home closer to the metro. In a practice of remembering, Hunder collects the now established greenery from her yard and brings it into the studio. She starts laying plants like bloodroot, wild geranium, and river bay grapevine onto plexiglass coated with a swath of ink, printing first a round of sheets that produce a dark, dramatic silhouette of the plant matter. She peels back the plants from the plate and presses again, revealing the textures innate to the leaves, stem, and flowers. The second print becomes a reversal of the first — a positive image of the plants where the first was a negative. As we’re talking, Hunder walks around the gallery pointing out textural differences between the initial and secondary stages of her prints, as if we’re on a nature hike and she’s distinguishing varieties of lichen.
“I’m interested in this idea of printmaking as a way to transfer tactile textures into something visual,” she says. When you look at plants in nature you can make out veins and patterns, but this process “shows you how it feels, because the press can transfer that information through pressure onto an image.” The pages suspended tenuously in the gallery remind me of sunlight through leaves, the translucency evoking a sense of wonder. Because Hunder irons the paper with beeswax before printing, the material becomes even more gossamer-like. Some shadows are cast on the wall from cutouts in the paper, where the gallery lights don’t pass through. The paper is yellowing, browning in some areas where resins settled delicately into the edge of the plant’s stamp. One of the sheets is embossed with hydrangea flowers and another with winged maple seeds or “helicopters,” the cast of these plant parts sending me on my own path of remembering.
Top: Tracing A Forest installation shot. Bottom: Galaxies and Diadems, collagraphic monoprints. All photos by Cory Eull.
These foundational plant backdrops featuring wild ginger, creeping dogwood, and early meadow rue showcase the sensory experience of plants, which Hunder then layers with mathematical and scientific diagrams about how we comprehend phenomena in the natural world. These diagrams attempt to decipher complex patterns or understand the surface of space and time. Superimposing techniques of silkscreen, copper-plate etching, and laser-cutting onto the flora-themed collagraphs, Hunder observes how new patterns and disparate ideas emerge within material strata. She points to a checkerboard pattern playing across the edges of one of the prints and calls it cellular automata, explaining how it is a type of mathematical computation based on a grid. Though most of the diagrams explained made me scratch my head, Hunder notes that, chiefly, “what it’s about is how complexity develops out of simple systems… You look at nature and it looks impossibly complex and random, but it all comes from basic laws. The ways we think about it are simple.”
Though Hunder has had a long interest in geometry and nature, she first started incorporating these diagrammatic ideas into a commissioned piece at Augsburg University in the math and science building. With that project she became inspired by how qualitative nature can be despite our tendency to think about it in a logical, orderly way. In science, an experiment must be straightforward, specific, and void of variables, and still oftentimes data comes back convoluted. “Science tries to pull the logic out of something complicated and messy, and pack it into something that makes sense,” Hunder says. Some of the diagrams in her work represent such incomprehensible things — like the polytope, which is a more-than-3-dimensional polygon, or temple patterns, showing fractal architecture and the ways things expand and reproduce. In some of the prints there are laser or hand cut tessellation patterns as well, a design similar in form to Islamic mosaics.
In one of the prints, Wild Matrices, the profile of a maidenhair fern splays out in all directions. Hunder explains how pressing this plant makes her think of tessellation patterns and how space warps as it moves over different dimensions — in its environment the fern fronds drape down like hair, but when you flatten it out the fronds are spread wide. Regarding tessellation patterns and the ways they show up in cultural and natural imagery she says, “There’s this conversation between something that’s very technical and something that’s purely decorative — the study of spatial curves is brought into something that is about what’s beautiful.” That statement seems to apply to the artist’s exhibition as well. There is a layering of imagery, idea, material, and process contained in the forest of prints, as well as an undeniable appreciation for play and remembrance. ◼︎
Garlands (detail), collagraphic monoprint.
Tracing a Forest is on view at Gordon Parks Gallery at Metro State University through February 22. Gallery hours: Monday through Thursday, 1 – 7pm.
To see more of the artist's work, visit stephaniehunder.com.
Banner image: Sift, Temper, Distill (detail), collagraphic monoprint.
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