Science meets fantasy in Mollie Goldstrom’s prints

When worlds collide
By GREG COOK  |  August 14, 2012

Mollie-Goldstrom_main
A SERIES OF VISIONS Goldstrom’s Bee Madrigal.
If you hang around the art world much, you often hear that there are currently no major movements. Mainly it's a lament about the art world not offering a convenient master narrative.

But two major themes — utopian ideals, even — run through art today, just as they run through our culture at large. On one hand are Apple products and bioengineering and smart bombs, things driven by the notion of that life can be elegantly ordered and perfected via technology. On the other hand is the folk craft revival and the localvore movement and the custom engineering of Maker Faires, things driven by the notion that handcraft in all its intriguing, messy imperfection is the most meaningful and human thing going. Of course, most folks straddle these two ideas with things like hand-knit cozies for iPhones available for sale on Etsy. But this ideological split — technological perfection versus humanist imperfection — is a fundamental engine of our culture.

Mollie Goldstrom speaks for the latter group when she says that the inspiration for her exhibit of prints at AS220's Project Space (93 Mathewson St, Providence, through August 31) is the blurring between science and fantasy in 17th-century naturalism, with the errors of early science offering "a glimpse into the very nature of the human condition."

Goldstrom, who is based in Iowa City, where she recently completed her MFA at the University of Iowa, was an artist in residence at AS220 in July. She is a cofounder of the Baltimore-based Closed Caption Comics and an editor and illustrator for Lightful Press. Her previous etchings, depicting forests sprouting from the backs of whales and tiny houses perched atop the stumps of massive trees, suggested folktales.

Her AS220 show is inspired by the English beekeeper Charles Butler and his 1609 book The Feminine Monarchie, considered the first book-length natural history on bees. In particular, Goldstrom is intrigued by Butler's score transliterating bee buzzing into a madrigal so as to help predict when they would swarm. The title of the series — If I Miss, I Miss But a Little — is a quote from Butler professing his effort to get a close as humanly possible to perfection.

In Goldstrom's sequence of seven hand-colored intaglio prints, a man drums as another person collects honeycombs from hives; the man sits with his eyes closed in a music room with a score on the table before him and a tuning fork in his hand as bees swarm about; a man climbs a ladder and cuts down limbs from a tree swarmed by bees; four people sit around a table drinking under honeycombs hanging from the ceiling like a chandelier; and a trio prepares to sing next to a person standing totally covered with bees. It's not quite a story, more a series of visions.

Goldstrom adopts a beguiling style reminiscent of 17th- or 18th-century illustrations with a smidgen of Edward Gorey's goth nostalgia mixed in. About half the prints have borders decorated with images of flowers, honeycombs, hives, bees and drone aircraft (punning on drone bees). The purposeful "naïve" woodenness of her characters — their imperfection — suggests their actions are an uncanny ritual.

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