Right thinking or not: An art safari in the Universe of Mandy Bonnell

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‘Thank you for having me to stay.’ She handed me the brown paper packet. No prizes for guessing – it’s a Mandy: drawn of the soul; given with the heart. Delicately difficult: tread very lightly; eggshells everywhere. Oh please let me like it

‘You’re welcome, Mandy.’ In trepidation I unwrapped the packet.

Ants; ants ants ants. All over the page: up and down and left to right; no colour, just white line in black space. That’s it: I’m done-for…

No, hold on: up and down? Yes, that’s right, up and down and left to right: in rows and columns – not head to tail in a line like ants. Hello, that is odd. This isn’t about ants after all.

‘There’s something profound going on here’ I pronounced, clambering back up the pedestal. She seemed relieved, but not so much as I.

The next time Mandy came to stay she slipped another of those brown paper envelopes into my lap.

‘Moths’ she said. Eagerly, I opened it.

These two pieces now hang facing each other and as I cross the magnetosphere between them, even as I reach the armchair, a new son et lumiere is already coruscating in my head. Endlessly entertaining, an art safari with Mandy might go something like this:

Likenesses acting in concert have become a focus of great interest. As a mob or a billion grains of sand, the properties and behaviour of such collective entities appear to have profound implications. From Chaos Theory and fractals to evolutionary biology and the weather, they may lie at the very heart of nature itself. Increasingly the subject of scientific research, is Mandy intuitively plumbed into these phenomena too? The ants, stacked up in columns, break up then re-arrange into columns before breaking out again in disorder, no two columns ever identical nor any disorder equivalent but unmistakably always a pattern. The pattern of disorder? Artistic ‘turbulent flow’?

And what of the moths? Assemblages of white arcs in black space soaring about the page like happy-hour gliders: each one alike but never identical, arranged randomly in space and oblivious to the existence of all the others yet bound-in in an intimate relationship. Of it’s stars in the night sky, The Universe mocks us with the illusion of neighbourhood; but the whole is one. Is this Mandy’s universe: each part unique yet everywhere all the same? That sounds familiar. Like the branches of a tree, like the petals on a flower, like a view of the forest.

And why not? If such concepts are at the heart of nature then surely we are all thoroughly acquainted with them, even if only intuitively. It would not be the first time an artist has intuitively fathomed the recondite recesses of scientific research. Jackson Pollock’s sloshings of paint were scientifically shown to be consistently fractal while knock-offs of the same were not.

So isn’t that wonderful? Mandy is literally drawing the same conclusions as the great rationalist mathematicians and the empiricist scientists by using her own intelligence: her right-brain-intuitive-emotional intelligence. Or maybe her leftbrain-rational-cerebral intelligence. Or could it be her female-intuitivesubconscious. To be sure we’d better ask Mandy.

‘Mandy, is this about turbulent flow?; Mandy, what’s your take on The Universe?; Mandy, which side of your brain is dominant?’

‘Oo, don’t know about all that.’ ‘So Mandy, what guides you in your work?‘‘Ah, I know it’s right when it works.’

The history of thought seems to be framed within a smaller petty debate as to which approach shall access ‘The Truth’: the ationalist, the empiricist, or the mystic and latterly, perhaps by extension of that legacy, the respective areas of the brain now associated with each type of thinking: logical or emotional; vertical or lateral; left-brain or right-brain. But are these really different ways to think or are they simply labels that describe the tools we use to stimulate thought: the mathematician with his symbols of logic; the scientist and his doctrine of observation; the religionist his mantras and mysticism, his robes and rituals; and Mandy her moths and ants and, most importantly, the blank canvas: the tabula rasa on which she transcribes her universe.

Maybe Mandy’s right. Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question. If we asked not “Is it true?” but “Does it work?” we wouldn’t need to insist on a proof derived of a discipline born of the compartmentalisation of the human mind. Thinking is either whole-brain or no-brain. And perhaps here is the greatest value in art: it frees us to use our whole human intelligence in any way we please in the scrutiny of anything we choose, our conclusions just as valid.

As I set my old armchair back down upon the runway, let me just say this: I cannot recommend more highly that you fire-up the ion-drive in your own armchair and take a safari in the Universe of Art, in particular Mandy Bonnell’s.

‘No Mandy, thank you; the pleasure is all mine.’

Art by Kenya’s leading contemporary artists is on display at Air Kenya’s Wilson Airport departures lounge. For a comprehensive tour including the work of Mandy Bonnell, visit One Off Contemporary Art Gallery at #16 Rosslyn Lone Tree, off the Limuru Road near the Village Market in Nairobi. Artwork can be supplied in packaging convenient for accompanied luggage .
Tel 0722 521870.


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