In the sway of a curve

Anita Roy | Updated on May 03, 2019

More than just art: Emma Kunz at her working table, Waldstatt, 1958. She was fascinated by the paranormal from an early age   -  Courtesy: Emma Kunz Zentrum

From Swiss artist Emma Kunz to the Extinction Rebellion movement, geometry brings out important truths

One day last week, I found myself in central London with a few hours to spare before my bus back to the west country. I wandered through Hyde Park, along avenues of dappled plane trees, ending up at the Serpentine Gallery, where there was an exhibition by an artist I had never heard of — Emma Kunz.

Inside, the gallery walls were hung with large geometrical drawings, traced on the sort of graph paper used for maths books in school. Squares making circles, lines making stars. Shapes twinned, tripled, quadrupled. Where lines intersected, symbols were created: Crosses and crescents, and even a sort of stylised cubist fertility goddess. Hexagons and circles and triangles bloomed and imploded. Grids converged and radiated, conjuring depth out of flatness. The pencil marks seem to pulsate, like energy lines caught on paper.

Back in the ’70s, Spirograph was all the rage. When I was a kid, I used to spend hours spinning those perforated plastic wheels to create patterns on paper. The pinwheels and circles, with their interlocking cogs, created a miniature pattern-making machine, each rotation moving the pattern on a notch, and adding a layer of complexity.

I remember the thrill of creating what I imagined to be the most beautiful and beguiling wallpaper in the world. Eat your heart out, William Morris.

Kunz’s artworks take the Spirograph aesthetic to a whole new level. Despite the graph paper and coloured pencil, there’s nothing childish about them. Kunz never thought of herself as an ‘artist’ but a healer, and her drawings as emanating from the spiritual realm.

Born in Switzerland in 1892, Kunz was fascinated by the paranormal from an early age. She devoted her whole life to developing her powers of telepathy, prophecy and mystical healing, becoming particularly adept in radiesthesia — divining by using a pendulum.

The interlocking gridlines of her artworks are the result not of careful, mathematical calculation but the swing points of Kunz’s jade-and-silver plumb line. Using her pendulum to first plot the key points, she would then work in a trance-like state, sometimes for 24 hours at a stretch, to create these unique, and uniquely modernist, mandalas.

I sat in the centre of the cool, white gallery, surrounded by these extraordinary drawings. Like mandalas, each offered a chance for the mind to focus, to involve itself in intricate detail, leaving the thoughts to quieten to meditative stillness.

Kunz was interested in energy lines, in cosmic unity that underlay everything. Once you start looking, it’s there everywhere — the perfect spiral of a seashell, the Fibonacci sequencing of sunflower seeds, nature organising itself according to the principles of the golden ratio — right down to the elegant double helix of our DNA.

In the weeks leading up to Kunz’s exhibition, a new geometrical figure had been flying high: Two triangles balanced one on top of the other, their points intersecting at the centre of a circle.

In London, this April, the Extinction Rebellion (XR) logo was everywhere — stickers, graffiti, flags, banners, posters galore. It’s a great logo with multiple meanings. Created in 2011 by an unknown London street artist known as ‘ESP’, the logo carries the duel message of ‘X marks the spot’ and ‘time’s running out’ in its hourglass shape. The surrounding circle stands for the Earth.

XR is an environmental campaign group that espouses non-violent civil disobedience to get politicians to tell the truth about global warming. It calls for net carbon emissions to be at zero by 2025.

XR began just six months ago and has snowballed into a mass movement. In April, protesters brought the capital to a standstill for almost two weeks and over a thousand peaceful activists were arrested.

This, along with David Attenborough’s unflinching documentary Climate Change: The Facts and a series of school strikes by children across the world, inspired by sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, have pushed the issue many notches up the political agenda. There’s a change in the air — and it’s not just spring.

In 1942, Kunz was asked by the Resistance, to “re-polarise the negative forces of Adolf Hitler”. Quite a tall order for one woman.

Eight decades later, we’re in another war-like situation: A crisis that is affecting all of earth’s ecosystems. The scale of the problem of climate change makes overthrowing the Nazis armed with nothing but a mystical jade pendulum seem like child’s play.

What would the disembodied spirit of Kunz make of all these XR logos stencilled across London?

I think she would approve of its striking symmetry. It is a powerful logo, symbolising convergence, solidarity and the meeting of hearts and minds. There’s also defiance there: The crossing of arms and planting of feet.

A line has been drawn.

Anita Roy   -  BLink


Anita Roy is a writer, editor and publisher;

Published on May 03, 2019

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