The IFF continues to unearth hidden, and often historically ignored, gems from the past. Its latest exhibtion, Inventing Kindergarten brings to light a body of work which was the product of radical eduction system developed by the German scientist Friedrich Froebel in the mid 1800’s. Froebel is well know for designing eductional puzzle like objects, known as Froebel Gifts, which encouraged geometric thinking and pattern building activity. Froebel used crystals as a model and metaphor in his system for eduction and Margret Wertheims online exhibtion essay reveals that:
‘Philosophically, kindergarten was grounded in Froebel’s belief in the Unity of all things and in the existence of simple laws and principles underlying nature’s apparent complexity. As Froebel saw it, the crystal was the archetypal form from which we could derive a model for all of nature. The child herself could be seen as a crystal. Drawing on his years as a curator at the Mineralogical Museum at the University of Berlin, Froebel wrote that the role of education was to guide the development of the nascent, crystalline mind from “one-sidedness, individuality and incompleteness” toward “all-sidedness, harmony and completeness.”
Aside from his post at the Mineralogical Museum its also interesting note that Froebel studied both Mathematics and Botany, most likely providing the specific grounding for the methods and inspiration he used to develop his system.
The works in the exhibition include ornate geometric paper cuts in booklets; concise exercises in pattern formation, symmetry, balance and transformation, most often produced by women. Wertheims essay neatly positions this movement as one of the precursors to Modernism. It’s certainly interesting to see the connections to works of the later Op-Art Movement.
Looking at these works its also easy to find similarities with sacred geometric art – Mandalas and more specifically Hindu Yantra’s. Yantra’s are internlocking goemetric figures used in meditation – symbolic compositions of the energy pattern of a deity. Carl Jung noted that these kinds of symmetrical figures are universal symbols of wholeness when he said:
The “squaring of the circle” is one of the many archetypal motifs which form the basic patterns of our dreams and fantasies. But it is distinguished by the fact that it is one of the most important of them from the functional point of view. Indeed, it could even be called the archetype of wholeness.
This passage echoes Freobels idea to ‘crystalline mind from one-sidedness, individuality and incompleteness toward all-sidedness, harmony and completeness’.
The works in this exhibition also have a remarkable resemblance to contemporary computational art, the recent Glitch Art movement for example with its recurrent motif of grid repetition and blocky pixellation.
Inventing Kindergarten runs at the Williamson Gallery, CA, USA from October 13, 2006 – January 7, 2007 and is curated by IFF Director Margaret Wertheim and Norman Brosterman.