Earlier this year artists Davey and Rabi, the two members of the collective Cyrcle., took a saw to their old artwork, cutting up wood panels they had covered with honeycomb patterns, images of royal crowns or all-caps text in 4.5-inch wide squares. Their studio had become overcrowded. "It was chaos," says Davey.
As they cut, it occurred to them that they could rearrange these squares to make cubes, and then, if each side of a cube had a different image on it, they could arrange and rearrange the cubes to create seemingly endless new patterns. Then they would have organized their chaos. "Somehow, [this realization] turned into thinking about chaos theory and about bees," says Davey, and thinking about chaos and bees led to their current exhibition, just opened at 6608 Lexington Avenue.
If street art was "post-graffiti," made by artists who took the territorial tag and turned it into a stylized but still largely lawless social statement, Cyrcle. could be termed post-street. Artists like them, though inspired by the street tradition, came of age after street art's cultural subversiveness had been subsumed by mainstream popularity (Vans, Hurley and the Obama campaign all love the "street" aesthetic) and people with advanced degrees or museum jobs began writing its history. Cyrcle. takes the look of street art, combines it with some Rauschenberg-esque image transfers and collage, and then frames it within smart graphics or laser cut boxes or lattices. "That's cool," says Davey, "this rawness in combination with super clean design."
Cyrcle.'s new show "Organized Chaos!" transforms a multi-purpose building -- often rented out by film production companies -- into a white-walled gallery. You enter through a hexagon-shaped portal built into the building's garage. The hexagon references a hive, and a video projected inside the portal shows a golden yellow honeycomb interspersed with footage of flowers and a bustling black and white city shot. Once through the portal, you're surrounded by cubix, lenticulars, hive layers and opticals - all names Cyrcle. has given to its hexagonal and rectangular works that riff on the bee ethos.
At the front of the Lexington gallery, you can pick up the "Organized Chaos: Conceptual Breakdown" sheet, which uses flow charts to explain how the symbolism of the exhibition works. Just like bees need the pollination process to make honey and evolve their bee society, people need the creative process to create art and evolve society. "The analogy is, you're the bee," Davey explains. He and Rabi hope people who visit the show will metaphorically "pollinate" the artwork, interact with it -- you're allowed to touch and move most pieces -- and thus cause creativity to "evolve."
This feels somewhat like evangelism, the conceptual breakdown acting like cliff notes to the gospel and the artwork itself like an object lesson. Because it ends in that exclamation point, the title too has an evangelistic feel, though not necessarily dogmatic: "Organized Chaos!" Without the punctuation, it would be a descriptor, but as is, it's an exuberant call to action, or at least an exuberant endorsement of a way of life.
Cyrcle., who began working together in 2010, use punctuation often. Their name includes a period -- even when it appears mid-sentence, it's still "Cyrcle." not "Cyrcle" -- and most of their exhibition and project titles end in exclamation points.
The collective's use of punctuation may actually be a good stand-in for both what's interesting and sometimes frustrating about their work. Periods and exclamation points, of course, add emphasis and express enthusiasm. They are also conventions, tools for standardizing communication. But Cyrcle. is probably more enthusiastic than subversive, so such standardization suits them.
Davey and Rab? met at a rooftop party about five years ago then started working together two years ago. Davey has a background in design; Rab?'s background is in street art. "He's like that selfless guy," says Davey of Rabi, "always telling me to grow down." Rab? credits Davey with introducing him to the ins and outs of the contemporary design world. The two have done murals in Santa Barbara, downtown L.A. and Boulder, Colorado. They've also done work on walls of places like Black Banditz hair and tattoo parlor on Melrose - work they term "in-between," not quite urban art but not quite gallery art either. As artists in that post-street position, they occupy a weird in-between space all around.
If you drove down Glendale Blvd. in Echo Park this fall, you might have seen the bland brick building at the Glendale-Allesandro intersection -- Bedrock L.A. -- transform into something new. Pink intestinal shapes and a green snake emerged, looping in front of black and white diamonds, and the brick backdrop was slathered sage green. This mural, Cyrcle.'s work, has the words "Magic is Real" written across it in straight-edged letters. The thoroughness of the effort - even a trashcan had bulbous pink intestines painted on it to ensure its presence didn't distract - is impressive, though the design itself is surprisingly controlled. You don't feel for a moment the snakes and intestines are taking over the building; they've been kept in check.
The "Magic is Real" mural was the open-air precursor to "Organized Chaos!", but "Organized Chaos!", as was supposed to be the more interactive despite the walls that closed it in. The PR for the show emphasized that visitors would be able to engage in "a type of performance art" with the artwork. This, it turns out, meant that visitors would be able to move the cubes around onto the different shelves of the "cubix" pieces, or pull out and rearrange the "hive layers."
The "Cubix" in the show are made of 25 cubes held in a shelving unit, with photographs of bees on one side, pixelated images of flowers on the other, geometric hexagons on a third and black and white vintage photos of people lifted from the Library of Congress' free archives on a fourth. The cubes on each unit can result in 22 million potential combinations.
The hive layer pieces, frames that hold removable layered panels laser-cut to look like dripping honey, have as their final layer a black and white image of a person's eyes and nose. Each photo represents either drone, queen or worker, and Davey handpicked these from the Library of Congress too, choosing faces that fit each role best (you know you've found a drone if he's got sexy eyes, Davey says).
In advance of the show, the "performance art" aspect sounded too simplistic to work. But the public opening actually was pleasantly disorganized and interactive. One woman systematically removed every cube from the shelves; a group of teenagers then stuck a rectangular box meant to store the cubes into an empty shelf so that it protruded too far out into the room. Two children went around making the shelves as uniform as possible. No one seemed conscious of themselves as pollinators or out to strike the perfect balance between structure and anarchy; they were just trying to upend or recreate whatever pattern had been there before. But under Cyrcle.'s philosophy, what they were thinking about didn't change the fact that they were fulfilling their role.
"Maybe that system works," Davey says, of the beehive hierarchy, where creation happens in the confines of a clear structure. "Roles can be necessary."
"It's just about looking for balance in life," says Rabi. "You're constantly looking for the middle."