The two solo shows at Mercury 20 (475 25th St., Oakland) are personal negotiations of the accepted boundaries of physical and abstract worlds. In Geometricity, Berkeley artist Ruth Tabancay uses materials like sugar and beeswax to create works that highlight the ways in which natural forms sometimes align accurately with accepted systems of mathematics, and at other times challenge those parameters. In another room, Oakland sculptor Jann Nunn's Breathing Space uses recycled glass tubes and lights to visualize the boundaries of mortality and the ways in which a person's effect on the world may resonate beyond his or her lifetime.
Some of the inspiration for Tabancay's work is a mixture of past memories and current challenges — specifically, her recent health issues. One of her most mesmerizing pieces is "Interlinked," a hexagonal grid made from dyed and cast sugar that resembles a translucent, rainbow honeycomb. "That six-sided shape, it just kind of haunts me," Tabancay said at the show's opening. She recalled how she would sit on her grandmother's hexagon-tiled floor as a child, playing with floral patterns in her mind. Throughout the show's run, she will be periodically layering more sugar hexagons on top of this foundation, creating representations of the molecular structures of her medications — shapes that now haunt her a different way.
Tabancay's work is also a product of her long-held fascination with math and science. "Hyperbolic Universe" is an installation of hanging yarn sculptures that function both as accurate models of a coral reef and as hyperbolic space. About 200 years ago, mathematicians discovered that it was possible to disprove Euclidean geometry's parallel postulate if you conceptualized space differently. It happens that coral and lettuce are natural renderings of this kind of spatial model, and looking at their forms helped mathematicians broaden their understanding of hyperbolic geometry. By employing these fluid shapes, Tabancay conceptually and visually challenges the rigidity of her sugar cast hexagons, encouraging viewers to question their acceptance of abstract systems of thought.
Jann Nunn's inspiration also stems from formative life experiences. In an interview at the show's reception, she relayed that her works were dedicated to two loved ones who passed away about 20 years ago. In the titular sculpture, strands of glass tubing hang like a circular curtain, inhabiting approximately the same space as a human. Meanwhile, a light above brightens and dims at the rate of a long, deep breath. The light creates a glow within the glass tubes, but also shines beyond their confines. In the installation, "The Time Fallen Bodies Take to Recover," many similar collections of strands are hung together to form a kind of kelp forest, and each strand has metal rings positioned above it, like ripples on the surface of the water. Nunn is interested in relaying the ways in which someone's energy can ripple beyond them, and relationships continue to resound even after they are over. Like Tabancay, Nunn swims between the accepted limitations of life and embodiment, finding that they are ultimately more permeable than they initially seem.
Both shows run through Aug. 9. MercuryTwenty.com or 510-701-4620.