A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

Artist Angela Lorenz’ sculptural book takes the reader on a journey across time, ancient cultures and language.
Fri, 11/30/2012 - 1:00pm

    At first, it’s hard to grasp just what this object Angela Lorenz created is. Is it a piece of art? Is it a book?

    The Mansion of Thought: Making Knowledge Visual in Three Dimensions is a mixed-media adult picture book that folds out unto itself like origami. It contains much of Lorenz’ studies and research in drawing, printmaking, fine arts and semiotics (a field equivalent to communications).  Lorenz, who studied in Bologna, Italy, in the mid-1980s and divides her time between Bologna and Searsmont, has a lot going on up there. A lot.

    “I probably have about 50 projects going on at the moment,” she said. As the creator of multiple mixed media pieces, interactive presentations and exhibits, she has enviable talent, and — what most artists yearn for — a limitless fount of ideas; yet, she is very quiet in her approach. While she is known internationally and has been interviewed by The Boston Globe, she keeps a low profile in Maine. No one has really heard about her here.

    The book is made of acid-free paper and was assembled and printed in Italy. The interior of the book was designed like a paper pair of pants. When she holds the simple design that was cut down the middle, the two “legs’ of the pants are what she can then intricately shape and fold into a variety of shapes, such as cubes, a hexagon and a house, which alludes to the title of the book.

    “There’s always a struggle to making something that is user-friendly and not caving to commercial concerns, like ‘Will there be enough display space?’ she said. “Not wanting to be too hard for people who have trouble folding up maps, yet, creating something purposeful that communicates the ideas is what I tried to do.”

    Conceptually, the book is 20 years in the making. It contains 67 watercolor images Lorenz has made based on cultural ideas and language and religions from around the world she’s studied since college. Some of her original artwork, including paintings from this book, appear in more than 100 private and public collections in North America and Europe, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Graphische Sammlung Albertina in Vienna.

    “This is 4,000 years of history from Babylonia and upward. It’ s basically the tendency of humans to make knowledge visual in three-dimensions,” said Lorenz.

    To demonstrate, she unfolds the casing of the book, which exposes a built-in essay as well as what looks like a Parcheesi game, which is actually a Central American game board.

    “This talks about the intersection of games with pilgrimage and labyrinth,” she explained.

    Rather than make a singular one-off sculptural piece, Lorenz sold the paintings in this book and used the proceeds to make 2,000 copies on her own as a way to make this artwork accessible and affordable to everyone.

    The book itself is like opening a present. On both the front and back cover, a Hebrew and Latin phrase (or frieze) serves as the book’s introduction.

    “And these are actually carved in the sides a building from the the 1500s in Bologna.” Inside are dozens of symbolic illustrations. Each hand-drawn symbol or imagery comes with an explanation, something Lorenz provides on her website.

    For example, one of her original watercolor images is of Borobudur, a Buddhist monument, created in Java, Indonesia circa 800 AD. 

    “It actually exists as a three-dimensional stone monument, built as a mandala. One of the hugest mandalas in the world, in fact. And you can progress, like a labyrinth up the steps and go through the phases of Buddha’s life.”

    It’s an apt metaphor, this labyrinth, as it very neatly characterizes what it is like to open this enigmatic book and use your fingers to explore the many possibilities of The Mansion of Thought.

    Copies of her book can be purchased at Left Bank Books. For more description to go with each symbol in the book visit www.angelalorenzbooks.com