In Hexagons, Gema Álava’s first solo exhibition at Maus Contemporary, the Spanish-born, New York-based artist presents incredibly subtle and beautiful commentaries on gender, power, movement, and the crowd mind.
Exhibiting mixed-media paintings — works built and layered from a palette of materials including, in part, 24 karat gold leaf, watercolor, blueprints, and watercolor pencils — Álava constructs complex narratives of “the hive mind”. Using what seems at first to be a disarmingly simple iconography, Álava is exploring an allegorical landscape between bees and humans. She draws corollaries between systems of colonization, control, reproduction, and extinction through making visual metaphors of how a Queen Bee controls her colony. As she explains, “A queen bee can control her entire colony — including its reproduction and makeup — with as few as 12 pheromones.” Now, as bees become threatened, Álava also uses components of their lifespan, including aspects of their construction like the hexagon, and the molecular structure of their pheromones, to mark spaces that humans colonize, inhabit, move through, and impact in similar ways.
For her first exhibition at Maus Contemporary, Álava will present an installation and mixed-media paintings from her Constellation series. Each is a component of her ongoing project Hexagons, which unites mixed media paintings on linen, site-specific installations, performance works, and public forums, lectures, and presentations, into larger dialogues surrounding the issues being addressed. “If bees are not allowed to pollinate, humanity might perish. If artists are not allowed to pollinate culture, humanity might perish as well,” she says.
Constellation 0, a small-scale mixed-media painting on airport blueprints, combines elements of astronomy, chemistry, and geometry, to present a work which creates metaphors for the pheromones for flight, the opportunity for escape, and the unity of systems.
Hexagons: constellation, is a multi-part large-scale work, spanning 12 uniformly sized panels of linen on wood. Each is unique, a collage of airport blueprints on linen, delicately covered with gold leaf, pigment, watercolor, graphite, and watercolor pencils. Here, Álava’s works transfix viewers to the sky, where they oscillate between the space of bees’ flight and the space of their own.
It can be challenging to synthesize complexity into beauty, yet Gema Álava’s Hexagons do precisely that. Her materiality is seductive and luscious, making her works enticing to view. Her subject matter is recognizable and evocative, leaving space for interpretation; it is also timely, universal, and pertinent.