Zora Mann
Nectar Hive
ChertLüdde, Berlin
12 November 2022 – 21 January 2023

In Zora Mann’s Nectar Hive, loose figurations meet on top of urbanesque and honeycomb structures to form a complex network of origin and memories. Seen through a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the artist’s own life, Mann’s exhibition expands on her world-building capabilities by taking inspiration from the geometry found in nature.

Deeply personal, yet distorted through the gaze of compounding, kaleidoscopic prisms, Mann’s rich imagery pollinates the mind with subconscious impressions. Guarded by the two masks Janus and Juno – symbols of transition and duality, of conflict and fertility – the first room presents Mann’s introspective watercolor paintings. 

Dense with the complexities of the psyche, her watercolors can be seen and explored as emotional maps. Adapted from an exercise performed with artist and friend Ken Wahl, in which they each visualize and depict an emotive state independently, these psycho-cartographic works contain a manifold of references, stimuli and figures. In these two works, emotions and memories seem to collide feverishly within her painted topographies.

My artificial aching heart is a work that presents a free-fall through the artist’s mind without a clear start or finish. On the top right we see a self-portrait emerging from a cluster of lines, architectural forms and a sharp environment: on the left, a dripping tap represents relapse; an orange sphere with drooping tendrils symbolizes shame, alongside the trumpet-like portals of recovery. Further below, tall logs representing the father are positioned next to gray chevrons of fear, near huddled artists painting on each other’s backs. At the bottom right of the painting, the sheen of a metallic heart glints. These sections can be identified using the legend on the reverse side of the painting. 

Between the watchful sculptures Janus and Juno, each glazed with blushing sincerity, Mann’s watercolors transform the internal world of the artist into visibility, encircling us through the fog dappled on the walls around us. Like the gray matter of the brain, which contains the nervous system that allows individuals to control movement, memory and to process emotions, this room holds an abundance of factors bound to the self. 

In the second room, the artist’s self-reflection and curiosity transition into a broader scene conceptualizing both human and nonhuman collectivity through a sculptural installation flanked with oil and acrylic paintings. Through her distinct uses of color, pattern and visual likeness, Mann begins to move away from the individual psyche towards an interconnected ecosystem. 

Like cellular membranes enveloped by the soft glow of acrylics and the transparency of oil, the six canvases become a backdrop for deeper contemplation on how we interact with the world around us. Visualized through a biomorphic environment that references natural and man-made architectures, the paintings take sections of a tessellating world that expands beyond our two-dimensional views.

It is through the hexagonal repetition of the honeycomb that a three-dimensional likeness is constructed in Mann’s paintings, making them so spatially immersive. Repetition and sequencing is an often employed token in Mann’s practice, where patterns diverge gradually like steps or ladders. 

The hive’s geometric structure also draws a direct parallel to the system of communication and cohabitation of bees. Bee hives have become key models for neuroscientists to understand how neurons in the human brain pass on information. In the paintings, they become a symbol of transferal, branching into many aspects of decision-making and collaboration. Through a skillful and experimental approach, paintings like the first in the series Nectar Hive reveal the cell-like pearls behind their transparent layers. Like the nutrient-rich substance of nectar and the yellow glow of honey, this field of painterly haze produces a depth that evades the flatness of the canvas. With ambiguous orientation and narrative direction, these paintings are the meeting grounds for patterns in interspecies behavior to materialize. 

Working with symmetry and disruption in form, Mann’s mimetic figures made of wood and ceramic bridge the psychosomatic gaps between the mental and physical. As beaded chains hanging from the ceiling, the works stack into speculative beings made of various elements resembling parts of the human body, plant life and the built environment. Swarming together in the exhibition space, these unique sculptures hang with a temporary stillness to tangibly represent the physical and cerebral manifestations of emotions. Stacked and hovering on steel cables, the individual pieces of their fusion feel variable and interchangeable. The sculptures’ wooden bodies also possess the same transparency found on the surrounding canvases, making them feel permeable to external influences. Like a Rorschach test, a symmetry can be seen here through repeated shapes, the sculptures too becoming a projection of the mind. 

Viewed individually, each sculpture presents the complexities of humanity and personhood, their heads and bodies able to be seen as separate factors that influence emotive reactions and habitual responses. Some of these sculptures have archetypal titles like Night Nurse and Penny Pincher, while others have specific names like Clara and Ulrich. These individual characteristics assemble to form the complex combination of traits and memories that make up personalities. 

Eye-level with the visitors, these sculptures make us consider our patterns of behavior within society, our environment, the metaphorical hive. Both personal and general, the exhibition balances the isolated experience and makes it inseparable from the collective. Through style and form, from the impalpable into the embodied, Nectar Hive gathers voices to be synthesized through the artist’s colorful palette. 

Photos by Andrea Rossetti