Elena Asins

Iching 2, ca. 1975


Location Gallery 1

Elena Asins

Title Iching 2, 1994
Medium India ink on paper
Dimensions 21 x 1120 cm
Copyright © Obra licenciada por el Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía mediante Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NonDereivates 4.0International License; de las fotografías | all photographs: Archivo Helga de Alvear | Joaquín Cortés
Exhibition number AW101

Lines, broken at irregular intervals, run across the paper, seemingly without end. Are they lines of writing? Musical staves? Morse code? Elena Asins once described her art as a cryptogram, a secret code that viewers would first need to decipher.

Her works are based on her research into mathematical structures, logic and chance. At the University of Madrid in the 1960s, she belonged to a group of artists, architects and engineers who were exploring the new phenomenon of computers. She was one of the first artists to use computers in her work.

Could she have been visualising a piece of binary code here – the sequence of zeros and ones, flow and interruption of flow, that forms the basis of a computer’s operation? Yes and no, because in this instance, she’s grappling with yin and yang, the dualistic principle of Chinese philosophy – and employing the opposite of calculation: chance. She called her work “I Ching”, after the Book of Changes – a Chinese text that’s thousands of years old. The I Ching is a collection of ancient wisdom, with each statement associated with a combination of horizontal lines. It’s been used as an oracle since time immemorial: By throwing coins or bones six times, six lines are established. These may be unbroken for yang, or broken for yin. The petitioner can then look up the combination in the Book of Changes. The corresponding text represents the oracle’s answer. Now, if you happened to have the I Ching to hand, you could translate the combinations of lines into a message.

One of the book’s fundamental insights is: everything is always in flux, forever changing. On this sheet of paper as elsewhere, that unremitting change seems to carry on into infinity.

Further artworks from this exhibition