Victoria Haven
Borg Drawings:
Resistance Is Futile
Howard House, 256-6399.
Through Dec 16, and then Jan 9-20.

IN ITALO CALVINO'S masterpiece Invisible Cities, Marco Polo describes, for the pleasure and diversion of Kublai Khan, cities he has seen. Most are more metaphysical than actual, yet all contain the possibility for real cruelty, real emotion, real discovery. They are invisible because they are cities of the mind. Marco Polo might have been describing the cities in Victoria Haven's new show, Borg Drawings: Resistance Is Futile.

You might think that the journey from Calvino to Star Trek is a long one, but it's not. In a city called Anastasia, "you believe you are enjoying [it] wholly when you are only its slave"; in the Borg empire you become entirely assimilated, part of a whole that determines its population's every move. And Haven's work, both her drawings and her wall sculptures, are like maps of such a place created by little units that seem to be proliferating out of control. They are as philosophical as Calvino's world, as physical as the Borg's.

The architecture Haven suggests is as impossible as Calvino's cities were invisible. They also seem fragile, which is not inappropriate to constructs of the mind. She builds her spaces out of delicately constructed squares, the 12-line double box that you recognize as the first three-dimensional object you learned to draw. These boxes are built through repetition into forms that look like corrals, ramps, tunnels, roller coasters, and scaffolding. They are all acutely three-dimensional, but you never forget that they have been rendered on a two-dimensional plane.

Haven uses the humblest materials to create the spaces and the shapes--office supplies such as ink on carbon paper, cellophane tape painted with watercolors, rubber bands--and mounts them an inch or so off the wall with insect pins, intensifying their delicacy. One whole wall of the gallery is given over to the smaller works: ink on vellum (both with and without color) and smaller tape structures. The tiniest structures, one-square square, are presented like the building units that they essentially are, along with their single-square shadows (one of which has been cleverly painted onto the gallery wall in a contrasting color). On the facing wall is a flat monumental structure built of red tape that careens, repeats, builds, and folds back on itself, a fractal growing out of control, a mathematical idea growing exponentially.

On the far wall of the gallery is one of Haven's wall sculptures made of rubber bands stretched over a grid of nails (for this work, and for some of the all-tape grids, "shadow" is listed with the other materials on the exhibition checklist). This work, which hovers in the gray area between two and three dimensions in which Haven thrives, is softer and more open than Haven's last work in this media (shown about a year ago at Suyama Space). The result is that instead of being a work you stand next to, in relation to, and are dwarfed by, it's a work that you suddenly look at as if you could enter it. The squares along the bottom row look like tunnel entrances, and the way the work curves back and away gives you somewhere to go.

The most obvious antecedents for Haven's work are Sol LeWitt's series of open squares, but her work is closer in spirit to his wall drawings, or even Agnes Martin's meditative grids. Despite the order and precision suggested by clusters of squares, Haven's lines are squiggly, friendly, and suggest a human hand behind them. Haven's work--unlike the violent Borg--doesn't take you by force; it wins you through something more akin to personal charm.

Which gives this show an odd tension between calm and anxiety. Haven's work has a calming effect on me, a feeling of gentle order imposed on a chaotic world. People who have organized their desks so that the objects all line up will understand. But the spaces her drawings describe also produce a kind of anxiety, a kind of claustrophobic Habitrail feeling, analogous to the feeling that an actual city produces. Places such as Anastasia and the Borg planet communicate both freedom of movement and fate, the feeling that your actions are so determined by the city's layout--its grid, its canyons, its traffic--that you are more of its pawn than you realize.

At the exhibition's opening, an architect--ever the realist--asked Haven if she thought these spaces could really be built. Haven, a bit baffled, gave a reply worthy of Calvino's Marco Polo: "They're already built," she said. They're in the art.