At Mercury 20 Gallery, boxes, moons and bits of nature

Carlo Fantin/Courtesy

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The Bay Area is a hot spot for some of the best art California has to offer, and Oakland in particular is peppered with local galleries that showcase the works of artists from all around the globe. One of such spaces is the artist-run Mercury 20 Gallery, which rotates its featured collections every six weeks. It opened its newest collection of exhibitions last month, featuring works ranging from astronomy-inspired graphics to distressing commentary on FedEx shipments.

Artist Pantea Karimi’s section of the gallery, titled “Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo,” is focused on the the moon. “I aim to use the Moon as the catalyst to bring poetry, art, and science together,” she writes in her exhibition description.

In her art, the Iranian American artist shares her knowledge of astronomy through mixed media art pieces. Karimi includes passages from Persian poets in some of her work, as these writings were her introduction to astronomy when she was growing up in Iran.

Karimi pulled information and inspiration from the manuscripts of early scientists, such as 11th-century Persian astronomer Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Bīrūnī and 17th-century Italian scientist Galileo Galilei. Karimi first attained access to these manuscripts during her time studying at the British Library in London last year, during which she researched both astronomers.

“I was enchanted by this sense of imagination these scientists had,” Pantea said, standing next to her creations in the gallery she oversaw for the day. She channels this imagination throughout her works, some of which also feature scenes printed in graphic collage on fabric from the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969.

Pantea said she hopes her art will “bring a thread between the East and the West” through exploring scientific interpretation. “You cannot say science belongs to this culture or that culture. … Science belongs to humanity,” she said.

Italian-born, Bay Area-based artist Carlo Fantin’s exhibit, called “Packaging,” is also currently on view at Mercury 20. Fantin’s work is a visual display of the potential dangers of instant delivery — especially when the items delivered include guns, drugs and other controversial things. The art pieces, made of boxes from shipping sites Amazon, FedEx and UPS, are ornamented with finely punched holes. These punctures make up images of various firearms, child labor scenes and poached animal products.

With his art, Fantin generally shows a distaste for our passivity when it comes to online shopping. In his online description of the exhibit, Fantin says: “We don’t want to investigate who really makes the products we buy, what these delivery companies stand for, and what political views they may hold. If we can get what we want, in the time we want, at a reasonable price, we are okay with closing one eye, or even both.” And with his works, which use the boxes we may see every week on our own doorsteps, he effectively communicates just how little thought we may put into our purchases.

The last section of the gallery, “Minglements,” features the work of Oakland-born artist Jo Ann Biagini. These collage-style artworks are made of old, discarded book pages that Biagni has fused together and used as a background for her paintings. The paintings are related by a common use of subtle imagery of the natural world, with Biagni adding miniscule renderings of organic materials to reinforce themes of natural beauty as witnessed by humanity.

Biagni’s multilayered creations are loud in color and pattern, and they are eye-catching against the white walls of the gallery. In her gallery description, she says she hopes to “evoke a sense of curiosity and mystery about the workings of the natural world and our relationships to it.” While the use of book pages connects humanity to the natural pictures she paints, the overall images did not particularly inspire thought about the processes occurring in nature or allude to the mystery behind it.

The exhibitions will be closing this Saturday, so make sure to stop through the Mercury 20 Gallery to check out these engaging works by local creators.

The art of Pantea Karimi, Carlo Fantin and Jo Ann Biagni will be showing at Mercury 20 Gallery in Oakland through Jun. 15. 

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.

A previous version of this article stated that Biruni was a first-century astronomer. In fact, he was an 11th-century astronomer.

A previous version of this article stated that Karimi had a residency at the British Library in London. In fact, she was studying at the British Library in London.