The mandala is an ancient, cross-cultural art form. Its symmetrical, radial designs are considered sacred, but they have a perfectly practical purpose, too, to put the brain in a place ripe for meditation and introspection.
Though the artistic tradition is thousands of years old, Leonardo Ulian makes mandalas like none other. Whereas most mandalas are defined by intricate weaves and dyes, Ulian sources electronic parts–transistors, capacitors and wiring–to construct a sort of techno-spiritual amalgam, a set of mandalas for the silicon age.
“I think of my mandalas as ephemeral gizmos, able to trigger the eyes and minds of the viewers with images and thoughts of any sort, but without taking it too seriously,” Ulian tells Co.Design. “I used the word ‘ephemeral’ because electronic technology is in a way impermanent. It is constantly changing and can become easily obsolete, like sand mandalas can be easily brushed away after days of work.”
To develop his complex symmetrical patterning, Ulian draws his base design in a computer and prints that image onto paper. Then he brings in countless electronics–some recycled but most new–to fill in the shape. Now if you can look beyond the materials themselves, the completed work is highly traditional. Like all mandalas, they start from a central focal point, a sort of spiritual core that resonates into a complex eye-splosion. But in this case, the core isn’t the traditional circle. It’s a microchip.
“This is to symbolize that there is always a main beginning and then, from there, everything take shape from a complex composition of pattern, shapes, lines and connections among the components,” Ulian tells Co.Design. “I like the idea of a world made of infinite connections between people, objects, feelings, states, planets, and minds.”
These connections are arduous to construct. It’s wire-bending and soldering, hours and hours of working with tiny, often sharp objects. In a sense, Ulian’s task has all the complexity of jewelry making coupled with all of the challenges of building electronics–but to the artist, that’s exactly the point.
“I have to say that the process of making the technological mandala is close to a meditative process,” Ulian jokes. “There is no way to speed things up; there is no mad rush. I just relax and make it.”