Daniel E. Kelm and Timothy C. Ely
Kelm: American, 1951–; Ely: American, 1949–

Acrylic and ink on paper, acrylic polymer medium mixed with wood chips, collage constructions, painted cloth and poplar wood, magnets, brass rod and tubing, thread, and wire edge binding. Collection of the Kohler Art Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Photographs by Jeff Derose/One Match Films.

Investigations: The Four Elements


The series of unique books Investigations: The Four Elements draws upon Kelm’s and collaborator Tim Ely’s shared interest in alchemy and sacred geometry. Each book consists of a set number of interlocking panels that can be assembled into one or more shapes forming Platonic solids. The Platonic solids—tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron, and icosahedron—are polyhedrons with congruent sides, edges, and angles. Although these five shapes were known prior to Plato, they are specifically mentioned in his dialogue Timaeus. In this work, Plato describes these solids as the building blocks of matter, equating the tetrahedron with the element of fire, the cube with earth, the octahedron with air, the icosahedron with water, and the dodecahedron with the materials that form the stars and the cosmos.

Ely incorporated sand taken from sacred sites around the world into the surface treatment of the triangular box which holds the accordion panels. This container functions as a reliquary, protecting the contents while giving symbolic visual form to what lies within.

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