Membrane: Biology and Art Compelling At Boston Cyberarts Gallery
Bioart as Scientifically-Inspirational Aesthetic
When I first heard about the exhibit, I thought that I might have to wear a Hazmat suit or a surgical facemask in order to view the biologically intertwined art. But, happily it was not the case at the provocative and often compellingly visual new show at Boston Cyberarts Gallery, Membrane: Biology and Art.
Unsent Unburdened Subconscious Subterranean By David Kim
The exhibition’s premise was to consider the relationship between art and science in the contemporary world. Exploring the reciprocal nature of biology and art, the exhibit space is filled with works comprised of nanoscopic neurons, slime mold ceramics, conceptual compost and natural installations. Nothing to fear, but actual living spiders, scorpions and earthworms are contained in the show. Involving clever concepts that marry scientific research with artistic inquiry, Membrane investigates the notions of human curiosity and man's contemporary relationship to the natural world.
The artists showcased in the exhibit take a wide variety of approaches to the integration of bioscience and aesthetics. Provocatively, Natalie Andrew's slime mold specimens ingest various materials including cobalt, copper, and other elements. This in turn leaves finely drawn marks resembling the minute gestural lines of miniature painters or tiny draftsmen. She captures their expressive action painting in a kiln-fixed glaze, producing a quite stunning array of beautiful pottery.
Trangenic Silk (2011) by Joe Davis and also entitled Neimand weiss das ich Rumpelstilchskin heiss!, involves genetically engineering silk worms to spin gold. Several generations of silkworms were modified to produce a silk that could be combined with precious metals. This is an homage to the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin. Because the silkworms are genetically modified, only their “gold silk” product could be exhibited as the silkworms themselves can only be kept in a secure laboratory!
Slime Mold Ceramic By Natalie Andrew
Based upon Tibetan prayer flags, Davis’ Prayer Flags are printed with the code for the genetic markers of incurable diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. These flags were sent to laboratories researching these diseases and sent back to the artist. There collage is a strong message of spirituality and science.
His metallic Self Assembling Clocks features components of a disassembled clock enclosed in a jar. According to the artist, like life, which spontaneously self-assembled, the experiment tests whether these simple parts could 'self-assemble' into a functioning clock. In reality, this piece is sort of Steampunk without any steam.
David Kim's Unsent Unburdened Subconscious Subterranean is primarily a compost heap cradled in a material sling, but certainly much more. The compost is created by feeding an earthworm colony drafts of unsent letters the artist has written to his estranged mother. The letters reference the artist coming out as a gay man. Through a buried hydrophone microphone, viewers can listen to the earthworm colony. It sounds much like a sonogram for a pregnancy test. This work showcases mother/son interpersonal as well as interspecies communications. Here bio-art transcends our very human social and personal relationships.
Hybrid Habitats: Bio-Abstractions in Ultraviolet by ART±BIO Collaborative by Stephanie Dowdy-Nava and Saúl Nava, Ph.D. 2016, are eight installations made from natural materials and found objects collected from the Bosque Seco region of Puerto Rico during Field Studies. Borrowing from the Surrealist shadow box art of Joseph Cornell, natural elements are juxtaposed gracefully. Poetically presented under UV light to expose the natural fluorescence and UV reflectance of the elements within them, they are abstractions of the micro-habitat of the Centruroides griseus species of scorpion and other arachnids that are abundant in the extreme environs of this tropical dry forest.
By the way, it seems that all scorpion species fluoresce under UV light. The reasons for this are a mystery to scientists. It is unknown whether the visual systems of scorpions allow them to see UV light. It is possible that the viewer is seeing these secretive creatures and the natural elements in their abstracted habitats in ways they cannot see themselves.
Utilizing the intersection of the arts, biology, natural history and the life sciences as a catalyst for social dialogue and creative exchange of ideas with the public, ART±BIO is a dynamic non-profit organization that fosters the integration of science, nature, and art through novel collaborations, research, public engagement and youth education. The natural environment is their canvas.
Seth Shipman’s elegant seemingly abstract photograph Zen Neuron (2015) shows a single human neuron, cultured in isolation. Miro-like, this neuron was differentiated from an induced stem cell, which itself was derived by reprogramming skin cells from a healthy adult donor. The skin cell donor was actually Boston Cyberarts founder and director George Fifield!
In the absence of other neurons, the brain cell shown here forms connections, or synapses, with itself. Information, in the form of electrical impulses, is sent down the axon in orange and received at synapses onto the dendrites and cell body in green, integrated, and sent again to the axon. This is is bioart brilliantly reduced to an aesthetically appealing cellular form.
(Above) Crochet Lysozymes:Bacteria+DNA, A Sampler of Bacterial Anatomy (2010) by Jessica Polka is a chart of various bacteria. She is currently a postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA. These Prokaryotic cells exhibit an astonishing range of sizes and shapes, their forms adapted to life in varied functions and environments. These include not literal representations of any real structure, the construction of shells, spheres, and compartments out of geometric sub-units, They demonstrate the biology of viruses and protein-based intracellular formations, DNA strands and enzymes. Through graphics and woven wool, the artist underscores the eloquent graphic quality of the elements in terms of shape, form and size.
Membrane: Biology and Art is a wonderfully conceived and curated show. The whole exhibition is as great as the individual art pieces. Erasing the line between biology and art is not an activity of diminishment but an act of not only aesthetic but also social context enhancement.
Membrane: Biology and Art
Boston Cyberarts Gallery
141 Green Street, Jamaica Plain MA 02130
Located in the Green Street T Station on the Orange Line. 617-522-6710.