“Evolution of Inspiration” – Gallery Atsui

IMG_4566_windowDisplayOn November 14th I went to the Atsui Gallery on East Hastings, Vancouver, to see the “Evolution of Inspiration” exhibit, featuring the works of seven local multidisciplinary artists. The exhibit, which opened on November 8th, was based on the theme of science and related fields of inquiry, and was geared to celebrate 150 years since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. The small gallery accommodated 7 pieces, ranging in media from photography to sculpture to needlepoint, all posing unique answers to the following question of Richard Dawkins:

If history had worked out differently, and Michelangelo had been commissioned to paint a ceiling for a giant Museum of Science, mightn’t he have produced something at least as inspirational as the Sistine Chapel? (from The God Delusion)

The idea of finding inspiration in nature, and more specifically, in scientific documentation of natural processes and events, is one that fits into the 21st century paradigm of conventional science as translator/facilitator between man and nature, instead of assisting man to triumph over nature.

Helen Eady - "Discovery Channel"

Helen Eady - "Discovery Channel"

In Helen Eady’s wood and acrylic “Discovery Channel”, I was treated to some extremely tongue-in-cheek biological illustrations in charming style. The 9-panel piece, which featured hand-drawn ink illustrations of various copulating animals on wild, day-glo colored backgrounds, proposed both the idea of sex as spectacle and the animal as “other”.  The piece made me question why we, as humans, might view animal sex as entertaining/educational. Is it because it is somehow external and removed from the act of human copulation? By what process is the act of sex imbued with higher or lower cultural value? These questions invoked much thought and discussion about the significance of biological functions and the roles they play in artistic representation.

Verena Kaminiarz - "May the Mice Bite Me If It Is Not True"

Verena Kaminiarz - "May the Mice Bite Me If It Is Not True"

The second piece I examined was Verena Kaminiarz’s series of plaster death masks. “May the Mice Bite Me If It Is Not True” involved a process-based art form—the raising of 4 disease model mice, to be used in scientific research, and documenting the trials of their short lifespan. The disease model mice function as a medium for experimental portraiture, and the plaster masks remain in memoriam to the animal sacrifice that took place in order to assist science. The 8 death masks shift perceptions from objects of biological science to subjects of cultural inquiry. The attempt to question and blur our understanding of the boundary between species, and also between humans and animals, is a successful one.

jesse gray - long division I

jesse gray - long division I

The third piece I wish to highlight is Jesse Gray’s Long Division #1 and #2. This artist used collection and archiving most effectively to investigate the invisible histories of discarded consumer objects. Using post-consumer waste, such as circuit board resistors, copper wire from telephones, panes of glass from discarded windows, and reworking these separate components into abstract organic forms, like dividing bacteria, provoked a thoughtful contrast between the organic and the inorganic, the macro and the microscopic.

Jesse Gray - Long Division II

Jesse Gray - Long Division II

 

 

 

 

The piece succeeded in symbolically representing the analogies and anomalies of the process of manufacture by nature and man, and making a powerful statement about the injustice inherent in the politics of commodity production.

 

 

The show overall presented a number of interesting themes, amongst them: thought-provoking and sometimes shocking juxtapositions of content; exposition of paradoxes present in scientific ideas; and art that illustrates the discoveries and objects of science as receptacles of cultural and personal memory.  The show also questioned the manner in which material reality surrounds us, is influential, and is influenced by the people and creatures that inhabit it.

Many of the pieces exposed how the artistic process mirrors process in nature, and how both can be understood and comprehended via the scientific milieu. The show reminded me of art that might grace the walls of someone like Darwin or Dawkins, as it reflects in visual form a lot of the same subject matter they reflect on in their respective writing. An attention to detail, without losing sight of the place of the individual within the macrocosm is necessary to view each piece, but without the context of the whole exhibit one gets the impression that something valuable would be lost, that one could not add or take away anything without ruining the delicate balance of playful curiosity, puzzling paradox and dizzying epiphany this exhibit achieved.
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“Evolution in Inspiration” runs until November 28th, at Gallery Atsui, 602 East Hastings, Vancouver, BC. Contact info@galleryatsui.com for more details.

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