While discussing biology, physics, and truth, the artists making up a panel at Contemporary Arts Center last week naturally returned the conversation to aesthetics, particularly beauty, because in ART + SCIENCE (on exhibit in the gallery through July 29) beauty transforms the mundane, the hidden and everyday natural phenomena. It folds into the quest for understanding. It connects and reveals. It takes data-driven sciences and forms them into something visceral.
Curated by Las Vegas-based artist Linda Alterwitz, ART + SCIENCE brings together work that makes interesting bedfellows of the two disciplines. Rather than emphasizing divergent pursuits, it shows parallels in process, research, exploration and the role of happenstance. It highlights diversity in the medium of photography and portrays how differently four women, all national artists, deal with science in their artwork.
Alterwitz, who has been combining contemporary photography, X-rays and MRIs in her work for some years now (haunting images of ghostly human forms placed in surreal landscapes), met the artists at educational events and photo reviews. Two of them, including Montana artist Elizabeth Stone, were featured by Alterwitz in Lenscratch, an online magazine.
In ART + SCIENCE, Stone’s series of archival pigment prints, titled “40 Moons,” are circular "blueprints" composed of handwritten notes caregivers had documented during the last 40 months of her mother’s life with Parkinson’s. The photographed notes have been layered, reconfigured, arranged and obscured, creating designs that read like computer code, x-rayed fabric or the cosmos. Each “moon,” some densely blue, is a month’s worth of notes. Collectively they resemble a lunar cycle. For Stone, each is "a layered representation of a month, a blueprint to my mom’s existence as she returns to the stars,” work she says contemplates "human existence in relation to our biological origin in the cosmos.”
LA-based artist Ariana Page Russell also takes a personal approach in “Skin,” a series of color photographs documenting her condition of dermatographia. Plastered in 13-by-19-inch prints on one wall of the gallery is the temporary welting caused by scratched skin, created when excessive histamine releases into the immune system. Words, sentences, repetitive designs and the connecting of freckles mark her flesh. For Russell, the work—disturbing at first—embraces the condition by turning it into "something beautiful" and healing. The body has its own language, she says, something that serves as an "index of passing time."
Australian-born, Tucson, Arizona-based artist Kate Breakey uses infrared technology to photograph wildlife normally unseen in the dark of night outside her home. Breakey is known for her exquisite hand-colored photography of nature and its life cycles—birds dead and alive, flowers and elements of landscapes—and her hand-colored surveillance-style prints in ART + SCIENCE allow for a kind of voyeurism. Photographed in low resolution, enlarged and then hand painted (oil and pencil), the nature images have a contemporary edge, revealing intimately a moment in time.
Finally, Seattle-based artist Rebecca Cummins plunges fully into art and science, creating experiences of light and time through investigation. In "Seattle Sky, July 11, 2015: 2 am, 10 am, 6 pm," she captures light from the same perspective in three five-foot circular digital prints on honeycomb cardboard. Each taken at a different time of the same day, the three panels document color and density, much like the view through a James Turrell Skyspace. The artist, who earned a doctorate from the University of Technology Sydney, and teaches at the University of Washington, sees similar motivations and processes in art and in science. In her work, she explores the physics of light by creating rainbow machines and sun dials. She works with camera obscuras, marks time and casts shadows.
Though art and science have long been united, their recent separation in academia is a great misfortune. This exhibit demonstrates the ideal and natural coupling of the two.
ART + SCIENCE Through July 29., Contemporary Arts Center; Thursday through Sunday, noon-6 p.m.; 702-496-0569.