Sinister beauty 

Visual Arts

Who says art and science have to exist in tension? Biomimicry, one of a handful of exhibits officially curated in conjunction with the recent NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) Conference, speaks to a conscious effort on the part of curators to acknowledge the deeper roots of all that is created. As Herron Gallery director David Russick offers, biomimicry is “innovation inspired by nature.” Nature has its own naturally evolving universe and maintains its own laws — that artists either consciously or unconsciously emulate.
 
-"The Inquisitors," by Beth Cavener Stiehter, part of the ‘Biomimicry' exhibit at Herron Gallery.-
 

The international roster of artists who were invited to participate in Biomimicry have something to say in visual terms about the primordial nature of all creative acts. What makes this collection of work so compelling, even beyond this intriguing premise, is the fact that all of the work is rich with the intellectual substance that truly fine art challenges us to perceive. These are not pretty objects wrought from clay — and yet some are beautiful to behold, even in a sinister sense. Nature, as we all know, can disturb our sensibilities while fascinating them. (The creep of mold on abandoned food in the refrigerator is one case in point.)

Artists such as Eva Kwong (whose art was conspicuous throughout NCECA) are most obvious in their biomimicry intentions; as Kwong herself states, “My work for several decades has been inspired by my wonderment of the natural world within and around us.” Indeed, the shapes of nature, from a purely visual standpoint, begin with the rounded form of an egg or cell, and from here morph into larger rounded shapes from which protrusions are born. Kwong’s work is all about such primitive forms and their requisite protrusions, and yet they speak to something far beyond the fundamental. Pieces such as “Bacteria, Diatoms and Cells,” an installation of small “biomorph” forms inspired by microscopic structures from algae to viruses, are metaphors at heart. The series of objects form a community of sorts, living in an interdependent aesthetic harmony.

Beth Cavener Stichter was inspired by way of her ceramist mother and molecular biologist father. “From my mother I learned the language of clay and the power of ideas passed through hands,” she writes. “My father and I spent hours staring at the night sky, while he stretched the seams of my imagination with tales of recombinant DNA and evolutionary battles on the microscopic scale.” Cavener Stichter’s work offers a darker perspective, if only by suggestion. The human intentions behind science do not always yield beneficent results; in fact, nightmares often result. “The Inquisitors,” a pair of goats who share a head, is a disturbing caricature of what can go wrong in our efforts to coax nature into our own designs.

A dozen artists in all comprise Biomimicry, their work ranging from the creepy to the sublime, with a multitude of variations: Brian Boldon, Jason Briggs, Beth Cavener Stichter, Scott Chamberlin, Ying-Yueh Chuang, Gary Erickson, Mia Fetterman-Mulvey, Karen Gunderman, Rain Harris, Eva Kwong, Michael Jones McKean and Brad Miller form the complete list. In the exhibition catalogue, guest essayist Mark Pescovitz, MD, writes, “The science of biomimicry studies the solutions to complex problems discovered by nature, which allowed nature to survive and advance … Biomimics are learning from other species on earth. Their goal is not to control nature, but to learn from nature.” Certainly, artists are poised to reveal nature’s truths, for better or worse.

Biomimicry runs through April 3 at Herron Gallery, Herron School of Art at IUPUI, 1701 N. Pennsylvania, call 920-2455. A number of other official and unofficial NCECA-inspired ceramics exhibits are still on view; check out the NUVO Calendar for more information.

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