Seaweed unlike you’ve ever seen it: ‘Making Life Visible’ exhibit closes this weekend

Making Life Visible exhibit

Grinnell College, Faulconer Gallery — through June 10

Jaq Chartier, “Magenta/Green,” 2016, acrylic, inks, stains, dyes and spray paint on panel. Courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery.

Visit Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College this Saturday for a last chance to tour Making Life Visible: Art, Biology and Visualization. Tours this Saturday, June 9, run 12-1 p.m. and 4-5 p.m. and are part of Grinnell Summerfest, a day of workshops, cultural performances and family oriented activities.

The tour is led by the exhibit’s co-curators, biologist Jonathan “Jackie” Brown and art historian Lesley Wright. Brown, a Grinnell professor, has an ongoing interest in art and Wright, director of the Faulconer Gallery, has a curiosity for science. Working alongside students who also have an interest in both, they chose 110 works spanning over 500 years. From Jacob Hoefnagel’s 1592 Flemish engravings to magnified scorpion blood by Damien Laudier, the exhibit crosses over back and forth between art and science, exploring data imaging as artistic expression and artists’ scientific recordings and research.

Gail Wight, selection from “Copepodilia,” 2017, ultrachrome print on Arches aquarelle. Courtesy of the artist.

Assembled over two years, the exhibition’s images of bones, household insects, seaweed and rivers are seen in unfamiliar ways, requiring a deeper and broader look at the familiar. Seaweed, pressed flat, has relief patterns of random dots — plum colored and resembling amorphous vegetation, with tails, Gail Wight’s photographs of seaweed using a super high resolution digital camera give a sense of being backlit by photosynthesis.

Artist Jaq Chartier’s work can be perceived as science, but is actually an experiment with artist’s materials. Making her own dyes and inks, she isn’t capturing nucleic acid fragments, but rather is recording color overlay data responses with notes right on the art to inform the next “test.”

Gemma Anderson, “Isomorphogenesis No. 4,” 2014, drawing and watercolor. Courtesy of the artist.

Gemma Anderson, an artist who spends a great deal of time in natural history museums, investigates geometric forms in dynamic relation. Focusing on drawing as a method of pulling or extracting patterns from nature, Anderson proposes biological processes that could link prehistoric nature to plants, animals and geological formations today. Her abstractions, reminiscent of early abstract artist Hilma af Klint, form a possible core or foundational condition to both art and science. Anderson’s concept of isomorphology, which underpins her work, is described on her website as “a symbolic system and mode of abstraction. It can be understood as a visual language, which is coextensive with other modes of classification.”

The exhibit spans both an original Ernst Haeckel print book and beehive stills from Barrett Klein’s thermal imaging project, sparking deeper conversations on art and science. Methods of scientific inquiry have sometimes formed silos and created gaps, reconciled here through interdisciplinary relationships. Nature — mirrored in each piece of the exhibit, largely filtered through the lens of its western optical consciousness — does not present a unifying thread. However, the symbolic abstraction of Anderson’s isomorphology weaves closer than most, recovering for art what VanGogh did for particle wave theory. Geometry’s extension of nature’s growth of forms offers a possible next step to the transdisciplinary insights of this exhibit.

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