Installation view, SoFA Gallery

Human Nature: The Natural World
October 20 – November 18, 2006

This first exhibit in the Human Nature series will feature recent and contemporary visual art and scientific imaging that depicts the corporal body as it relates to nature and scientific thought. The works in the show will address ideas of the landscape and environmental issues, health care and population, and will incorporate cultural ideas about nature and our place within it. Over forty examples of painting, sculpture, video projection and animation, sound works, and installation will be represented.
Human Nature is a two-part exhibition of visual art and scientific imaging. This project utilizes examples of contemporary visual art to examine our relationship to nature and current explorations in the life sciences. It is necessary for our culture to understand and gather information about new research in biotechnology, mapping the genome, cloning, genetic engineering, stem cell research, and other issues. Contemporary artists are creating works about the humanistic, cultural, biological and ethical concerns related to these themes and can provide timely insight and an access point for cultural reflection.

Since the 1980’s there has been a resurgence of interest in artists addressing themes related to nature and science. Early on, artists reflected these themes in high profile works about the corporal body. With new science on stem cell research, cloning, and other discoveries, artists have begun incorporating concepts and the implications of this research into their work. They are re-interpreting scientific discoveries and addressing related ethical and moral issues in unique visual ways.

The visual artists chosen for this exhibit each reflect the enormous difference between the complexity of individual people and their lives and the reductive quality of scientific data. Research in the life sciences is as complex in its representation as visual art is, but many artists provide insight into the ambiguity of the individual and their resulting works are just as complex. For instance, Wim Delvoye risks controversy in order to share with the viewer a fascination with the functions of the human animal that are no less mysterious despite their collectivity. Trophy depicts two deer in the biological act of copulation but as it would occur between two humans, and it is this subtle humor which allow us to investigate our most basic biological desires and intimate mysteries afresh.

Like Delvoye, Lorna Simpson is among many artists who, since the early 1990’s, have represented the interest in nature and science through works about the corporal body.
Simpson has often expressed in her work the social configurations of power and knowledge that are presupposed by “biology.” Same regards collectivity with the braid as a symbol of the socially and biologically defined characteristics that are complicit in racialized marking, and yet it is a quietly defiant image of identities that are individually produced rather than biologically determined.

Today, there is more visualization and imaging in science than ever before. In addition, the technology utilized in new media works continue to enhance artists’ explorations into the natural world and the ever-present influence of science in our everyday lives. Images are integral in today’s scientific research, and the results have underlying value as tangible objects that can be examined and addressed on a human scale as visual objects. Scientific imaging creates a bridge in understanding the abstract nature of research, and initiates questions about the relationship of art and science.

Exhibit catalog available via Friends of Art Bookshop, Indiana University

Catalog essay:
Nature, Bioart and Creative Autonomy