Thursday, 31 October 2013

Science as Muse: Synthesis at Manchester Science Festival 2013

Guest post by Louise Mackenzie, winner of the graduate art competition at the Synthesis Exhibition
“at first only mimesis was art, then several things were art but each tried to extinguish its competitors, and then, finally, it became apparent that there were no stylistic or philosophical constraints. There is no special way works of art have to be.”

Arthur C Danto, After The End of Art, 1997

The emptiness left by post-modernism influenced my work strongly at art school.  I was troubled by the lack of muse, the sense of nothingness within which contemporary art had to function.  It seemed to me that either I was left to create in the gaps between what already exists in the world, through appropriation or repetition, or that I could push out into the space beyond the known, through mutation and innovation.  I chose to reach beyond and my method was collaboration.  By teaming up with specialist skills and knowledge from other disciplines, it was possible to come up with novel forms of expression: for example the use of micro-algae as an oxygen producer to highlight our symbiotic relationship with the planet and hint at our abuse of it.

Louise Mackenzie, Life Support, 2013 (image Chris Foster)
The latter part of Danto’s quote is well suited to the Synthesis exhibition at Manchester Science Festival.  Showcasing work across the art-science genre, it represents an eclectic field.  Works on paper, canvas and ceramic stood alongside installations and sculptures.  Amidst new graduates (myself included) were the works of established artists such as Ivan Smith, Jo Berry, Lizz Tuckerman, the fast-paced, visceral video work of Gina Czarnecki and the serene yet startling glass micro-biology work of Luke Jerram.
Tracie Shaylor, Evolution and Atrophy, 2011 (image John Lynch)
 I was particularly drawn to the work of Tracie Shaylor and Eddy Dreadnought.  Both were eerie renditions of semi-human objects, conjuring thoughts of futures unknown  (Shaylor) and futures past (Dreadnought).  Dreadnought’s work had a garbological, post-human quality.  In pale skin tones and bone coloured hues, objects of unknown origin, strangely familiar (part of a discarded child’s scooter, a row of plastic hooks) were presented, slab-like on a matt black surface, under the surgical glare of a large lamp.  The precision and formula of the arrangement giving the appearance of archaeological finds, geometric equations and anatomical parts, all at the same time.  Shaylor’s work in contrast felt more physical.  In a dingy half-light, held within cages reminiscent of the work of Mona Hatoum, stand jars of pickled specimens.  On closer inspection the objects are dismembered male genitalia.  There is a sense of preservation and, set against the grimy brick walls of the gallery space, also one of dysfunction.  Alongside are perfect, shining aluminium discs; preserved upon them distorted images that, despite the material, have an organic quality.  The spherical shimmering surfaces convey something foetal and at the same time alien that, when combined with the caged specimens, give the unsettling feeling of a future world beyond our comprehension.

Eddy Dreadnought, Embryology of Thought, 2013 (image John Lynch)
It is the desire to push beyond what exists in the world that I think is the most important element of the Synthesis exhibition.  It inspires us to think of what is possible, if not yet realised.  With science as its muse, art has the potential to do more than imitate or illustrate, offering us insights into multiple futures.  Some that may, with the continued collaboration of art and science, become realities.

Synthesis runs until 10 November at Victoria Warehouse, Manchester

Louise Mackenzie


Unknown said...

A fantastic review and a good summary of the popularised Art/Science hybrid.

Unknown said...

Nice article. interesting Blog
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