Art of Science: Shawn Smith’s Wild Pixel Kingdom

Shawn Smith, Pronking Impala, Mixed Media, 2015

Shawn Smith, Pronking Impala, Mixed Media, 2015

Centuries ago, when an artist wanted to depict an animal he hadn’t seen before, he had to rely on descriptions or travelers’ sketches. This led to the creation of many inaccurate images, perhaps the most famous of which is Dürer’s rhinoceros.

We’ve come a long way since the 16th century. But have the enormous advances in the capture and dissemination of images really brought us closer to the visual reality of animals in the wild? Shawn Smith’s exhibition Pixels, Predators and Prey at the Artisphere in Arlington, Virginia, explores this question to intriguing effect.

Smith’s show “examines the evolutionary collision between nature and the digital world through the creation of a pixelated natural world.”

Growing up in large cities, Smith’s interactions with nature were limited to the pixelated representations he viewed on television and on his computer screen. These images would later serve as inspiration for Pixels, Predators and Prey.

Smith examines how we experience nature through the lens of technology by creating three-dimensional sculptures of two-dimensional images sourced from the internet. Each nature sculpture in Pixels, Predators and Prey is built pixel-by-pixel with hand-cut, hand-dyed strips of wood in an overtly laborious process that is in direct contrast to the slipperiness and speed of the digital world.

The work in the exhibition draws inspiration from biology and the struggle a single cell must endure to remain alive. In the same way a cell plays a crucial role in the identity of an organism, Smith explores how each pixel plays an important role in the identity of the object. – Artisphere

Smith’s work is beautiful, original and thought-provoking. However many photographs we’ve seen online, can we honestly say we know what a shark or deer truly looks like? Although those large animals, like the Pronking Impala (above) are the most striking, perhaps the most creepily seductive piece in the show is the half-pixelated, half-naturalistically rendered brain and spinal cord, portentously titled Becoming. Are we? And if so, should we be afraid?

Pixels, Predators and Prey is on view at Artisphere’s Terrace Gallery until June 14. You can see more of his work at his website.

Shawn Smith, Becoming, Mixed Media, 2014

Shawn Smith, Becoming, Mixed Media, 2014

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