Art of Science: Klaus Enrique’s Dmanisi Skull

Klaus Enrique, Dmanisi Skull, 2014
Klaus Enrique, Dmanisi Skull, 2014

Artist Klaus Enrique uses a wild array of materials to create his sculptures, many of which are inspired by the work of 16th century painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo. He’s made a Mona Lisa out of fruit, a Princess Diana out of flower petals, and even a super-creepy Darth Vader out of dead insects. But for you, my geeky friends, I’ve chosen this very special piece – The Dmanisi Skull, a recreation of one of the most significant archaeological finds of the 21st century – made from small, hairless rodent corpses.

The real Dmanisi skull is a 1.8-million-year-old intact skull excavated from the town of Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia in 2005.  Scientists studied the skull and several others found nearby for several years before publishing a paper in Science in 2013 that posited that several early hominid species were, in fact, all one species – Homo erectus.

It’s no surprise that a huge discovery that rewrote a chapter of human evolution would inspire a work of art. But why the hairless mice? Could they be a nod to our even older ancestors, the shrewlike insectivores from which all mammals evolved? Or was Enrique playing on the tradition of the Memento Mori by making old, dry bones out of flesh?

Because of the highly perishable nature of his materials, Enrique doesn’t display his sculptures, but rather photographs them and exhibits the photos. You can see many more of his works on his website. For some fascinating insights into the Dmanisi discoveries, I recommend this post by anthropologist John Hawks, who once held the real skull in his hands.

The Art of Science: Jiyong Lee’s Genetics in Glass

Head-Thorax-Abdomen, white drosophila embryo segmentation, 2013
Head-Thorax-Abdomen, (white drosophila embryo segmentation), 2013

Jiyong Lee is a glass sculptor whose work plays with transparency and translucency, qualities that he says “serve as perfect metaphors for what is known and unknown about life science.”  Lee, who was born and raised in South Korea, was educated in the United States and is now a professor as well as a studio artist, heading the glass program at Southern Illinois University.

For the past few years, Lee has focused on the “Segmentation Series” – a group of sculptures based on cell division and genetics. In his words:

The Segmentation Series is inspired by my fascination with science of a cell, its division and the journey of growth that starts from a single cell and goes through a million divisions to become a life.  The segmented, geometrical forms of my work represent cells, embryos, biological and molecular structures—each symbolizing the building blocks of life as well as the starting point of life. The uniquely refined translucent glass surfaces suggest the mysterious qualities of cells and, on a larger scale, the cloudiness of their futures. The Segmentation Series is subtle and quiet yet structurally complex. I transform solid glass using cutting, lamination, carving, and surface refining processes to make art that is both beautiful and deeply invested with meaning.

The piece shown above, Head-Thorax-Abdomen, from 2013, is based on the embryo of a drosophila, or fruit fly. Drosophila are tiny creatures with a lifespan of weeks, but which have played an important role in the study of genetics and evolution.  Genetically, they have many similarities to humans, a fact which makes this piece a beautiful example of the profound interconnectedness of living beings.

Works from the Segmentation Series will be featured in a solo show of Lee’s work at the Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis, MO, from October 24 – November 29. You can see more work by Jiyong Lee at his website.

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