Art of Science: Kelly Heaton’s Pollination Is Not Just for Plants

Detail from Kelly Heaton, The Beekeeper, 2015. Kinetic sculpture made with steel, cast resin, brass, electronics, wood and paint.
Detail from Kelly Heaton, The Beekeeper, 2015. Kinetic sculpture made with steel, cast resin, brass, electronics, wood and paint.

Kelly Heaton’s new exhibition, Pollination, uses the central motif of plant sex to explore subjects from the scientific (colony collapse disorder) to the romantic (human sexual attraction), to the technological (the spread of ideas). And she uses a dizzying array of media to do it.

The show, at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York through October 24, is dominated by The Beekeeper, a huge kinetic sculpture in which bees fly around an illuminated honeycomb rooted in a landscape of floral electronics.

Heaton also created eight perfumes for the exhibition. Bee The Flower is an “artist’s toolbox” for painting your body with perfume and “pollen.” The perfumes, which visitors can smell, include one made from bee-friendly plants and one actually extracted from dollar bills.

Other works in the show include paintings, pastels and sculptures exploring ideas about the changing world of agricultural production and about humans’ “infestation” by electronics.

If you can’t make it to New York to see Pollination, Heaton, who has degrees in both art and science, has also written a book about the show, which is available on Amazon. You can see more of her work on her website.

Art of Science: The Shigir Idol is Older than Stonehenge, Just as Mysterious

The Shigir Idol Photo: The Siberian Times
The Shigir Idol
Photo: The Siberian Times

Most of the oldest surviving art in the world is made of stone. But scientists now believe that the Shigir Idol, a huge, enigmatic wooden sculpture found in a peat bog in Russia in 1890, is twice as old as the pyramids at Giza.

The Idol, which once stood about 15 feet tall, depicts a man with many faces and an elaborate pattern of carved lines.

The sculpture was carbon-dated in 1997 and determined to be about 9,500 years old. However, many scientists disputed the findings, so curators at the Sverdlovsk Museum decided to submit samples for re-testing.

A lab in Germany conducted tests using Accelerated Mass Spectrometry on seven tiny wooden samples. The results indicated the idol was in fact about 11,000 years old, from the early Holocene epoch.  It was carved from a larch tree using stone tools.

Professor Mikhail Zhilin, of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archeology, told the Siberian Times: “We study the Idol with a feeling of awe.  The ornament is covered with nothing but encrypted information. People were passing on knowledge with the help of the Idol.” While the sculpture’s carvings remain “an utter mystery to modern man,” Zhilin said the Idol’s creators “lived in total harmony with the world, had advanced intellectual development, and a complicated spiritual world.”

The Art of Science: The Antsy Art of Loren Kronemyer

Brain, from Myriad, 2012
Brain, from Myriad, 2012

Ants fascinate humans with their strength, their adaptability and their astonishing ability to work together to achieve goals. Artist Loren Kronemyer enlisted large groups of them to create her 2012 project, Myriad.

Kronemyer draws on paper with pheromones, then releases ants onto the paper. The ants, drawn to the scent, briefly cooperate in completing her designs before going back to their own patterns of movement. The artist explains that her projects explore “the notion of living drawing” as a collaboration showing the interplay of insect and human intelligence. Kronemyer, who has also created drawings with living tissues, says:

“The ant colony is a superorganism, a system with its own intelligence made up of many individuals, and the tissue is a fragment of an individual that is itself made up of many discreet living entities. I sit somewhere in the middle, meddling with both yet at the same time responsible for caring for them and keeping them alive.” (source)

The various works in Myriad are full of life and movement. The image of the brain, in particular, works as a great visual metaphor for a short attention span, or perhaps a sudden realization.  Kronemyer, an American who moved to Australia to work with SymbioticA Lab, says that “at a certain point I stopped being interested in just representing living systems, and wanted to work with the systems themselves.” It’s a long way from paint and marble, yet the visual delight of her work keeps it from simply becoming a science-fair project and plants it firmly in the territory of art.

You can see more of Loren Kronemyer’s work at her website.

The Art of Science: Stylish Sci Tattoos, Minus Pain

DNA temporary tattoo by the Vexed Muddler
DNA temporary tattoo by the Vexed Muddler

The Science Tribe are a proud people, many of whom display their allegiances on their skin in a dazzling variety of geeky tattoos. Science writers @Scicurious and @Laelaps, for example, both have cool tats designed by @FlyingTrilobite – a caffeine molecule and some dino bones. But there are those who fear the needle, or the commitment, of permanent ink. For them, The Vexed Muddler has created a new series of temporary science tattoos, available in her etsy shop. The Vexed Muddler (aka Peggy Muddles) is a biology lab tech by day, and she knows her microbes. You can chose from a variety of bacteria, a spiky virus and a classic DNA double helix. So be a trendsetter, wear your gut flora on the outside for a change. While you’re at it, you might want to accessorize with one of the Muddler’s lovely ceramic necklaces, in styles ranging from mitochondria to whipworms.

The Art of Science: Radical Elements

Grace Harbin Wever, Iridium - My Darkness to Light II, 2013, Mixed Media
Grace Harbin Wever, Iridium – My Darkness to Light II, 2013, Mixed Media

Soft materials meet hard science in Radical Elements, an exhibition at the National Academy of Sciences featuring 40 contemporary art quilts, each inspired by a different element from the periodic table. The works in the show, organized by Studio Art Quilt Associates, explore the elements in many ways, ranging from their industrial uses to personal memories associated with them. For example, Barbara Schulman’s piece, A Pepto Bismuth Story (below), started with the “beautiful crystalline structure” and iridescent colors of the element, which reminded the artist of her mother’s hankies and lace, so she incorporated them into the design along with bismuth’s best-known consumer product, Pepto-Bismol.

Grace Harbin Wever’s Iridium – My Darkness to Light II (above), takes a more strictly scientific idea, although she expresses it in a highly artistic, indirect way. The artist, a former cell biologist, was intrigued when she learned that iridium microelectrodes had been successfully implanted into the human brain as part of studies in vision and perception. A range of materials, including holographic fabric and copper wire, surround the central eye image, nodding to the juxtaposition of the natural and the man-made that characterizes recent advances in the field of vision.

Indeed, very few of the quilts on display stick to the traditional materials of fabric, thread and batting. Materials used range from duct tape and aluminum foil to keyboard keys and dining utensils. Curator Jill Rumoshosky Werner notes, “In a relatively short period of time, the field of art quilting has undergone a fundamental change. The primary focus has shifted from decorating the surface of a quilted wall hanging to a much broader acceptance of ideas, styles, and materials.”

Radical Elements is on exhibit at the NAS Building in Washington, DC, through October 19th.  Many of the quilts can be seen online here.

Barbara Schulman, A Pepto Bismuth Story, 2013, Mixed Media
Barbara Schulman, A Pepto Bismuth Story, 2013, Mixed Media
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