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Art, Technology and the Natural World explores new and hybrid intersections of biology, technology and art. In the exhibition, thirty international artists offer unique and challenging responses to the way technology alters our concept of nature while considering its effect on social, ethical and cultural dimensions of our society.
While reason and science once dictated mankind’s mastery and domination of nature, today many people strive to be an equal partner to all living things. Indeed, some go so far as to “bridge nature and the mind, animal and mineral, being and matter” (Paul Galvez). Engaged with the speed of developing technological innovations, artists in Art, Technology and the Natural World summon an awareness of the risks and exciting potential of our historic time. Their work is organized in diverse installations including a focus on artist Andy Warhol, geopolitics in Africa, the power of the senses and a contemporary model of the Wunderkammer, or the Cabinet of Curiosities.
The installation Repurposing the Wunderkammer is based on Enlightenment’s eclectic 16th-17th century collections, cabinets of curiosity that contained natural specimens, scientific instruments, ethnographic items, illustrations, and art. For this installation, conceived by Sean Miller, fifteen artists have created contemporary versions of these early museums using exhibitions, archival techniques, historical research, and collections as a part of their practice.
Another installation is dedicated to Andy Warhol, one of the most influential figures in contemporary art and culture, who once famously claimed, “I want to be a machine.” Blatantly celebrating consumerism and mass culture, he eliminated the presence of the artist’s hand in his work. Warhol incorporated new technology throughout his art. Working from his legendary studio, the “Factory,” Warhol created mass produced silkscreen paintings, worked with E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) and was one of the first artists to create digital artworks on a computer.
Lumination connects technology with physical, intellectual and emotional dimensions of life. Haegue Yang’s work is reminiscent of both life-forms and technological remnants from the past. Olafur Eliasson’s work compels us to view ourselves in relation to space as well as time. Using light as his tool, he envelops viewers in an environment of shared experience. An admirer of Eliasson’s work, scholar Caroline Jones asserts that it is through the experience of our senses that we think. Other installations in the exhibition provide a variety of different perspectives.
Human activities are indelibly intertwined with nature. But to what extent is debatable. Eco-activist Vandana Shiva states that “living organisms, unlike machines, organize themselves” and “cannot be treated as simply ‘biotechnological inventions,’ ‘gene constructs,’ or ‘products of the mind’.” In contrast, scholar Donna Haraway celebrates the “lively area of transgenic research worldwide” which produces hybrids such as “the potato with a gene from the giant silk moth, which increases disease resistance.” We are at a critical juncture in the relationship between technology and nature, a place where art serves as crucial site of mediation and platform for further investigation.
Warhol famously claimed he was a “machine,” identifying himself and his work as instruments of mass production, a reverse of today’s claims of “personhood” by corporations. His work was imbued with humor and irony. At the same time, his preoccupation with death and disaster reveals a keen awareness of the darker side of American culture. Warhol’s work incorporated glamour and the mundane, the fashionable and the terrifying, all in uneasy juxtaposition. For Warhol, celebrity and violence played equal parts in a wider category of image consumption. His work connected an underlying cultural framework — the image world of spectacle, commodification and desire.
Light is a form of radiant energy, and it is also related to cerebral and spiritual concepts of enlightenment. As scholar Caroline Jones asserts, it is through the experience of our senses that we think. Two artists in this installation use light as the primary medium of their work, connecting technology with physical, intellectual and emotional dimensions of life.
Haegue Yang’s work, Ornamental Mountains and Seas- Monster & Cloud, utilizes the invisible source of electricity as a metaphor for the potential connections between people and ideas across time and history. Living in Germany and Korea, Yang has been a witness to rapid industrialization and its potential to erase the past. In response, she resurrects forgotten cultures to bind them with the present. Her work on view here references contemporary urban environments and Shan Hai Jing (The Classic of Mountains and Seas), a manuscript first written in the third century BCE and considered to be the oldest book in Chinese mythology.
In his work Fivefold Sphere Projection Lamp, Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson projects a powerful beam of light through the open spaces of a copper globe. It casts a fantastic pattern of light and shadow, shaped and distorted by the contours of the walls. The viewer is enveloped in the visual environment, becoming a participant and creator of the experience. Yang and Eliasson create an atmosphere that compels us to view ourselves in relation to space as well as time.
Wunderkammern were collections maintained by 16th and 17th century scholars and nobility. These eclectic collections were precursors to contemporary museums and coincided with global exploration and the colonization of various lands by European nations. The methods of organization and curation for these collections are, at times, perplexing to contemporary thinking due to their broad holdings and lack of specialization. Each collection was organized with different goals, hierarchies, acquired materials, and classification systems, suited to the owner’s interest. Packed with natural curiosities, specimens, scientific instruments, treasures, books, architectural models, ornate woodworking, devices of wonder, globes, paintings, statues, and other rare never-before-seen objects, the collections intended to provide aesthetic engagement, new knowledge, and invoke a state of wonder in viewers.
A wunderkammer attempted to condense the entire planet, and all of the wonders within it, into a single room or building. Items in the collections could be, at times, beautiful, odd, curious, horrific, and humorous. Regardless of the ways contemporary artists, scientists, and audiences perceive these historic collections, their “echoes” are still audible and visible in the galleries of contemporary museums of art and science. These museums share similarities in exhibition techniques, organization/protection of collections, curatorial staff, preparators, and the research of historical objects and artifacts. These become common ideas when artists and scientists plan a public exhibition. This exhibition utilizes the museum, its history, and the natural world as a way to engage the public, and practitioners in science and art, in a meditation on a shared history and hopefully inspires new possibilities for future collaborations in these disciplines.
Political transformation is often the site of artistic transformation. Works in this installation reflect the symbiotic relationship between aesthetics and imperialism, nationalism, science, ethnicity, and race in Africa. After World War II, the nations of Africa were transformed by the extraordinary series of independence and liberation movements that put a stop to racist domination. The tumultuous times ushered in a new and emancipated image of Africa and Africans that upended former stereotypes of primitivism, biological essentialism and cultural impoverishment.
The influence of this revolutionary change is apparent throughout the Harn installation. When American portrait artist Hester Ayers, travelled to Africa in 1968, most countries in the continent had secured their independence from colonial rule. Intent on portraying the new subjects of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, Ayers rendered her subjects with keen attention and respect for their individuality and distinctive cultural identities. Like Ayers, South African Zwelethu Mthethwa highlights the dignity and independent agency of his subjects. Created a decade after the end of apartheid, Mthethwa’s subject is far from the sensationally abject figure perpetrated by mass media. Honoring a rich cultural history, Kehinde Wiley stages his male figures in the traditional pose of ancient ancestral portraits. One young man wears a pendant inscribed with the image of Léopold Sédar Sengho, a Senegalese poet and statesman who for two decades served as the first president of Senegal after colonial rule.
William Kentridge and El Anatsui are among the most acclaimed contemporary artists in the art world. Fully embedded in Western culture, they also mine the history, tradition and political struggles unique to their own countries. In his luminous metallic tapestry made from tops of liquor bottles, El Anatsui honors ancient traditions of weaving and traces the debilitating consumption of alcohol in Ghana to the colonial slave-trade of the past. William Kentridge’s bronze figures allude to an endless procession of people who have moved through the landscape, history and experience of apartheid in South Africa.
This exhibition is made possible by the 150th Anniversary Cultural Plaza endowment.
View additional information and the checklist of works in the exhibition here.
Sunday, July 19, 3 p.m.
"Cabinet of Curiosities: Bugs, Abandoned Spaces and a Coconut"
Sun., Nov. 16, 2014, 3 p.m.
"Warhol Reimagining Beethoven"Silvio J. dos Santos, UF Associate Professor of Musicology, will discuss Andy Warhol’s Beethoven on view and the fascination with Beethoven’s image in 20th-century America.
Sat., Jan. 10, 2015, 3 p.m.
"Cabinet of Wondering"
California-based Artist Kim Abeles will discuss her work in Art, Technology and the Natural World via live video stream. Sean Miller, Artist and Co-Curator of Repurposing the Wunderkammer: Building a New Space for Science and Art will introduce Abeles.
Sat., Feb. 21, 2015, 1 – 4 p.m.
"Art, Science & Florida"
Take a family tour of the exhibition Art, Technology and the Natural World. Experiment with watercolor and printmaking inspired by cabinets of curiosity and Andy Warhol’s screenprints. Watch art and science collide through hands-on activities! Families with children of all ages are welcome.
ART AND SCIENCE PANEL DISCUSSION
Saturday, March 28, 2 p.m.
Curators, artists and scientists will engage with the shared history of science and art highlighted in Repurposing the Wunderkammer: Building a New Space for Science and Art and welcome audience discussion on future collaborations in these disciplines.