Monday, May 31, 2010

Lively dead

Thursday night was the first time I went back to the Museum of Arts and Design since its opening. I went with good reasons. First it was a pay-what-you-wish night. And second, the current exhibition "Dead or Alive" is truly intriguing and amazing.
It's the kind of exhibition that could have been held in Hogwarts. Here you see ginger roots, lotus leaves, millet seeds, kelp, feathers, horse hairs, various insects, cocoons, oyster shells, snake skin, and even a skeleton of a centaur.

Shen Shaomin, Sagittarius, 2005
Bone, bone meal, glue

It's not the first time artists have moved beyond conventional mediums like paint and marble, but it was quite impressive to see this collective endeavor of exploring materiality, or "matter-reality" of organic substance. Cuban-born artist Fabián Peña talked about his cockroach wing mosaics as "a material that I can easily find," and "it's cheaper than buying paint." Of course the choice of material is more than just pragmatics. It's a challenge of our views towards the repulsive creatures. I saw two girls observing with great interest a heap of something that artist Alastair Mackie put together. When they finally realized what they were looking at, they frowned, "Ew, mouse bones taken from owl poop? That's gross!" Why didn't they say that when they first saw the heap? Well... I guess what it is does matter more than how it looks.

Fabián Peña. The Impossibility of Storage for the Soul I, 2007
Cockroach wing fragments, translucent paper, light box

Alastair Mackie. Untitled (+/-), 2009 (part)
Mouse skeletons, concrete

Some pieces like that may be eerily chilling, but overall, there's a certain playful tone. Nothing is really as strikingly disturbing as Damien Hirst's bull's head in "End of an Era." (He's actually part of this show too, but this time there are only butterfly wings.) I think it has to do with the fact that most of the objects in the show are smaller aggregates put together through either an unexpected arrangement or an intricate assembly.

Claire Morgan's flies, for example, are arranged very geometrically as a cube, with a spider disturbing the top and "causing" a couple of flies breaking away from the grid. Young Dutch artist Levi van Veluw applied (not photoshopped) miniature shrubs, trees, and animals onto the contours of his own head and created a series of self-portraits/landscape photos. The living human body becomes a platform and at the same time the core of a replicated nature.

Claire Morgan. On Top of the World, 2009
Bluebottle flies, spider, nylon, lead, acrylic

Levi van Veluw. Landscape I, 2008

Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta of studio DRIFT gathered dandelions, removed the puffs and then obsessively glued them back seed by seed to LED lights. Tim Hawkinson's Point (2009) is also included in the exhibition. At first glance, it seems like a 3D printed object that resembles an organic looking Voronoi structure. In fact, the fragments were cut from eggshell, utilizing their natural curvature to form the delicate piece. Incredible imagination and craftsmanship!

studio DRIFT. Fragile Future 3, 2009
Phosphorus bronze, dandelion puffs, LEDs

Tim Hawkinson. Point, 2009

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