The Art of Science
Memphis College of Art – Hyde Gallery
September 26 – November 3, 2012
What do you get when you cross a human tracheal epithelial cell with a paintbrush? The Art of Science 2012, on view at the Hyde Gallery in Memphis, Tennessee through November 3, 2012. This group exhibition was on my radar during the South Main Art Trolley Tour last month for a few reasons. The Hyde Gallery, located inside Memphis College of Art’s Nesin Graduate School, is one of my favorite downtown venues. It is a beautiful space and the shows are always noteworthy. I’d also been hearing a buzz about the project for a few of months leading up to the opening night. Being familiar with the work of several of the participating artists, I was anxious to see the final display.
The Art of Science, now in its second year, was conceived by Dr. Heather Smallwood of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and carried out through collaborations between St. Jude scientists and local visual artists. The project aims to “create a bridge between the arts and sciences in Memphis and heighten community awareness of the contributions these fields make to our everyday lives.” Combining local art and scientific research is a smart idea that has potential to create meaningful work for the region.
I’ve heard that great minds think alike, so when I arrived an hour into the opening reception I wasn’t surprised to find that overcrowding was an issue. One of the artworks was even damaged earlier in the evening due to the heavy foot traffic. I later read on Facebook that the exhibition attracted nearly 2,000 visitors in two hours. While I’d like to congratulate The Art of Sciencecollective on this public indicator of success, I will also encourage those 2,000 visitors to revisit the show during regular gallery hours. In order to fully appreciate what’s been accomplished, this complex body of scientific and artistic research requires thoughtful, and quiet consideration.
The exhibition scored high points for diversity in media and form. Biomedical scientific research imagery was transformed into paintings, sculptures, and installations. Materials ranged from glass to metal and mirrors to ice. A small, barely-lit room in the back of the gallery featured a magical display of work that incorporated light and technology. Among them was local illustrator Derrick Dent’s memorable translation of cranial birth defect research.
Artists approached new content from two angles. Some worked within the boundaries of their established aesthetic while others diverted from their creative method completely. I was most impressed by those artists who remained loyal to their proven media and style. These artworks were easily associated with their maker and displayed a pleasing amount of experimentation.
Local documentary photographer Andrew J. Breig presented a large-scale aerial shot of an illuminated Memphis roadway at dusk. The photograph resembled the formal qualities of line, space, and color present in microscopic images of fruit fly larva used to study muscular dystrophy and fit well within the artist’s expected genre. Printmaker Eszter Sziksz transfers images onto nontraditional materials such as eggshells and more recently, ice. Her piece, featuring blue outlines of mitochondria printed on milky ice and illuminated from below, was straightforward, effective, and satisfying.
I was less excited by the work of artists who strayed from their established media and style. This approach was confusing, disorienting, and for me, suggested an artistic roadblock. Kimberly Thomas typically fashions artworks using one material: used plastic shopping bags. The artist went out on a limb for The Art of Science and created a drawing with salt and pepper. This unusual choice of materials was a nod to Dr. Chunliang Li who uses a slide staining process called “salt and peppering” to study the development of mice embryos. While I appreciate Thomas’s attempt to connect her traditional and experimental media under the umbrella of “common, everyday, materials,” I longed for plastic shopping bags.
If you’re in the Memphis area, check out The Art of Science for yourself. The Hyde Gallery is located at 477 South Main. Hours are Fridays 5-9 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays, 12-5 p.m.
Jenny Hornby is a visual art enthusiast who lives and works in Memphis, TN, and serves on the board of Number: Inc.