“REALSPACE” combines works of art and works of science, blurring what might seem to be traditional boundaries between the two disciplines. Opening the catalog for the multifaceted exhibition, curator Stephen Nowlin traces the evolution of humanity’s obsession with mark making and the desire to capture the natural world pictorially, in part, as a means to understand the universe. From the very beginning to the latest ongoing experimentations, he argues, art has served as a means to illustrate or investigate scientific fact — or sometimes both.
The exhibition encompasses a wide range of media, from 19th-century engravings in the central gallery to large-scale projections by Jennifer Steinkamp and Rebeca Méndez at each end. An example of the former, James Ferguson’s scientific illustrations for the 19th-century tome “Astronomy” explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s principles are presented in their original form and accompanied by contemporary prints of the works hung around the central gallery. Of the latter, Steinkamp’s multicolored asteroid-like forms are paradoxically set adrift, yet confined by the parameters of the room’s architecture. The pastel patterns across the rocky surface are not whimsical designs by the artist, but rather they are based on the panspermia theory that life on Earth began as “seeds everywhere,” which originally descended to earth from space. At the other end, a single-channel video projection by Rebeca Méndez, “CircumSolar, Migration 3” (2013) accompanied by the industrial tones of Drew Schnurr’s audio track, literally turns a seemingly simple narrative on its ear. The grainy black-and-white video captured, at a slightly disorienting and jumpy low frame rate, the migrations of sea birds flying over the North Atlantic Ocean. But “over” becomes a relative term, as the projection appears to be set at a 90-degree angle and the horizon becomes a disorienting vertical division between land and earth.
Originally published in ArtScene (Jan 2015)