Science Fiction is an interesting mix of intellectual inquisitiveness and visual experimentation, a combination often found in art from Canberra. This is a dual art exhibition (two different sets of work from two different artists) that seeks to move one step further, as the artists themselves become scientists and explore new technological possibilities.
Kynic by Benjamin Forster is a difficult exhibition to like. Forster’s pencil drawings depict nightmarish misconceptions of the process of creating an ‘immortal cell,’ using both human and canine DNA. This work is based on the ancient Greek philosophy of Cynicism, the word for which is rooted in the Greek word for dog, kynikos, and known for seeking to deny human follies and connect with nature by living on the streets, like dogs. This was referenced in the presentation as a pile of discarded papers, with passages highlighted in torn books.
There is a significant visual disconnect between this and the actual scientific process Forster has employed in attempting to create a real cell that is human and canine. The experiment is represented only by a blank slide, as the cells were not viable and died. This is likely intentional, highlighting a disconnection between the hysteria of broader society towards scientific experiments, and the reality is of mundane work in a lab. But in the end I found myself much more interested in reading the catalogue than looking at the work, as the catalogue actually describes the process of scientific experimentation Forster has gone through. I would have liked to see the juxtaposition between his drawings of humans with canine heads, and other frightening figures, and the reality of the process described in the catalogue.
The catalogue assures us Foster’s intentions are pure in conducting this ethically challenging experiment. He seems to suggest such concerns are baseless because the science is not yet viable, leaving us to make up our own minds.
Monster by Erica Seccombe includes a video of the 3D modelling of a common garden slater, magnified in size, and 3D print-outs from the computer model. One problem I had with the work was that the dramatically bigger garden slater was apparently supposed to be a comment on the alienating effect of magnification. The creature, however, ended up looking a little too ‘friendly’.
It may have been the inviting colours and textures of the works, or potentially the plethora of Pixar movies that have made me think anything from a bug to a yellow jellybean is ‘cute,’ but I didn’t feel any of the ‘fear and awe’ that David Broker (in the catalogue) suggests is present. When confronted with a giant isopod, repulsion would most likely be a pretty strong impulse, but in this context it feels like more of a theoretical outcome than an actual outcome.
Seccombe’s work does, however, reveal a playful use of technology that highlights both the possibilities and limitations of 3D Microcomputed X-ray Tomography in combination with 3D printers. Seccombe has printed the slater at many different sizes, gleefully cutting away sections to reveal the slater’s inner workings (including, as she pointed out, its last meal).
As impressive as the 3D printing technology is, the size to which Seccombe has chosen to blow up the creatures reveals the limits of the technology. Seccombe shows the arm of the slater in increasing sizes, which starts to resemble an abstract sculpture, as textures are lost at the limits of the scanning technology.
Overall, Monster is a complex exploration of the interplay of art and science, asking what happens when artists push current scientific knowledge and technology to the extreme, leading to some thought-provoking work. Visually the exhibition suffers from a lack of cohesion due to excess space, but conceptually the artists do work well together.
Science Fiction is showing at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Gorman House in Braddon until 28 September.
Gorman House is the larger of two venues run by CCAS, the other in Manuka allows artists to use the space to stage exhibitions themselves, also worth checking out for slightly more experimental exhibitions. For further detail check out the facebook page.