Crossing Science and Art

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Above: an inadequate attempt to show the extraordinary detailing of Laura Culham’s 1:1 scale paper sculptures of weeds. That narrow crease in the carefully rounded plant stem defies belief.

The autumnal nip in the air and shortening days prompts me to start thinking about show time in the contemporary art world. A summer spent introspectively researching and making in the studio and farther afield is all well and good, but time now to pull out the diary, read the newsletters and launch back in to visiting, reviewing and reflecting on what’s happening out there NOW.

So I was lured down to London yesterday by the enticing prospect of a group show Nature Reserves at GV Art near Baker Street. The gallery is clear on its focus: it aims to explore and acknowledge the inter- relationship between art and science, and how the areas cross over and inform one another.

As the daughter of a research scientist who was passionate about art, I always think this is a much overlooked but fascinating intersection, particularly in terms of process. Open-ended play, exploration and risk-taking alongside hard grind are key to success in both. But that’s a topic for another post another time.

Nature Reserves is conceived and curated by Tom Jeffreys, and is a thoughtful and intriguing show with a great online catalogue. I’ve been to so many shows this last year with untitled works and no context and yes, whilst allowing space for the viewer’s own thoughts is fine, complete absence of information becomes wearisome after a while. I appreciate a context, and a beautifully written catalogue adds immeasurable value to any show. Not least, how satisfying it is these days be able to download a “book” and shelve it in iBooks for instant future access.

And this show taken as a whole is also extremely beautiful and immaculately presented. It’s a joy to wander and gaze at the works within GV Art’s great space, and after some summer reflections on Art and Beauty in post-modern times, I’m owning up without shame to the fact I love nothing more than thought-provoking and compelling beauty (another post waiting to be written one day).

I wanted to visit Nature Reserves primarily because it includes works by Laura Culham, whose work I saw and admired last year in a show at the Hoxton Gallery. But everything else was well up to meet my high expectations.

I liked the way that the execution of a lot of the exhibits nicely reflected scientific methods of enquiry; painstaking attention to detail whilst maintaining a clear focus on outcome. The details to be found in the extraordinarily intricate paper sculptures of Culham; the moon studies of Anaïs Tondeur (unfortunately hung slightly inaccessibly for my myopic gaze) and the exquisite lithograph of Victoria Browne all exemplify this. It is so hard to maintain a coherent artistic vision when this level of detailed study is in play.

Then there is the simple perfection of natural forms and the clarity of approach necessitated by the study and cataloguing of natural forms. Liz Orton’s immaculately photographed piles of specimens reference both, with their air of a 17th century Dutch still life: clarity and detail set against a matt dark velvet surface and background but all subsumed into an harmonious, abstract, effortless composition. The piles cut through the space and continue beyond the borders of the picture plane, alluding perhaps to the challenges inherent in containing through labeling and classification?

It wasn’t just visual sensory material though. Hestia Peppe’s live Kombucha culture installation provided an earthy pungent background scent to my wanderings, and made me laugh out loud. I returned a few times to replenish my olfactory sense as an ongoing accompaniment to the other exhibits.

And I was delighted to see real scientific collections displayed and attributed to their parent organizations. On first encountering the UCL geology and other collections, a little jaded part of me yawned slightly at yet another pleasantly aesthetic “found” artwork. But when I saw the catalogue entry, I cheered inwardly. There is something much more powerful about the direct acknowledgement of provenance in this show; truly recognizing the inherent art form of scientific enquiry both aesthetically and conceptually.

Nature Reserves is on until 13th September 2013. Check opening times.

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