Starting on Jan. 20 and continuing until Feb. 26, the clean, bright, minimal Beard and Weil Galleries in Watson Fine Arts will be crawling with microbes.
The galleries’ current exhibition, entitled Inner and Outer Space, is an exploration of the human desire to magnify that which we are too large to see, and to touch that which we are too small to reach. While the exhibition’s name implies duality between the two concepts, much of the art shows rather how similar the indescribably small can be to the incomparably huge. Monica Aiello’s enormous, three-paneled 2012 acrylic-and-fiber piece, entitled Prometheus and Ionian Garden, at first glance strongly evokes the image of microbes, with its diverse wobbly shapes, complete with nuclei, floating in a multicolored two-dimensional plane. A quick look at the Denver artist’s bio in the exhibition’s pamphlet, however, reveals that she has consulted with scientists from NASA as a part of her work and that in fact her Prometheus, as well as her Many Faces of Pele series which continues in the same vein, are meant to “interpret the geomorphology of the planets and moons within our Solar System.”
While not every piece in the exhibition blurs the lines between the spaces as much as Ms. Aiello’s works do, they all fuse two other normally dual concepts – poetry and science. Aiello’s husband, Tyler Aiello, celebrates the perfections in nature with his sculptures of radial structures, while Constance Jacobson’s prints, part of her Almost Biology series, depict artificial and yet thoroughly convincing microorganisms of every color and creed.
Other pieces tend towards the darker side of humanity’s relationship with scientific discovery. Andrew Lloyd Goodman’s Umbra, a uniquely interactive audio-visual installation, plays audio from the 1955 Disneyland episode, Man in Space, over footage from WWII of bodies being carried from the wreckage. Cassandra Klos’s photography series entitled The Abductees uses a mixture of archival documentation and photographic recreation to tell the story of a 1960s couple trying to come to terms with their experiences sighting what they believed to be a UFO. These two pieces are also the only ones that directly depict human interactions with the infinite.
Despite the lack of human imagery and iconography in the rest of the exhibition, however, a strong current of humanity thrums deeply in every piece. Clare Prober ’16, viewing the pieces through the lens of a major in philosophy and a minor in chemistry, was drawn particularly to Jacobson’s Cystosymbiosis. She began explaining the evolutionary science behind the piece as she saw it – how microorganisms which had once operated entirely separately had, for reasons both organic and unknowable, begun operating together inside of cells, forming symbiotic relationships and resulting eventually in things like digestive enzymes, the sorts of things which make it possible for multi-cellular life to exist.
“That’s what we are,” Prober said, pointing to the print. “That’s what all living things are.”