AFTER

2005

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After

In these early years of the 21st century, scientific discovery and understanding are playing an important and growing role in meeting the challenges—environmental, human health, economic—facing societies everywhere. At the forefront are advances in biology. Indeed, it is reasonable to say we are entering the Age of Biology, paralleling in many ways the Age of Physics in the first half of the 20th century.

-Joel Cracraft,The American Institute of Biological Sciences

These artworks are the first pieces of a new body of work that reflect on the origins of life. Composed of encaustic paintings and wire and salt sculptures, the pieces are presented as visual contemplations on primordial life on earth: the earliest cells and cellular structures.

They are mediated through two reference points: first, through the use of geometric grids, that act as a stable framework, bounding energy, space, time and form; and, secondly, through reference to specific sculptures and paintings of three women artists, Eva Hesse, Anne Truitt, and Agnes Martin, three artists associated with the Minimalist art movement of the 1960s. These three artists moved beyond the confines of Minimalism, and adopted practices that valued intuition, process and handmade quality.

The encaustic paintings (based on the work of Agnes Martin), reflect on the transformation of matter into microbes, and aesthetically explore the first biological structures that were formed when communities of microbes came together. Presented in the tactile and viscous materiality of the wax, grid structures are embedded and embossed, acting as a cradle for cellular life.

The sculptures are also metaphoric communities, binding together cubed organisms in an initial symbiotic relationship. Formed as horizontal and vertical columns, they are influenced by the work of Anne Truitt and Eva Hesse, revealing what noted biologist Lynn Margulis views as, "the tendency of ‘independent’ life..to bind together and reemerge in a new wholeness at a higher, larger level of organization" (in Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution, 1998).

These works honour the aesthetic achievements of Truitt, Hesse and Martin by respecting the enduring and essential quality of the geometric forms employed by the artists. But by re-interpreting their works and rendering them in different and mutable materials (wire, salt and wax), my artworks conceptually re-vision a pure minimalist orientation as subtle works about human ecology in this new age of biology.

Elaine Whittaker

 

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