Growing up, even those least enthralled by the wonders of nature surely found some thrills in the illustrations of science text books. As models stared forward with bovine-calm faces, impossible x-ray cross-sections lay bare the workings of their organs, which were at once repellant for their gore, and fascinating for their bio-mechanical elegance.
Arts Collinwood offers a chance to celebrate the creators behind those drawings with Science Redefining Art: Art Redefining Science. In a first-time collaboration with the Cleveland Institute of Art, nine students and graduates from the college's Biomedical Art Department present works from various scientific-illustration disciplines in a fine arts context.
Placing scientific illustrations in a gallery is a new experience for both the show's contributors and viewers, but the show works as an intriguing blend of art museum and natural history museum mindsets.
Almost all of the works in the show are graphite prints of images created in Adobe's Illustrator and Photoshop programs. Subject matter ranges over insects, plants, fish, and humans in every state of health and infirmity. Unlike most figurative and portrait art were individual personality is the primary subject, the human bodies here are cloaked in anonymity and generality.
This is especially true when they are seen from the inside-out.
Carolyne O'Ryan's "Endoscopic Tumor Removal" squeezes the viewer into a pink tube somewhere in the human body, with slick walls shot through with spikey red veins; a wire-headed scraper slices through the roots of an unchecked growth like wriggling cartoon fingers.
O'Ryan's is an oddly affirmative piece. It depicts the feat of human ingenuity: the bringing light and medicine to the smallest crevices of the body.
But more of the human images serve as reminders of mortal frailty. Joshua Maxwell's simply titled "Syphilis" forms a triptych detailing the ravages of the advanced stages of the STI on the human face. On the far right, a man is seen with its eyes closed; the forehead and cheeks are pocketed with crater-like sores. The nose has rotted away. The far left panel presents the same head post mortem with the flesh dissolved away, allowing us to see the ruined nose from the inside. The bone behind the upper lip had receded making a gap that eventually met the nasal cavity, collapsing the whole face inward. The middle picture partially superimposes each image over the other, suspending the patient between death and dwindling life.
Though the image's original intention was to instruct at a clinical distance, it is heavy with pathos and horror.
Works dealing with non-human subjects do not have the narrative or metaphysical grip of their anthropomorphic counterparts, but still draw eager curiosity. Alyssa Oglesbee "Sea Pen Series" depicts four deep-sea dwelling relatives of jellyfish with an almost floral beauty. Derrick Nau's "Dogfish Dissection Plate" splays open a shark and unspools its digestive tract, running from its two rows of hooked teeth to its cloaca. A sequence of nine lateral portraits of insects to which east artist contributes is a wonderful exercise in detailed craftsmanship which lovingly translates every glare off chitinous armor and every scale of gossamer wings.
Here's to hoping that this first experiment by CIA and Arts Collinwood is repeatable and repeated.
A discussion and lecture featuring contributing artists and Amanda Almon, chair of CIA's Biomedical Art Department, will take place Thursday May 16 at 6 p.m. The exhibit will run through Monday May 27 at 15605 Waterloo Rd. For more information, call 216-692-9500 or go to artscollinwood.org.