Darwin-Inspired Exhibition Melds Art and Science
Show to include painting, drawing, sculpture, video
BY ANDREW VOWLES
Charles Darwin’s landmark book about his theory of evolution contained about 150,000 words and one illustration. Next month, an on-campus show of new evolution-inspired artworks will provide diverse views of ideas contained in his On the Origin of Species, published 150 years ago.
“This View of Life: Evolutionary Art in the Year of Darwin, 2009” runs Oct. 9 to 30 in the science complex atrium and at Ed Video Media Arts Centre in downtown Guelph. A reception will be held Oct. 16 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Billed as a melding of artistic and scientific disciplines, the show includes painting, drawing, sculpture, video and even “deviant taxidermy” contributed by 10 artists from Guelph and nearby. The artists were asked to interpret Darwin’s ideas and related concepts such as biodiversity, which are major research and teaching topics for numerous scientists and students across campus.
“The artists were free to do what they liked, inspired by evolution and Darwin’s ideas,” says Prof. Ryan Gregory, Integrative Biology, co-organizer of the show.
Contributors to the exhibition include U of G studio art graduate Stephen Wicks; Guelph artist Alison Judd; Burnaby Orbax, a sessional lecturer in the Department of Physics; U of G MFA graduate Jenn Norton; and Prof. Jean Maddison, Fine Art and Music.
Earlier this year, Gregory and departmental colleague Prof. Beren Robinson organized a Darwin- themed colloquium on evolutionary science and a workshop on teaching evolution for high school teachers. Looking for another way to mark Darwin’s 200th birthday and his book’s anniversary, they hit on the idea of an art show.
“The act of science begins with the observation of nature,” says Robinson, referring to the five-year round-the-world voyage aboard the Beagle that helped hone Darwin’s skills as a natural historian. “That’s what artists do first, they look.”
Art and science also meet in their use of metaphors for interpreting and teaching, he says.
“One of the most powerful teaching tools is to find an apt metaphor for an idea. There’s an opportunity to share metaphors here.”
The lone illustration in Darwin’s 1859 book — a branched diagram depicting his concept of species’ descent with modification — is echoed in the signature “tree of life” in the science complex atrium, says Robinson. “It’s a metaphor with unbelievable power.”
Gregory points out the amount of detail in drawings by Toronto artist Matthew Brown that depict changes in biological diversity. Many of the numerous creatures populating the illustrations are easily recognizable to a biologist, he says.
“We’re interested in how our science is perceived by other people, and this is a great example.”
Besides Gregory and Robinson, the organizing committee members are Profs. Tara Abraham, History; Stefan Linquist, Philosophy; and Anne Milne, English and Theatre Studies.
“This View of Life” is sponsored by the College of Biological Science and the College of Arts; the School of Fine Art and Music; the School of Environmental Sciences; the departments of Integrative Biology, History and Philosophy; Ed Video; and ASTRA (Arts, Science and Technology Research Alliance).
“I see a lot of parallels between art and science,” says Scott McGovern, Ed Video programming director and curator for the October show. Besides the disciplines’ use of creativity and collaboration, “both are trying to obtain the same answers from our world,” he says. “Artists and scientists are just trying to figure out what’s going on — why are we here, in essence taking a stab at the meaning of life.”
Two public lectures on aspects of evolution will also take place this fall on campus. The free talks both begin at 7:30 p.m. in the science complex atrium.
On Oct. 13, Paul Ewald, director of the evolutionary medicine program at the University of Louisville, presents “Evolutionary Insights Into the Causes and Prevention of Cancer: It’s Not Just About Mutations Anymore.” This lecture is presented by the art show organizing committee.
On Dec. 1, Niles Eldredge, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History and author of books on evolutionary theory, discusses “Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life.” His lecture is organized by ASTRA.