Cornelia Hesse-Honegger
The Natural World

Vancouver Art Gallery
October 10 - January 24


Laboratory flies, heads. (1967)
Varying deformations of
Drosophia subobscura mutation - 'quasimodo',
top: healthy fly,
bottom: hare lip,
bottom right: wolf-throat

In this much-publicized international show, artists question the scientific categories of the natural sciences. Where modern science has sought to provide logical and ideal systems of classification for insects, fish, birds and living creatures since the 18th Century, these late 20th Century artists offer a perspective of the natural world as one that is more likely to be disjointed, chaotic and subject to cultural bias in perception.

Genetic differentiation no longer appears to be sufficient grounds for understanding what species should be acknowledged or what specimens accepted as ideal forms. Through photographs, hyper-realist watercolours and installations using live specimens, Lee Bul, Mark Dion, Cornelia Hesse-Honegger and Mike Kelley challenge systems of "ideal" classifications that do not recognize the deformed, mutated or decayed.

Hesse-Honegger examines the impact of nuclear radiation on hundreds of insect specimens while Lee Bul seals 115 live herring in plastic bags to study their decay. Mark Dion photographed birds in the decorative arts collection at the Art Institute of Chicago to create a commentary on the limited perspectives perpetuated through artistic use of their forms. Mike Kelley elevates stufffed animals to the status of "serious" specimens hierarchically arranged for scientific study. These artists remind us that variances in form are a cultural construct and the product of learned beliefs.

© Mia Johnson