Alter Nature: We Can

Alter Nature is a series of four exhibitions, a symposium and other events, held in Hasselt Belgium on the theme of bioscience and art.

Alter Nature: We Can; Shiki 1, Azuma Makoto

Alter Nature is a series of four exhibitions, a symposium and other events, held in Hasselt Belgium on the theme of bioscience and art. Working across galleries Z33 and CIAP, plus the Hasselt Fashion Museum.

The exhibition shows that although mankind has been changing nature for its own ends since the dawn of time, in the last decade developments in bioscience and biotechnology have given this evolution new momentum. Z33 hosts two of the exhibitions, starting with Alter Nature: We Can, curated by Karen Verschooren which looks the manipulation of fauna and flora in nature through the work of over twenty international artists.

Azuma Makoto (1976) is a Japanese artist who makes installations from plants and flowers, capturing their fleeting beauty by means of freezing them in ice, or forcing them to grow in unnatural ways. Azuma also has a florist store in Tokyo called Jardin des Fleurs. In the exhibition, Azuma presents Shiki 1, in which a bonsai tree is suspended inside a metal frame, as well as a new work entitled Frozen Bonsai, where the artist has sprayed the tree with instant freeze and presented it in a specially designed fridge. As the ice slowly drains the colour from the bonsai tree, the tree dies –but its beauty is preserved in optimal conditions.

Acoustic Botany, David Benqué; Morphotheque #9, Driessens & Verstappen

Driessens & Verstappen, Erwin Driessens (1963) and Maria Verstappen (1964), are based in Amsterdam and work together on installations centred around the contradictions and similarities between nature and culture. For the show, we see the artists’ work entitled Morphotheque #9 – 32 artificial carrots, whose shapes are based on those of carrots rejected by growers as unfit for sale. The piece highlights our aim for perfection, purification and uniformity and perhaps questions our treatment of ‘rejected’ humans who are not so perfect.David Benqué graduated in Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art this year and in Alter Nature: We Can, David is showcasing a special updated version of his graduate project Acoustic Botany. Billed as a ‘Genetically Engineered Sound Garden’, David has manipulated flowers and plants to produce music through a combination of traditional techniques, genetic engineering and synthetic biology.

David says: ‘The debate around Genetic Engineering is currently centred around vital issues such as food, healthcare and the environment. However, we have been shaping nature for thousands of years, not only to suit our needs, but our most irrational desires. Beautiful flowers, mind-altering weeds and crabs shaped like human faces all thrive on these desires, giving them an evolutionary advantage. By presenting a fantastical acoustic garden, a controlled ecosystem of entertainment, I aim to explore our cultural and aesthetic relationship to nature and to question its future in the age of synthetic biology.

Raketenbaum, Michael Sailstorfer; Nature Sucks, Merijn Bolink

German artist Michael Sailstorfer (1979) lives and works in Berlin. Creating installations and performance pieces, his works speak about the German countryside, with a sense of nostalgia but at the same time quite eerie. In Raketenbaum, a free-standing fruit tree was catapulted into the air by compressed-air cylinders attached to its root balls. Using a big format camera, two photographs of the performance were taken; one depicting the tree standing, one showing the tree during flight.

Amsterdam-based Merijn Bolink (1967) questions whether nature is a benign force towards man, or merely neutral. On show at Z33 is Nature Sucks – a branch of willow that has been shaped to create geometric patterns reminiscent of computer circuitry as well as spelling out the name of the work, handwritten.

Common Flowers, Flower Commons, BCL; Sitting Yuccas, Reinier Lagendijk

In a similar way, fellow Amsterdam artist Reinier Lagendijk likes to mould and manipulate plant forms in combination with non-natural materials, such as steel and plastic. Adding a touch of humour, Reinier brings to the exhibition one of his Sitting Yuccas, in which the plants have been shaped to sit on a sofa, as if watching the TV.BCL are Japanese artist Shiho Fukuhara (1976) and Austrian artist Georg Tremmel (1977) who work together on projects based around modifying nature. BCL’s work Common Flowers, Flower Commons on show at Z33 consists of a bunch of blue carnations surrounded by seedbeds, in which pieces of the bouquet are cultivated as nutrients. This particular type of carnation was the first ever genetically modified flower to become available on the consumer market. The work raises questions such as ‘Can one own nature?’ and ‘What would happen if DIY enthusiasts started designing such flowers?’

Cellularity, James King; Growth Pattern, Allison Kudla

Allison Kudla (1980) is an American artist who uses digital techniques and technology in her work. Allison’s Growth Pattern features 64 petri dishes containing chopped tobacco plants. The leaves have been cut to reflect a complex pattern and the nutrients in the dishes make the leaves continue to grow, stretching the pattern even further. Natural materials are manipulated to serve a purely aesthetic purpose.James King studied Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art and his project Cellularity examines questions surrounding life and death, ‘When exactly does something become a living thing?’ and ‘How many functions must it be able to carry out before we consider it “alive”?’

Curator Karen Verschooren says: ‘Conjuring genetic material out of nothing, or growing human skin in a laboratory; it may sound like futuristic science fiction, but this is our new reality. Bioscience and biotechnology have been planting the seeds of a new revolution. Following on from the digital revolution, which was inspired by ICT developments, the biological revolution is now being heralded; a revolution, some might say, that’s set to make the digital revolution look like child’s play.

‘Trying to identify the possible impact of these bio-scientific and technological developments gives rise to all sorts of questions: What is nature? What is human? What is life? How will these new technologies and applications influence our everyday life? What new values and norms will be generated? What forms of interaction will become standard? But this evolution also prompts us to look back, because after all, humans have been influencing nature for thousands of years. Artists and designers are now tackling these and other questions; they’re contextualising things, trying to formulate answers or ask new questions. It’s these people whose work is on show in the Alter Nature exhibitions.’

Alter Nature: We Can runs at Z33 from November 21 2010 to March 13 2011.
Azuma Makoto
Driessens & Verstappen
David Benqué
Michael Sailstorfer
Merijn Bolink
BCL
James King

Originally published on the ArtsThread blog. Republished with kind permission.

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