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Art and Science: Creative Solutions, cont.

In his video installations and sculptures, Robert Lawrence scrutinizes genetic engineering to ask pointed questions about knowledge, value systems and biological destiny. Reflecting a background in humanities, he positions his work to study the effects of technological advancement on humankind. Where the scientist has to prove one hypothesis, Lawrence uses research and hypotheses to broaden the field of study. Current discoveries in genetic engineering reach beyond the laboratory into the grocery store, the operating room and the womb. In the installation Post-Synthetic Prototype A: Brighter Bodily Fluids, Lawrence presents an experimental science station that implies the alteration of a life form is taking place before our eyes. A video monitor pulses with the heartbeat of pumping blood; a rope and pulley is the low-tech circulatory system that connects the life source with the energy source. An electrically wired sheet of copper charges a field of seed corn. The mechanical, the electrical and the biological have become one continuous system. The unbroken circuitry indicates a transformation that at first glance is familiar, but in truth masks a stranger. The corn has transformed into a mysteriously altered substance. Seed corn, used in both food products and industrialized goods, is a recurrent material in Lawrence’s work. It acts as a metaphorical warning: after thousands of years of selective breeding, all corn is domesticated and cannot survive in the wild. While some changes in nature may take millennia to occur, with genetic engineering natural processes and forms can be altered with a cut and paste computer program. Lawrence makes us aware of this easily missed occurrence. An additional series of small lab experiments/sculptures with fluids and corn are included in the exhibition. Attached to each is a Recommended Procedure, a written directive that turns the issues back to the viewer. The application of this technology brings up many new questions, affecting who we are, what we might become, and why we value what we do. Lawrence implies that passive acceptance of these rapid technological changes makes each one of us part of the lab experiment. The work invites us to take notice before an unalterable transformation has taken place.

The ceramic sculptures of Elizabeth Crawford are testimonies to another kind of change. Crawford uses geology as a metaphor for both human and environmental transformations. The spheroid rock forms stand mute until, like paleontologists, we split them and discover the hidden fossils. They reveal a record of human activity and proof of its existence. Fossil: form is a large white egg of clay that opens to life-sized hands forming the volume in the lower half. The fingers appear as rock formations that have been smoothed by water, wind and sand. The sharp points have eroded away, just as time, experience and relationships impact human geology. The top half is hollowed out in the exact negative shape of the hands. It is as if this clay geode were formed from the inside out; we crack it open to discover its secret. Crawford began the body of work during a five-week wilderness camping trip to New Mexico. She found clay deposits on site, and did a firing every other day. The resulting smaller pieces are so true to their material starting place that it is easy to forget that these are constructions and not found rocks. When opened, many of the flatter planes have photographs formed over the surface with Liquid Light emulsion. One has a photograph of a trilobite fossil; on the opposite side is a photograph of a mouth. The lines and forms mirror each other, with the protrusions of the trilobite’s exoskeleton echoing the slight opening of the human mouth. In another, layers of imagery are equated with the strata of rocks, complete with the folds and uplifts in geological structure. A topographical view of the rock gives way to an image of a woman in the distance, picking up what looks like the same rock. Crawford asks herself the question, “What am I excavating?” and her own response is, “The enormity of change.” The landscape may be larger than human scale, but these fossils provide small-scale evidence of the huge process of personal and environmental change happening around us all the time.

First published as an exhibition catalog for Art and Science: Creative Solutions, curated by Karen Wirth for the College of Visual Arts, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1996