“Biophilia”: art about all life
E.O. Wilson’s 1984 memoir Biophilia raised world consciousness about the bond that exists between humans and all other species. It did this with scientific authority based on Wilson’s eminence as a Harvard biologist and by demonstrating how essential all life forms are to the survival of one another. An exhibition of New Mexico artists currently at the State Capitol Building and El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe is titled “Biophilia” and represents a multicultural celebration of art about life in all of its diversity. Wilson defines biophilia as “the innate tendency to focus on life and life-like processes. . . . Our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it, hope rises on its currents.” In the chapter “The Poetic Species” Wilson sees many parallels between the work of the scientist and that of the artist. He notes, “The essence of art, no less than of science, is synecdoche. A carefully chosen part serves for the whole. . . .Both [science and art] rely on similar forms of metaphor and analogy, because they share the brain’s strict and peculiar limitations in the processing of information.”
This show demonstrates the great freedom artists have in acquiring and processing the information that structures their art. While scientists are required to follow the scientific method, artists often work purely intuitively and arrive at expressions of truth that involve every imaginable form from figuration to abstraction.
Nicasio Romero’s installation “Are You Coming Or Going?” is a good example of how artistic expression can work. A large seven-step ladder surmounted by a closed door rises into the sky on the terrace just outside the rotunda. The obvious metaphor is the biblical Jacob’s Ladder, but one also feels personal symbolism taken from dreamscapes with floating stairways to childhood attics, the stars, or heaven itself. The closed door suggests we cannot have access to our hopes. Romero’s piece is a lyrical, rustic question mark. In the context of the “Biophilia” show it asks us whether we as a species are coming or are we going?
Albuquerque-based Basia Irland is well known for her interactive documentary pieces about water and is much more explicit but no less poetic than Romero. She presents arrangements of actual elements of a given environment and allows the viewer to ruminate with her about the nature of that place or event. One of her pieces in this show is the assemblage “Walkerton Life Vest.” The piece fascinates the viewer because the actual vest is filled with artifacts and information about the tragedy of polluted water in the town of Walkerton in Canada. Seven inhabitants died and 2,300 were infected by polluted drinking water. Going over the items and documents on the vest (many given to the artist by citizens of Walkerton) one comes to know what happened and what can be done to protect water supplies in the future. The piece radiates a feeling we all know about loss of trust in our government as well as fear of being poisoned by something as elemental and essential as our drinking water.
Santa Fe artist Chrissie Orr presents us with a graphic rendition of her recent time spent as a visiting artist in a small town in Georgia. While there she had to throw out all of her preconceptions and engage the truth of this little piece of Southern culture head-on. What she discovered was a people devoted to the land and deeply rooted in their sense of place. They are “biophiliacs” from birth and in love with all of the human and nonhuman elements that make their home place what it is. Orr presents us with painted portraits and descriptive text representing what these folk are all about.
While Orr’s piece is straight-on text and painting, the mixed-media holographic piece by Ana MacArthur titled “Necessary Pupils for Climate Control” is highly technical. But again we find a poetic result involving images of butterflies and beetles and sculptural eyeballs with pupils embracing holographic images that quietly suggested exotic meteorological ideas to me, like Pacific storms that have their seed in winds from the beating of butterfly wings on an island in the Java Sea. Sweeping prismatic light refracted from holographic discs rotating in rock basins form a perfect metaphor for weather in all of its mutability and give the piece a rare dynamism.
Back at the level of the hand, as Gary Snyder likes to say, at El Museo we find drawings by Albuquerque artist Anne Cooper titled “Quadratum Novum #1 through #5,” a compelling and direct sequence of quadrate drawings of seeds in all their minute exactitude. This is an artist, Wilson would say, who well represents “the poetic species” and one who distills the biophilia essence with her concise yet highly intuitive renditions of the seed as the source.
Just outside El Museo on opening night one was delighted to run into “Mishell Karmann Ghia,” an art car by Kathamann consisting of a 1973 Karmann Ghia completely covered inside and out with a splendiforous and artfully arranged mantle of shells of all kinds. A late invitee to “Biophilia,” Kathamann’s car said quite a bit about the joy of life and the natural objects that transformed a machine into what seemed like a living organism of great style, beauty, and fun.
“Biophilia” is filled with wonderful examples of art about all species and the show asks significant questions about modern life, such as What are we as a species going to do about threats to our existence by war, pestilence, poverty, and pollution. The show runs from August 9 through October 15 at the Capitol Rotunda and El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, 1615 B Paseo de Peralta. For more information about the show and a series of lectures related to “Biophilia,” call (505) 424-1878 or e-mail email@example.com.
PAS features music by Ravel and Debussy
The Placitas Artists Series will present its 2002-2003 season premiere “Willy Sucre and Friends Play String Quartets” on Sunday, September 15, at 3:00 p.m. Once again, violist Willy Sucre has assembled an outstanding group of musicians: violinists Bernard Zinck and David Felberg and cellist Joan Zucker. The program will be Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major and Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor.
Willy Sucre is very well known to PAS concertgoers. He has served as conductor and music director of the Albuquerque Philharmonic Orchestra and assistant conductor of the Canada Symphony Orchestra and the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. Bernard Zinck has performed and soloed all over the world and is currently on the string faculty at the University of New Mexico. He regularly conducts master classes in the United States, South America, and Europe. David Felberg is currently the associate concertmaster of the NMSO. He was a member of the Helios String Quartet and participated in the American Academy of Conducting in Aspen. The NMSO principal cellist, Joan Zucker, has performed in Placitas and in many of New Mexico’s finest ensembles. She has performed as a soloist and recitalist and in numerous chamber groups, orchestras, and festivals.
The concert will be held at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, six miles east of I-25 on NM 165 (exit 242). There will be an artists’ reception at the church before the concert. This month’s featured artists are Pat Ballard, Sylvia Eisenhart, Melissa Moloney, and Elizabeth Sorroche. Please view samples of the artists’ work at www.PlacitasArts.org.
Pat Ballard’s primary inspiration for her paintings is the Southwestern landscape. She experiments with a variety of media and is captivated by the lure of transparent watercolor. Her images are mostly impressionistic. Sylvia Eisenhart enjoys painting under a microscope, enlarging and bringing into view shapes, colors, and light sources that are so easily overlooked. She presents to the observer a rapid focus of uncomplicated enlarged shapes using surreal colors and light. Melissa Moloney also feels endless inspiration in the Land of Enchantment. The play of light in respect to the beauty of the landscape holds an enormous fascination for her, as does exploring the truth within that light. A metalsmith, Elizabeth Sorroche produces jewelry of gold or sterling silver which incorporates precious and semi-precious stones and fossils and designs influenced by Southwestern cultures and landscapes. Each piece is individually handcrafted from design to final polish.
Tickets for the concert will be available at the door one hour before the concert, or can be purchased ahead of time at La Bonne Vie Salon and Day Spa located in the Homestead Village Shopping Center in Placitas (867-3333), or on line ($15 for general admission and $12 for seniors and students).
There is a little time left to purchase season tickets for the entire 2002-2003 season at a great savings. Season-ticket prices are $100 for general admission and $80 for students and seniors
For further information and ticket brochures, call 867-8080, e-mail tickets@Placitas Arts.org, or visit the Web site at www.PlacitasArts.org.
Concerts are partially funded by a grant from New Mexico Arts, a division of the Office of Cultural Affairs. There is handicapped access and free child care for children under six