Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Art in Hidden Places

I was preparing a lecture for my students on the hidden places where new species might be discovered. As a botanist I've discovered about two dozen new lichen species, usually in unexpected habitats and often, surprisingly, right in front of my nose. In nature, just about wherever you look is a niche where things grow. You just have to look. For example, this scanning electron micrograph of a moss reveals a lichen (the popcorn ball looking things) growing on top of it, using the moss as a surface to gather a little extra light.

In this picture in I took in the moist uplands of Chiapas State in Mexico numerous species of orchid, spanish moss, and other species, are hanging from a tree branch. Who knows what smaller species, probably microscopic, live in the hanging bundles of epiphytes?

What does this have to do with art?

Before on these pages I've discussed how art is an extension of the human brain and body, a kind of biological extension of the artist. Maybe it's because I've spent so much time in recent months squeezing clay, but it seems to me that art is something that gets squeezed out of the artist, something that lives in and with the artist, something that moves from the hidden recesses of the artist out into the open. Part of the strangeness of art I think is that it comes from such a private place. And at the same time, once the work is finished it is "out there" as an expression of that hidden place it emerged from.

Imagine if all the small critters hidden in the plant bundles on the branch marched out and lined themselves up under a microscope. We would learn something about the habitat, the life cycle, and the evolutionary history of each one. My thought for today: Maybe the work of art reflects a similar set of realities about its maker.

I made this sculpture in the fall. I call it "Olmec Baby's Dog." It's very thick hand-squeezed clay with a pigment and wax finish.

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