By Danielle Kalamaras
My senses always appealed to collage since I first studied Dada Art. Dada collage by Hannah Hoch and John Heartfield submersed a political foundation underneath its satirical facade. Davies continues the agency of Collage in his digital work which comments on 21st century urban sprawl. As Davies states, "I use collage to explore the idea of evolutionary dislocation that occurs when a species is abruptly ousted from its evolutionary context." His artwork is very attune to what Un-Natural Nature is meant to explore--how our ever-changing world affects the living organisms that call it home. Combining a technological medium with organic subject matter, Davies imprints an image of a 21st century ecosystem to show how nature continually adapts to the man-made.
Read on for an interview with the artist that expounds on his scientific inspirations, what he thinks is so "Un-Natural" about nature today, and what "SciArt" means in regards to his work.
DK: What most inspires you about the natural-and artificial-world?
JD: I marvel at the artificial world because it is an extension of the natural world. It is just another iteration of the natural world. I marvel at the natural world because of its infinite complexity.
What is so 'Un-Natural' about nature today?
There is a common perception that a time existed when human activities made little impact on the natural world. This viewpoint is communicated in phrases like "in harmony with nature," used to describe some groups of humans in the past (or even some in the present). I think that humans have always made a large impact on our surrounding ecosystems, although prehistorically and historically, there were places that were sufficiently isolated from human activity that they could be called pristine. What is different today is that the repercussions of human activity have reached all corners of the earth and have reached a much greater scale of impact.
The idea of the natural vs. the artificial also assumes that we can draw a clear line between humans and the rest of the universe. Other organisms, however, don't make this distinction. As we have humanized the natural world, the natural world has continued to go about its usual business. A raccoon forages in a garbage can, just as it might rummage in the leaf litter for a grub. A coyote makes its way through miles of neighborhoods, roads and bridges to find its way to Central Park, just as it might travel long distances through the woods to scout out new territory.
My Mongoose and Junglefowl piece reflects the un-natural quality of nature these days. I chose this pairing of animals because, although it is "natural" for a mongoose to hunt the eggs and young of junglefowl, humans have intervened significantly in this "natural" interaction.
Since before humans evolved, the small Asian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) and the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) have shared habitat in southeast Asia. In its native environment the mongoose is a major predator of ground-nesting birds and eats the chicks and eggs of the junglefowl.
As humans made their way into Asia, the junglefowl gained a new predator but also a benefactor. Domesticated by the ancestors of the Polynesians and carried on canoes through much of the Pacific, this contingent left behind their predator, the mongoose, for many centuries.
When the Polynesians eventually reached Hawaii, they brought junglefowl with them, and for hundreds of years, the junglefowl had few predators besides humans.
Then, in 1883, sugar plantation owners on the Big Island brought 72 mongooses to Hawaii in the hopes of controlling rats in their cane fields. These mongooses were bred and their offspring were shipped to neighboring islands. While the mongoose does eat rats in cane fields, rat reproduction outpaces the mongoose and the mongoose prefers to do its hunting in the daytime (rats are nocturnal). As mongooses spread beyond the cane fields, they became a major threat to native birds, and the junglefowl found themselves pursued once more by their ancestral predator.
What does "SciArt" mean to you?
Both science and art are means of honing and extending our senses. I've never felt the inclination to separate my sense of wonder at the world from my desire to express that wonder using the powers of my imagination.
Visit Justin Davies' website to learn more about his artwork.
Click here to view the online exhibition "Un-Natural Nature" which features the artwork of 30 SciArt Center Members.