By Danielle Kalamaras
A diptych of sepia shapes transforms from an abstract field of vision into a meticulous scientific experiment upon examination of her detailed artwork paired with descriptive titles. Artist Karen Gustafson closely interrogates under a microscope the natural and processed foods consumed daily to compare the effects of factory farming on food production. The effects of mass producing the fruits of the earth goes beyond its devastation to the livestock and environment, but affects our bodies through the numerous pesticides and additives used to yield high crops.
The artist states, "My work engages the intersection of science and art to research, reveal, and inform. The Raw to Processed series began with a consideration of food and its relationship to our health... on eating processed foods and their role in developing disease within the human body."
Gustafson's work is featured in the online exhibition Un-Natural Nature, curated by SciArt Center's Arts Program coordinator Danielle Kalamaras. Read on for an interview with the artist that expounds on her scientific inspirations, what she thinks is so "Un-Natural" about nature today, and what "SciArt" means in regards to her work.
DK: What most inspires you about the natural-and artificial-world?
KG: I am most inspired by the question of how different a natural to a processed version of a food will look when viewed under a scanning electron microscope. What will this observation reveal about its surface terrain? What are the potential health benefits or consequences to consuming these foods? I have been intrigued to find natural growth patterns present in the raw foods, such as fractals in the potato and packing/crating in garlic, while the processed foods show a transformation or destruction of these patterns along with the effects or remnants of added ingredients, such as oil nodules visible on the onion ring with its breading removed. Each food becomes its own landscape at this close range with its natural or mutated forms.
What is so 'Un-Natural' about nature today?
Overly processed and manufactured foods are put before us by the commercial food industry with the goal of making us want to consume them through their engineered tastes and advertised benefits. These foods are often so removed from their natural state that generations past would not even recognize these products as food.
What does "SciArt" mean to you?
SciArt is the intersection of one’s desire to know, gain knowledge, and understand through making. It is the breaking down of established disciplines, allowing for creative collaborations and cross-fertilization of ideas. To ask questions and seek answers to what is unknown in our time and culture.
Visit the artist's website to learn more about her artwork.
Click here to view the online exhibition Un-Natural Nature curated by Danielle Kalamaras which features the artwork of 30 SciArt Center Members.