By Jasmine Kuylenstierna
In an introduction to this series of digital prints, Cynthia Pannucci writes that the artist, Suzanne Anker, is ’”culturing science’ [by employing] the circular Petri dish as a framing mechanism for her contemplation of life, death and transition.” As a beholder, each one of these photographs represents a self-contained microcosm as well as a macrocosm to me, because they ’talk’ about the small details in the bigger picture.
Various organic materials are combined and united in these Petri dishes, the shape of which suggests exotic, far away planets and unknown worlds. The bold colors and decaying matter of the still lifes portrayed here, along with the title of show, brings to mind the memento mori-philosophy of 17th century Dutch Vanitas painting.
From sickly purple mushroom clouds to swamps of venus flytraps and a very lonely-looking insect perished amongst neon green peas, this series embodies the spirit of human creativity and endeavour; we expand our creative and physical horizons and come to know death and destruction as part of that process. The images are stark, hauntingly beautiful but somewhat guarded and a little eerie rather than outright romantic. They are coded messages, fantastically inviting while remaining treacherous. They remind me of space exploration and imaginary worlds that might not be so fictional or inaccessible to us as they once were. Overall, the juxtaposition of materials and organisms portrayed conveys something humble in its perishable frailty.
To say something about the physical presentation of the exhibition, it is not easy to stumble upon. The hall of sciences is a labyrinth of experiments and exhibitions, and Anker’s prints are in an upstairs corridor, separate from all the noise and children’s activities in the main space. Those who do find the exhibition see it with purpose. The prints themselves are colorful, detailed and alluring, and while not undermined by the space, certainly beg for a context that suits the expansive conceptual and aesthetic quality of the art a little more.
"Vanitas (in a Petri dish)" is presented by Art Science Collaborations, Inc.
This exhibition at the New York Hall of Science is open through April 30th, 2017.