Mushrooms are the new plastics. At least according to San Francisco artist Philip Ross, a man who has spent years coaxing reishi mushrooms into the shapes of blocks and other architectural forms in the hope that they could be the next environmentally friendly construction material. Ross is one of a new breed of artists who are equal parts rigorous scientist and creation junkie. He is also the instigator of the local Critter science salons at which attendees learn about topics including plant cloning and edible insects, and one of the artists in the group show "Intimate Science," which opens Friday (April 20) at Southern Exposure. These creators share an interest in making science and technology accessible to those who don't normally spend their waking hours in a laboratory.
The exhibit is organized by the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Besides Ross' fungus fantasias, visitors to the exhibition might also notice a bouquet of seemingly innocent carnations from Tokyo duo BCL. The flowers' luminous purple color is synthetic and trademarked by Japan's Suntory company. BCL has hacked into the plants' very genetic code with the intention of releasing the hue out into the wild, free of corporate control.
Southern Exposure executive director Courtney Fink explains that these artists can help open up the world of science specifically because they're not beholden to specific methods of study or institutions -- sort of a "generalist" versus "specialist" thing, is our take.
"They therefore have license to reach beyond conventions," says Fink. "This kind of practice hinges on up-close observation, experiential learning, and inventing new ways for the public to participate in the process."
In the exhibit, Seattle resident Allison Kudla displays images of hypnotic patterns randomly formed by leaf tissue she learned how to culture in a petri dish. This is a woman who started out as a painter and an animator, but as her career progressed she found herself increasingly drawn to biology. Next thing you know, she was designing a machine to create 3-D plant art, also on view in the show.
Workshops during the exhibit include Mind Reading for the Left and Right Brain, which happens Saturday, and The Secret Life of Mushrooms (with Ross and J.R. Blair) on Thursday, April 26.
These artists don't just dabble in science, they practice it.
The opening reception for "Intimate Science" starts at 7 p.m. Friday, April 20 (and the exhibition continues through June 2), at Southern Exposure. Admission is free.