Dishman exhibition blends science, art

“Untitled 2 (I Behold)” by Linda Alterwitz.

All the talk in education in the past few years has revolved around science. Are we teaching our children the skills to compete in the ever-expanding tech careers, seemingly at the expense of the creative arts?

The four artists on display at the Dishman Art Museum refuse to acknowledge the lines between science and art, resulting in creations that challenge the viewer to see the discipline in art and the creativity of science.

Linda Alterwitz, Dornith Doherty, Rashed Haq and Liz Hickock are photographers, although that is a reductive term in relation to the works on display in “Crystal Realities to Artificial Intelligence: Multidisciplinary Explorations in Photography,” on display at Lamar University through Nov. 12.

The artists draw from a variety of scientific research to create images that expose the beauty of both the natural and scientific worlds.

“More Than This” by Dornith Doherty.

Alterwitz’s combines photography with medical research to explore the unseen rhythms of the human body. She started working with medical images, particularly scans of the brains, after being diagnosed with a brain tumor 20-25 years ago. During a panel discussion, Sept. 24, she said she saw her brain scan on a light box and instead of being afraid of something being wrong, she felt comfort that she was in good hands. So, her work began to consider the question of fear and safety.

Her first images were of algae, then scans from cats and dogs, then human scans. Ultimately, her work is a blending of nature with medical technology, setting brain waves within a sanctuary represented by nature.

“Untitled 2 (I Behold)” features a large photograph of a tree silhouetted against a cloudy sky. Hanging in front of the image, floating like a cloud, is a mesh screen of a medical scan. As we look through the mesh, we are invited to ponder the beat that ties us to nature.

Doherty said her work explores the poetic qualities of art and life at the intersection of art and technology. She researched the world’s “biological backup,” seed storage facilities to be used in case of global devastation. She is invested in the stewardship of natural resources, the quest to preserve life, she said.

For a decade Doherty has visited seed banks, and her work features X-rays of seeds and research seedlings. One of the images, “More Than This,” is a large grid pattern of unique images, featuring 5,000 images of seeds, which is how many it is thought to take to be able to replenish a species. Doherty’s desire, she said, is to observe and protect life.

Haq is a mathematical physicist who developed AI software. His work is a collage of physics and photography. While using AI software in his physics research he decided to use it in his art. He referred to “computational creativity” in AI technology. He said that he cannot separate the two, that science is a creative act.

“Trial2Q10.5” by Rashed Haq.

Haq’s pieces are from a series created by taking 1,500 portraits and digitizing them. He then used software to manipulate the images until only 10% of the image was still “good” data. Then he used software he developed to try to recreate the original image. The software could not because it could not replicate the “bad” data. What Haq ended up with is a series of surreal images, some looking like the twisted portraits of Francis Bacon. One portrait has an animalistic feel, like the hybrid creatures on the island of Dr. Moreau. They are at once both fascinating and unsettling.

Hickock intermingles science and nature by building intricate cityscapes using sculpture and crystals which she then photographs.

She began her career making small cityscape sculptures of out jello, which allowed for light to pass through the colors. She also realized, as a resident of San Francisco, that the jello would shake when people stepped too hard, reflecting the city itself, beautiful yet fragile, she said.

“Deluge” by Liz Hickok. Photo by Andy Coughlan

After that, she became interested in the “grow-your-own-crystals sets. She said they are simple yet magical. She took the kits and pushed them to the limits, creating cityscapes that were brightly colored and translucent. It was an augmented reality.

“Crystal Realities to Artificial Intelligence” is a fascinating exhibition. The fact that the artists use photography, which is necessarily a science-based medium, incorporating technology in both capturing and producing the images, adds another layer. There is no art without science, but without art the technology is a hidden layer of reality. It’s really quite meta (lowercase m). But that’s the point, if we really think about it.

The Dishman Art Museum is located at 1030 E. Lavaca on the Lamar University campus. For more, visit lamar.edu/dishman.

This story first ran in the Oct. 28, 2022 Art of Living section of the Beaumont Enterprise.

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