Art review: ‘Bioforms + Metacosms’ at Harris-Stanton Gallery

By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art and architecture critic

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Beth Lindenberger's Cinched is part of the Bioforms + Metacosms exhibit at Harris - Stanton Gallery. (Courtesy Harris - Stanton Gallery)
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When I was in art school (back in the olden days), our professors frequently challenged us to create abstract compositions, which we often found difficult, as it taxes the imagination to put down on paper something you’ve never seen — a theory, in fact.

Every once in a while, our professors would give us some hints: Go geometric; respond to music or poetry; look for patterns. Or — and this I found the best hint of all — look in science textbooks, especially the biological sciences.

There are whole worlds of hidden creatures and unusual shapes and forms to be found through the magnification of a microscope lens. In fact, the smallest things found in nature are often among the most intriguing objects of her creation.

Case in point: Bioforms + Metacosms, on view at Harris-Stanton Gallery, 2301 W. Market St., Akron, through April 26.

If you’ve been to Harris-Stanton Gallery, you know that the walls are usually packed with fantastic works of art. In this show, everything’s the same except for the cheek-by-jowl bit, as this is probably as minimalist an exhibit as we’ll ever see there.

That’s probably because the artists — Kate Budd, Eva Kwong, Beth Lindenberger, Sherry Simms and Donna Webb — and their significant others installed it themselves.

Bioforms + Metacosms is an exhibit of three-dimensional works inspired by the systems and processes of the biological and natural worlds, and the relationships between art and science. Each artist explores aspects of these concepts in a unique and personal way.

These are all small pieces, but they encapsulate big ideas, hence the huge amounts of wall space surrounding them. They are also unusual interpretations of microscopic and otherwise tiny forms.

Budd works in wax, Simms in metals, Kwong and Webb in ceramics. All of them have a connection to the University of Akron, and Kwong runs the ceramics program at Kent State University School of Art.

“They’ve all admired each other’s work and have been influenced by one another’s work and were looking for a way to show together,” said Meg Harris, gallery owner.

Budd says she seeks arche­typal forms for her sculptures, carving hybrid objects from a solid block of wax. Her small objects draw us in, inviting intimacy, begging to be held and rewarding close inspection in the way of a pinecone or smooth pebble.

Seeds are a recurrent theme, prompting associations with life forces: birth, death, disease, desire, fecundity and the dynamics that both free and limit us.

“I worry at them like a dog with its bone,” she writes in her artist’s statement. “The natural world has long been a rich source of forms and metaphors to articulate these ideas. Knowledge, intuition, imperfect memory and imagination coalesce in hybrids that inhabit the zone between biology and function. The end results are psychologically charged and while remaining coolly neutral.”

Kwong has been inspired by forms from nature since she was a child in Hong Kong and a student working at the Nature Lab at the Rhode Island School of Design in the 1970s.

Her interests lead her toward the interconnectedness of everything in nature.

“I see the relationships between the structures, the patterns and the underlying simultaneous similarity and differences in natural forms. Seashells, beetles, birds, bacteria, diatoms, viruses, seed pods, water drops, fog, eggs, etc. have informed all the work that I do,” she writes.

Lindenberger’s forms and surfaces are based on complex microscopic organisms and objects that suggest potentiality and a larger environment.

“The seeds and the pods from which they emerge are the connection to the continuation of a species — some sharp and foreboding, others voluptuous and inviting,” she writes. “They create a narrative in the stages of their process. They stack, interact, and create new compositions. Their mystery and attraction elevate them to a higher status.”

Simms says she is fascinated by the rich colors, patterns, and textures of the animal and botanical worlds, as well as the ways humans adorn their bodies with clothing and accessories that copy them.

She draws “inspiration from species that are able to camouflage themselves to model or blend in with their environment.

“My jewelry and sculpture, created from mirror, metal and other materials, are made to reflect the environ­ment around the piece; in turn using the environment to embellish or decorate the objects.”

Webb is interested not only in the forms of nature from the molecule to the seedpod, but in the process of natural selection.

“Natural forms are fascinating partly because of their individual forms but also because of the variation within each category of form,” she writes. “A collection of birds’ eggs with [an] endless variety in shape, size, color and texture is a lesson in the advantage of repetition and variation.

“For me repetition and variation is the most powerful of the design principals. It allows the artist to establish what is important and to let go of what is not, in much the same way that natural selection has created an amazingly complex and successful living world.”

One of the most intriguing of Webb’s works is the Depth to Water installation — a series of aqua circular forms shaped into a large wave.

Except that the apparently abstract shapes are actually somewhat representational: They’re water molecules, one oxygen plus two hydrogen atoms, tossed by the sea.

A beautifully and almost painfully meticulous installation, this show is for lovers of preciousness and precision (and the closet scientist, too). And blue. There’s a lot of blue.

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or dtgshinn@att.net.


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