Mishkin Gallery brings creativity to science with exhibition
The photographs were taken from a series of skulls on display at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, collected by Dr. Josef Hyrtl, a 19th century anatomist. Tattooed onto the skulls is very general information about to whom the skull belonged. The index cards contain the same information and more. However, the additional information is not true. Written on the skulls are the names, the year in which they passed and how they died. Writers, artists, scientists, medical ethicists and others would provide the additional information that would give these skulls life once more, painting fictional stories of lives well lived. Though not very thorough biographies, the information added gives color to the otherwise bleak display. The skulls are no longer simply skulls because they encapsulate people who lived colorful lives in the 19th century. One of the themes in Olynyk’s work is the gray area between history and fiction. Using the true information found on the skulls, she and others were able to create backgrounds based on the information provided to them. The truth is tattooed on the skull while the fiction is written out on the index card.
Another piece—not collaborative like the previous—is very simple at first glance. “The Conversation,” is a collection of photographs of skeletons. The skeletons are not positioned in any specific way, nor do they have any sort of object to help identify the meaning behind the piece. They are simply skeletons. Again, this is where fact versus fiction comes into play. From the angle of the first photo, the skulls look like they are facing away from one another. The next photo has them facing each other, like they have reconciled their differences. The third and final photo is a shot of their feet intertwined together. This is done intentionally. Olynyk is trying to get the viewer to formulate his/her own story for the piece. The intertwining of the feet in the last photo suggests this, and the image of two lovers lying in bed—at first arguing, then reconciling, then wrapping each other in their feet, manifests itself naturally. Through the frightening images placed by Olynyk, entire histories are imagined. Objects that have not been alive for hundreds of years are given a fresh, new life in the realm of fiction.
Ellen K. Levy’s work is much more critical. The themes in her pieces range from the stubbornness of nature, the harmful effects that modernization has had on nature and how nature can sometimes help engineers build better equipment for future natural disasters. The pieces on display are bizarre, surreal and at times, very honest depictions of our modern society. “Plato’s Cave (Change Blindness) #1 and #2,” are two photographs of the same narrow passage in Brooklyn, New York. What differs between the two is the extent of the moss that has grown.
After Superstorm Sandy, after the flood waters receded, microorganisms were left behind and continued to grow until they grew to become visible organisms. The moss has grown not only on the floor, stretching all the way to the background of the portrait, but also along the wall. According to information found at the exhibit, a small piece written by Levy says, “These works confront human difficulties in perceiving some of the challenges taking place in our ecosystem.”
The challenge is the microorganisms growing in the narrow walkway in Brooklyn, a place where they should not be growing but still do. Nature will prove time and time again, that it is the dominant presence on earth. However, not every piece of hers on display is very hopeful. “Migrations 20/20 #1, #2, #3,” is a creative take on the destruction that comes along with modernization. Highways and electrical wiring weave around the portrait, seamlessly changing between the two as they do. In the background, among all the wonderful things that have come from modernization, the development of infrastructure and the ability to mass-produce cars, is very dry land.
Since the industrial revolution, mankind has evolved greatly. It is not a natural evolution, but a mechanical one. With every passing generation, new technology becomes available for that generation.
This may seem like a good thing and is so to some people, but that is not the point Levy is getting at. Instead, the constant mechanical evolution that mankind experiences every generation will eventually lead to our downfall. Levy, however, is determined to explain that the reason for the changes in the environment are not happening naturally but are being spearheaded by mankind and all the technological progress that has been made. The work done by both artists expects the viewer to do part of the work. Their themes are dense, mysterious and abstract; if one is unwilling to spend the appropriate time, the images will appear violent, morbid and puzzling.
However, given the proper time and attention, these pieces on display will move those who have felt on-the-fence in regards to global warming by the wildly surreal portraits done by Levy. Likewise, viewers will have their views on storytelling broadened by the minimalistic style of Olynyk and her portraits that demand audience participation.
Whether one is a believer in global warming or not or is willing to have their views on storytelling expanded, the pieces on display are different, which is enough for anyone to go check them out. The exhibition goes on until March 23 and is open to the public.