Connecting the Dots: Exploring Chemical Revolution through Art explores the relationship between scientific exploration and artmaking. Though this relationship seems somewhat tenuous on the surface, what emerges from Spruill Gallery’s exhibition is a portrait of collaborative artmaking that holds like the strongest molecular bond.
Connecting the Dots was created by Terri Dilling, a visiting artist at the Center for Chemical Evolution in Atlanta. Dilling’s conversations with scientists at the Center stimulated her new body of works, which comprise prints, painting, video, and installation. The show includes a collaboration with artist Leisa Rich as well as Primordial Soup, a show within the exhibition featuring prints by 14 other artists.
In Connecting the Dots’s statement, Dilling compares the artist’s mission to that of the scientist in that both question the world around them, what it is made of, and how it works. She writes, “Chemistry has caused me to look at my art in a new way, seeing atoms and molecules in the work, reacting with each other and bonding to form more complex shapes and clusters.” The resulting work begins with her Little Worlds print series, which uses imagery from microscope slides of molecules. Black and white representations of molecules streaked with what seem like synapses and blood vessels are printed in exact circles and ovals, like a tissue sample on a slide or perhaps a porthole view into an interior world. The works are a somewhat literal translation of molecular forms into art and seem as sterile as slides in a lab, though perhaps that was Dilling’s intent.
The molecular theme continues in Dilling’s Warm Little Pond series, consisting of multi-media works that incorporate encaustic, acrylic, and screen-print, among other mediums. In these works, organic cell-like shapes hang suspended in wax. Though these works didn’t particularly move me (I find encaustic a dangerous medium for artists; the many coats of wax seem to dull the work, removing individual distinction and shellacking it into coffee-shop obscurity), the video work Common Ancestry was a revelation. In this time-lapse animation, two encaustic paintings are shown side-by-side as they evolve from the same blank canvas into finished works of art. The shifting layers and gradual additions are set to a light, mechanical-sounding music, similar to the first five seconds of the Lost in Space theme song. A medium I consider flat was transformed into an energizing and dynamic experience.
Leisa Rich’s art was another energizing element of the show. Her sculptures, texturally-rich fabric and vinyl wonderlands within a terrarium-like dome, continued the theme of art as a porthole. Mounted on the wall, these works project into the space yet are completely contained; the playful textures within are intensely alluring, yet the viewer is kept at an infuriating distance.
That distance is destroyed with the installation Interstellar Interactions, by Dilling and Rich. An inner room of the Spruill Gallery has been transformed into a felt and fabric landscape of plush shapes, fuzzy anemones, and hanging cells. The fabrics are printed with Dilling’s designs, and Rich’s fabric organisms hang from wall and ceiling. The walls of the room have replaced Rich’s domes as the boundary for this work; the viewer can at last enter the work and enjoy it from the inside.
A Line is a Dot That Went for a Walk Series is the flip-side of the collaborative coin. A mixed-media work by Dilling and Rich, A Line takes Dilling’s circular prints and gives them tendrils and textures. Interstellar Interactions upends the viewer-art relationship by bringing the viewer inside the work; A Line takes the 2D print and adds a 3D element, causing the work to reach out to the viewer.
What started with an exploration of scientific themes in art ends with an artist collaboration that takes those themes to fantastic heights. I came away feeling the conversations Dilling had with the scientific community were not nearly as stimulating towards successful work as the conversations she must have had with Rich. And although science provided the inspiration for this exhibition, collaboration and conversation between artists was necessary to bring it into full fruition.