Jennifer WilletJennifer Willet sets up some of the pieces for the NATURAL SCIENCE exhibit, which opens Friday at the Artcite Gallery.

Bioart exhibit draws parallels between humanity and nature

One might be excused for stopping to stare in the window of the Artcite Gallery when they catch a glimpse of curiosities like a bear rug hanging from the wall with a plastic-encased human spine attached to it. Or a large aqua-marine coloured deer decoy with a window on its side, displaying a replication of its intestines.

“The people wandering by are just gob-smacked,” chuckled visual arts professor Jennifer Willet, the creative mind behind NATURAL SCIENCE, the latest exhibit at the gallery, 109 University Avenue West.

The exhibit, which opens Friday night, is a collection of the pieces created by the 20 artists, scientists, filmmakers, theorists and students who spent two weeks at her BioARTCAMP in the Rocky Mountains in 2011. Participants built a portable laboratory in the forest and conducted a variety of scientific, ecological, creative, and theoretical projects.

Dr. Willet said the camp provided alternative visions of the biotech future: ecological, embodied and responsible visions of our relations and responsibilities to the other life forms we share our planet and our laboratories with. She said many of the works are based on the premise that scientific human activities people consider unnatural are actually derived from the same survival instinct of most organisms in the natural world.

“What we’re doing is actually an ecological function, so this is just drawing connections between ecology in the lab and our perceived ecology of the natural world,” she said.

One of the many items on display, for instance, are the ashes from a fire over which artist Paul Vanouse replicated a procedure that involves cloning DNA through a process called thermocycling, which essentially means cycling it through various temperatures. The DNA he cloned will also be there.

He basically did the same experiment over a campfire that would normally require thousands of dollars of equipment in a lab,” she said.

Willet said she’s invited dignitaries and members of the scientific community to the exhibit – which will run until March before moving on to galleries in London, Edmonton and Victoria in 2015 and 2016 – but hopes it will attract a broad audience from the general public.

“I think it will attract a lot of people who wouldn’t normally go to something like an art show,” she said.  “A lot of the stuff I do is more performance based, so this is one of the artiest shows I’ve done in a long time. It has a kind of kitsch value, but also an underlying critical message about the connection between humanity and nature.”

The exhibit will kick off with an opening reception Friday at 7:30 p.m. Willet will appear today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday on CJAM 99.1 FM.