Kinetic Gallery exhibits bio art contrasting man-made, natural worlds

The Kinetic Gallery revealed its latest exhibition—Suzanne Anker’s collection, “Blue Eggs and Spam”—on Tuesday Oct. 4. Anker’s work is known as “bio art,” which combines visual art and the biological sciences. In this exhibition, Anker compares two contrasting perspectives on life: the life of analysis provided by science and technology, and the life found in the natural world.

The collection is made up of four different parts. Three sets of images are mounted on the walls that surrounded the main piece in the center of the gallery.

The first subset of images consists of five large prints titled “Laboratory Life.” These include different images of gardens, all superimposed over images of scientific laboratories. The layering of the two images presents two different forms of artificial life: the findings and the creations that come from labs that can’t be found wholly in nature, and a garden that is a man-made replica of the natural world. Thus two man-made interpretations of life are illustrated at once.

In the back of the gallery hangs two more images, both of petri dishes that hold blue egg yolks. Referencing the collection’s title, these photographs are meant to challenge the notion of what we perceive as “natural.”

The egg is a product of nature, often considered to be a symbol of life. Yet synthetic biologists managed to alter living entities, changing their chemical processes in order to create unnatural products. The results can be intriguing, but off-putting. Scientific research is of course beneficial in many ways, but Anker poses the question: would you eat a blue egg?

The final subset of images is entitled “Vanitas (in a Petri dish).” Here, Anker combines science with Dutch Vanitas art, which includes symbols of death and change—both of which are inevitable. Anker’s images are of petri dishes filled with materials that are used by scientists, as well as organic items like animal skulls. The images pop with bright colors and work to compare elements of science with historical artistic metaphors.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is perhaps the most visually stunning. A large white table stands in the middle of the gallery, on which sit multiple petri dishes. Each dish holds different objects, either man-made or natural. Some only have one item, and some are stuffed to the brim.

But what makes the piece so visually appealing is its use of color. Each dish is color-coded; everything it holds is the same hue. One holds both a yellow flower and a small yellow plastic shoe. Another holds brown, mossy material and a peanut butter cup. The dishes are organized in a sort of rainbow, flowing from white to yellow into green and blue and then all the way to black.

At the opening, Anker gave some insight into her artistic ideas behind the role of color in this centerpiece. “It’s interesting to see … how manufactured objects are the same color as the natural world,” she said. “Second nature.”

And finally, placed in a few of the dishes is a picture of a can of Spam—an item that can be both natural and manufactured, again referencing the title of the exhibit.

Anker’s “Blue Eggs and Spam” is a colorful masterpiece that spurs visitors to question the nature of the world around them. What have we created, what was already here and how is science affecting our perception of the natural world? The gallery was filled with students on opening night, and people crowded around the table of Petri dishes to get a glimpse of what was inside.

Now, it’s our job to point the same curious eye to the world we live in.