Darwin Finches

Illustration from “The Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle” by Charles Darwin (1839) (via Darwin Online)

Celebrating what would be (if he was not in fact a mortal and evolved human) Charle’s Darwin’s 204th birthday, today’s Darwin Day is an international extravaganza with events around the world. If you’re not lucky enough to be near a party serving primordial soup (a recipe with open interpretation based on the mixing of molecules to form life on earth) or a heated reenactment of the were-people-ever-monkeys Scopes Trial, you can celebrate Darwin Day with us by looking at signs that the art world is evolving into a glorious techno-future or devolving into prehistoric simplicity.


"Subway" 1994  Fuji Super Gloss print, wood, aluminium frame / Fuji Super Gloss print, bois, cadre en aluminium  27 1/4 x 40 1/4 x 2 inches / 69 x 102 x 5,1 cm

Mariko Mori, “Subway” (1994), performance (via Galerie Perrotin)

Mariko Mori makes such cosmic art that I might suspect her “Subway” project in 1994, where she dressed in a spacesuit on the Tokyo subway, wasn’t a performance at all. One of her most stellar pieces, “Tom Na H-iu II” currently in her Rebirth exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, seems to have descended like the 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith (itself perhaps the instigator of our evolution, at least according to the fictional world of Stanley Kubrick). The sculpture communicates directly with the neutrino observatory at the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, meaning its LED flashes are actually controlled by the stars.


Andy Goldsworthy, "Stone Sea" (2012), site-specific stone installation at the Saint Louis Art Museum (Courtesy Galerie Lelong)

Andy Goldsworthy, “Stone Sea” (2012), site-specific stone installation at the Saint Louis Art Museum (via Galerie Lelong)

While I have nothing but respect for someone who would spend tedious hours forming shards of ice into dimensional sculpture or stiff tree branches into a strange passageway, there is something primeval about Andy Goldsworthy’s land art that, if any of it survives the centuries, is sure to confuse archeologists. Just look at his recent “Stone Sea” at the Saint Louis Art Museum that seems like arches unhinged from first century Roman aqueducts to wander the ages to the city on the Mississippi River.


Eduardo Kac, Natural History of the Enigma, transgenic flower with artist's own DNA expressed in the red veins, 2003/200

Eduardo Kac, “Natural History of the Enigma” (2003/2008), transgenic flower with artist’s own DNA expressed in the red veins (via Eduardo Kac)

Darwin was all about the diversity of the living world and studying specific traits in the natural world, and eccentric artist Eduardo Kac is all about manipulating those traits into abnormalities of nature. His “Natural History of the Enigma,” shown last year at Tatiana Kourochkina Galeria d’Art in Barcelona, had DNA extracted from his own blood programmed into the vascular system of a petunia, and there is of course his most famous work of “bio art,” the “GFP Bunny,” a real life rabbit that was engineered to glow fluorescent green, that was “realized” in 2000.



Daniel Lefcourt, “Banality of Evil” (2004), oil on linen (via Mitchell-Innes & Nash)

While our contemporary world is embedded with such futuristic landmarks like the world’s largest solar furnace in France and the particle physics potential of CERN under Geneva, Daniel Lefcourt has turned against it all with paintings that have boulders and piles of debris as their subjects. His Prepared Ground exhibition at Taxter and Spengemann had paintings printed with piles of wood and dirt, and in 2004 at the gallery in Put All Doubt to Rest his images repeated the countours and crags of black rocks in a solemn look at basic material that contrasts with our current love for the digital.


FLOAT! Thinktank 21

Thom Kubli, “FLOAT! Thinktank 21” (2010), saltwater isolation tank, filter equipment, pedestal, 6-channel audio system (via Thom Kubli)

What could be more evolved than art that exists primarily in your mind? In Thom Kubli’s “FLOAT! Thinktank 21,” which was part of the temporary Marian Spore project in an industrial Brooklyn space, you relax in a state of weightlessness for nearly an hour in a sensory depravation tank, while a sound piece underwater drones on about zero gravity, a perfect opportunity to contemplate what natural selections brought you to be in this human form floating in the dark.


Joe Bradley : Schmagoo Paintings, Installation view, 2008

Joe Bradley, “Schmagoo Paintings” (2008), installation view (via CANADA)

Joe Bradley describes his work as “pathetic” takes on large-scale minimalism and color fields, and are anti-everything evolved in terms of contemporary art, created on flimsy materials and such simple designs as prone stick figures and scratchy drags of color. He seems like an artist that would be happy to work on some cave walls in the south of France, and who might add some extra texture to those cattle at Lascaux.

Banksy's monkey in Sydney (via)

Banksy’s monkey in Sydney (via)

So whether or not art is evolving or devolving or just twirling up towards freedom from time, Darwin Day is an enjoyable excuse to look at these contemporary creators from a skewed perspective.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...