“Nature’s Toolbox” | Art review
A Field Museum exhibition uses contemporary art to convey scientific messages.
You’re more likely to find dinosaur bones than contemporary art at the Field Museum. But in the Field’s exhibition “Nature’s Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art, and Invention” (organized by the nonprofit arts and activist group Art Works for Change), international artists riff on themes of biodiversity, climate change, mass extinction, and air and water pollution.
The Field doesn’t stray too far from its scientific grounding with this show of compelling artworks and installations. Most pieces, like Aganetha and Richard Dyck’s photo series “Collaborating in the Darkness, Hive Scan” (2001–03), are accompanied by wall text that explains a larger environmental challenge or phenomenon—in this case, the puzzling disappearance of honeybees. The four digital photographs offer a glimpse of the motion inside a beehive, but the wall text offers no insight into how the uncanny images were created. Instead, viewers learn that 95 percent of North America’s wild bees have died in the last few years.
Standout works include Chris Jordan’s stunning photographs of dead baby albatrosses and Lane Hall and Lisa Moline’s clever video installation Metazoa (2009–10), which makes horror-movie monsters out of zooplankton. Isabella Rossellini’s “Green Porno” series (pictured, 2009) features delightfully funny and occasionally absurd skits about various animals’ mating habits. In a paper cutout fish costume, the Italian actress-artist exclaims, “Here are my eggs! Spray them with your sperm!”
Given the show’s considerable share of disheartening facts and images about environmental and species decline, it’s refreshing to see Rossellini and other artists lighten up the science-based art exhibition with a dash of humor and sex.