Nature

Scientific Art or Artsy Science

Jimmy Fike’s botanical photography is a harmonious fusion of science and art that promotes aesthetic modes of utilitarianism. Phew! Mouthful. Now let’s break down my pretentiously worded, esoteric thesis.

Artist Jimmy Fike takes pictures of plants that are both useful and pretty, and it’s awesome.

A brief LA Times article covers the gist of Fike’s work: Fike scavenges in nooks and crannies, ditches and alleys in search of plant specimens which he can photograph. Like any photographer, he carefully positions his models to emphasize desired traits- in this case it could be a leaf of interesting root. In the following months, he digitally illustrates the images to render edible plant parts in color.

Over the years Fike has complied an inclusive catalog of hundreds of photographs and plants and has exhibited some of his work under the title “J.W. Fike’s Photographic Survey of the Wild Edible Botanicals of California.”

Think about how multidisciplinary this work is. Biology, photography, media, ecology, and technology all compressed into a single image. An image that can seem as simple and

california_poppy_small

California Poppy

innocent as that of the California Poppy. What is most interesting is the uncertainty I encounter in how to address this work- is it research work, scientific work, or art work? Or, gasp, all three!? One many wonder whether Fike’s photographs belong in a science text book or an art gallery.

It is precisely this fluid exchange between fields that should be welcomed into the contemporary artistic sphere. These photographs, which are neither entirely aesthetic nor purely scientific, possess the power to reach a wider audience.

Images like these can possibly attract artists and scientists, women and men, children and adults alike. In light of the highly concerning juxtaposition between American politics and the rising threat of climate change, work like Fike’s should be encouraged, circulated, and gaining increasing relevance.

Bringing education and awareness of nature by means of art is genius, if you ask me.

Olafur Eliasson accomplished exactly this in his work Your waste of time. The piece features massive chunks of ice collected from broken fragments of Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. The 800-year-old ice blocks are exhibited in a refrigerated space and behave as sculptures; visitors may walk around them and contemplate their age, their size. 

img_mda111173_1600px

But it is possible to stretch our frame of reference. When we touch these blocks of ice with our hands, we are not just struck by the chill; we are struck by the world itself. We take time from the glacier by touching it. In a sense, Your waste of time is a ‘waste of time’ because I shipped the ice across the world for it to be on view for a short period of time, after which it melts away – a nanosecond in the life of the glacier. Then there’s another way in which time is wasted: we take away time from the glacier by touching it. Suddenly I make the glacier understood to me, its temporality. It is linked to the time the water took to become ice, a glacier. By touching it, I embody my knowledge by establishing physical contact. And suddenly we understand that we do actually have the capacity to understand the abstract with our senses. Touching time is touching abstraction.” ~ Olafur Eliasson

img_mda111139_1600pxIn few other contexts would the general public in Berlin or New York be able to experience the ancient Icelandic glacier. Again, Eliasson’s installation is not purely art, nor is it purely scientific. A mysterious factor beyond either field- the same one present in Fike’s photographs- lends the piece a surrealistic feel. This factor instills a mix of wonder, awe, oneness with nature. These feelings are crucial to contemporary issues about the rapidly changing earth. Humans must acknowledged this issue, must care enough about this issue to take action.

Works by Fike and Eliasson address the very foundation of concerns like climate change- tackle the roots, if you will. It begins with educating humans, reinstalling a connection to nature, and fostering that bond to blossom into meaningful action. 

Header Image: Western Gooseberry