Few venues are as well suited to a show combining art and technology as the James Watrous Gallery, run by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. After all, this is the same organization that presented a standing-room-only talk last September by UW stem cell researcher James Thomson, and has also explored the fruitful possibilities of combining poetry and modern medicine.
Unexpected intersections are at the heart of the Watrous Gallery's current exhibit of prints, "Ideas, Dialogue, Conscience." One of numerous print events taking place citywide in conjunction with the recently held Southern Graphics Council conference, the show features faculty artists from the UW's well-regarded printmaking program.
Don't let the name "Southern Graphics Council" fool you; it's a national printmakers' group. This year's conference theme was "Genetic ImPrint," focusing on intersections between art and biotechnology. Most of the artists in the Watrous Gallery have interpreted that theme more broadly, dealing with technology in general and not just biotech.
The work that hews most closely to the biotech theme ' and is also the most arresting piece in the show ' is Michael Connors' "RX999-Eden." While it makes use of modern techniques, it's also rich in art-historical allusion, from its triptych form to the medieval and Renaissance depictions of Adam and Eve the artist has incorporated.
In "RX999-Eden," three large-scale panels present a postmodern Adam and Eve flanking a capsule that holds a double-helix-like form. A flood of images surround the two: medical illustrations, chromosomes, protein structures, movie stills of Frankenstein and Marilyn Monroe and, not surprisingly, apples. Connors seems to suggest that modern science is leading us into dangerous ' or at least uncharted ' territory. Are we humans discovering things we were never meant to know? Or is it simply a matter of being wise in how we use scientific knowledge?
Jack Damer explores the military use of technology in works like "Night Vision" and "Recon." Now that we're mired in the Gulf War, Part II, Damer's work is a timely look at how modern wars are fought and mediated by technology.
John Hitchcock, in pieces like "Arms and Democracy," also takes on military themes, while Frances Myers combines prints and video pieces to examine New Orleans pre- and ost-Katrina. Overall, it's a fairly political show, which seems quite natural given the centuries-long relationship between prints and politics.
While you're at the Overture Center catching "Ideas, Dialogue, Conscience," which runs through May 21, it would be a shame to miss the exhibition by UW student printmakers on the first- and second-floor community galleries. Running through June 22, "Fresh Hot Press" shows that the students can hold their own alongside the faculty (and, in some cases, surpass them) with sly wit and sheer visual energy.