Downtown art

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March 28, 2005 // UPDATED 1:53 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Anna Pratt
Anna Pratt

Body beautiful

I'm fascinated by the infusion of science into art, probably because science class was always one of my weaknesses. School only seemed to reinforce the divide between the two fields since both contained primarily discrete sets of students. Few art majors claimed an affinity for elements of the periodic table. I also didn't know many Institute of Technology students who thought that going to an art show could actually be considered fun.

But I remember a classmate, a physicist who'd somehow turned out to also be a painter. His works were abstract and mainly composed of shapes connected with varying thick or thin strokes. After scrutinizing his giant canvases, I realized that he painted lab equipment. Even through fluorescent colors and blurred configurations, I recognized the hoses, knobs, switches, tubes and other apparatuses that served foreign purposes to me.

But the painter-physicist signaled one of the biggest art movements that I've witnessed in my lifetime so far - the immersion of science into art. Especially biology. However, it seems particularly notable at present, with medical paraphernalia turned into objets' d'art. In our technology-driven time, the trend represents a return to "primitive" values. That is, a kind of mystical appreciation for the body and all of its devices.

While we forge amazing high-tech breakthroughs, we find power and aesthetic qualities in the depiction of a DNA strand, brain tissue and blood vessels, similar to the ancient societies that worshiped biological functions. Although the artwork we see today may show less metaphorical or symbolic veneration, it still gives biology a prominent place in the picture plane.

For example, Kate Hoff's prints are pieced together from the visual aids she received from her doctors after having an aneurysm. These are graceful self-portraits. The meandering blood vessels show up-close brain activity. There's an eerie quality to the pictures of the inside of her head, but for Hoff they're a release from the crisis, and they're a part of her recovery. Because the images resemble maps or streams, they place Hoff's head into a larger, worldlier context.

Likewise, Mary Margaret Holloway's vibrant anatomical paintings express the vivacity of the nervous system.

Brenda Von Ahsen's anatomical works reflect inner and outer worlds.

Duane Wirth pictures childbirth. Wirth is also captivated by quantum mechanics and chaos theories, which also shows up in his complex pieces.

Faye Buffington-Howell's elaborate line drawings ties human forms together. Alexandra Alexander plumbs the spirituality of dolls that she believes are real and containsouls.

Gina Ruppert's pieces also relate to ritualistic groups, with images of the female figure that present the intersection of present and past lives.

- W-Sa thru Apr. 22, W, F-Sa noon-5 p.m., Th noon-7 p.m.
Outsiders and Others, 1010 Park Ave.
Free. 338-3435, www.outsidersandothers.org.

Time after time

"The Swim" messes with linear time, as the story hinges on a race among three women from dissimilar time periods. Playwright Janet Allard plucks Meng Chiang from ancient Chinese mythology, Mimi Chasms out of the Victorian era and Mary Lou from contemporary society.

This trio exists in a sort of Bermuda Triangle of their own, where fantasy and reality intermingle casually, like acquaintances.

They embark on their journeys specifically with their own muscle power, their arms as motors. Each of the women plans to swim across the world - the thought of which makes me motion for my inhaler since I huff and puff in a weedy lake, much less the broad expanse of the ocean.

But these women have the benefit of straddling imaginary and actual worlds. Each is motivated to plunge into the depths by different causes. Meng wants to recover her husband, who's been tossed gingerly into the waves by an oppressive emperor. Mimi simply wants to elude a host of tenacious suitors. (See, that's the kind of thing that's always happening to me. I always feel chased!) Mary strives for victory with another gold medal.

- F-Su Apr. 1-16, F-Sa 8 p.m., Su 2 p.m., (plus M Apr. 11, 7 p.m.)
Red Eye, 15 W. 14th St.
$12-$16. 870-0309, www.theredeye.org.

Anna Pratt can be reached at annapratt@artlover.com.