Rebecca Cummins: Art + Science Award – Third Place
In the Lenscratch call Art + Science Award: The Heart of the Matter, we asked photographers to consider a shifting perspective of our current world, placing emphasis on the most pertinent themes that reside throughout the boundaries of art and science. Due to the superlative quality of the submissions, it was challenging to narrow down from 137 portfolios to seven final selections.
This week in Lenscratch, we look at the seven winning artists who use photography to investigate themes emphasizing the impact of emotional, physiological and environmental forces upon individuals and societies. Some projects shed light on dualities like beauty and fear or human rights and authority, while others resonate with a singular vision
In a broad sense, each of the winning artists submitted a series of photographs that makes the invisible visible. From the questioned intentions surrounding surveillance to the exposure of transitioning fungi, these works share interwoven threads with the current frenetic stillness of our world.
Linda Alterwitz and Patrick C. Duffy
“Existence has overpowered Books. Today I slew a mushroom.”
Emily Dickinson, 1874
Artist and educator Rebecca Cummins explores the sculptural, experiential, and sometimes humorous possibilities of light and natural phenomena. She often references the history of science and optics.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, she turned to nature within her hometown of Seattle, Washington and gathered hundreds of mushrooms of different colors, textures and varieties. In her series Spore Drift, Cummins focused on the interplay of drying mushrooms and time to examine spore dust after it had dropped away from the mushroom cap and documented the abstract traces of its former existence.
Mushrooms can be healthy and tasty, but some are poisonous and deadly. It’s fitting that Cummins chose the mushroom as her muse in this photographic experimentation, especially during a time of global pandemic. As the world spins in a web of chaos, Cummins chooses to watch spore dust fall from a mushroom cap.
As an artist, I have long been inspired by science, its history, and instrumentation. I often explore the sculptural and experiential possibilities of light and natural phenomena in installations that have included a machine for making rainbows, sun and moon pointers – and a variety of approaches to marking time. Recently, I have imaged bio-luminescence – and cell mitosis with a wide-field UV microscope. In June, I spent a magical month at a Biological Station in far NW Lapland where I documented the Midnight Sun at the Summer Solstice. Many of these works offer innovative, sometimes playful, or intimate ways to consider time and the landscape. In Autumn 2020, I engaged in the COVID friendly activity of foraging for fungi – and made my first spore prints. I gathered hundreds of mushrooms in the mountains, golf courses, city parks, yards, and the beach; their spores vary in color and character. A spore print is made by placing the cap of a mushroom on paper or glass; over time, the spores fall, producing a fine powder on the surface. Witnessing the spores drop from the mushrooms is magical; it’s as if the mushrooms are drawing themselves on the paper or glass I provide. They appear very photographic in this one-to-one indexicality. Paradoxically, they appear as photographic negatives. Their haunting, spectral presence resonates with late 19th C. spirit and scientific photography. The spore prints have been digitally documented and printed to 13×20 in. – Rebecca Cummins
In addition to an independent studio practice, Rebecca Cummins is active in public art and cross-disciplinary collaborations with artists and scientists. Exhibits in 2019|2020 include: Art Center Nabi Special Exhibition, Asia Culture Center, ISEA 2019, Gwangju, Republic of Korea; “Retícula”, ASKVII: UCSC Culture Gallery, Concepción Arte y Ciencia Biennial, Chile; Heller Gallery, NYC and Southwest Contemporary, Adelaide, South Australia. Previous exhibitions include the 2006 Shanghai Biennial, Shanghai Museum; The Museum of Contemporary Art KIASMA, Helsinki, 2004 and the 2008 Biennial of Seville, Spain. Public commissions were completed for the City of Seattle, the Washington State Arts Commission and the Exploratorium, San Francisco. Cummins has been artist-in-residence at Ars Bioartica, BioArt Society, Kilpisjärvi Biological Station (far NW Lapland), University of Helsinki, Finland (June 2021); SymbioticA, School of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia (2015), Bundanon Residency, Illaroo, NSW, Australia (2017) and in the Wordeman Lab, Physiology and Biophysics, University of Washington (2019). Cummins is a Professor in the School of Art + Art History + Design, University of Washington, Seattle.
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