Current Exhibition: Surreal Science: Loudon Collection with Salvatore Arancio, Whitechapel Gallery, 25 August 2018 – 6 January 2019.
Salvatore Arancio’s latest solo show, Surreal Science: Loudon Collection with Salvatore Arancio, is being held at East London’s Whitechapel Gallery. The exhibition, which closes in the new year, sees two supposedly distinct disciplines coalesce.
On encountering Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka’s renowned glass biological models in the Natural History Museum at Harvard University in 1998, Dutch art collector George Loudon began an extraordinary collection of scientific objects.
The collection comprises over 200 objects crafted from unexpected materials such as lost-wax casts, minerals, velvet, ivory and glass. It also extends to books, prints, drawings, anatomical specimens from taxidermied animals, bisected human skulls and papier-mâché flowers.
In Surreal Science, Arancio has curated his own works alongside items chosen from Loudon’s vast collection. In doing so, Arancio creates a perplexing dialogue between the natural and historically significant models and his own fantastical prints and vivid, biomorphic ceramics.
As the gallery writes in their press release, the artist ‘has devised a surreal scenography filled with sound, light and his own sculptures. They are juxtaposed with scientific objects to create startling hybrids and poetic narratives including a nineteenth-century treatise on the shape and colour of human souls. A film with a new soundtrack by The Focus Group musician Julian House takes nature documentaries as its starting point.’
Leopold (1822-95) and Rudolf (1857-1939) Blaschka, Glass model of a Portuguese man o’war, Mid to late 19th century, 14 x 8 x 8 cm. Germany. Image Courtesy George Loudon Collection
Blurring of the boundaries between art and science
Recontextualising a collection of scientific material by displaying it within a contemporary art setting, and alongside prints and ceramic sculptures, unfastens it from its historical framework.
The show’s coordinated blurring of the boundaries between art and science represents a celebration of experimentation and a fearlessness of the unknown. The installation encourages the viewer to appreciate (and to lose themselves in) a space in which scientific enquiry and artistic investigation become two sides of the same coin. What is the result? The process by which the viewer assesses the aesthetics on display challenges their preconceptions of the natural world, making an art object indistinguishable from a scientific model. This is congruent with Arancio’s artistic practice as a whole.
The potential of images – in how their meaning can be re-framed or re-viewed – is at the core of the artist’s work. The artist plays with symbols, always aiming to retain a certain degree of ambivalence in his work. Each facet of his work contains an intertwining juxtaposition in the representation of images. Arancio creates new contrasts and continuities that are both beautifully evocative and deeply disquieting.
Born in Italy, 1974. Salvatore Arancio graduated with an MA in Fine Arts Photography from the Royal College of Art (UK). His works have been shown in many institutions such as Kunsthalle Winterthur (CH), the Contemporary Art Society (UK) and Whitechapel Gallery (UK).
Author: George Greenhill
Cover image: Installation shot. Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery