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In Shadow Of COVID-19, Exhibit Approaches Art On The Microbial Level

Courtesy of Distance Gallery
Luke Jerram's 'COVID-19' (2019)

The phrase “We’re all in this together” has become a bit of a cliché during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone is saying it, from politicians to celebrities to car dealerships.

“Unfortunately, when we say, ‘we’re all in this together’ - it’s a nice aphorism but it doesn’t go far enough,” Denver bio-artist Lauri Lynnxe Murphy said.

The current global pandemic is a strong reminder about how truly connected all life is - whether it's human or animal or a virus, like COVID-19.

“Initially the story was bat to pangolin and Wuhan market,” Murphy said of the suspected path of the coronavirus. “We don’t really know now; we’re not sure.”

Credit Courtesy of Distance Gallery
Suzanne Anker's 'Remote Sensing 42' (plaster, pigment and resin)

But the coronavirus has many thinking more about the thread between us. In response, Murphy, whose artwork includes wax sculpture collaborations with honeybees, has curated the environmental art exhibition, “All in This Together.” Featuring local and international artists, the show zeroes in on our connection to the natural world around us, down to the microbial level.

Those connections range from the more obvious - such as ​British artist Luke Jerram’s glass microbes, including a model of the COVID-19 virus - to works by Ana Maria Hernando. The Boulder artist used audio of bird calls as part of her series, “Écoutons / Let's Listen / Escuchemos.”

“She wasn’t someone I’d originally thought of (for this show),” Murphy said. “And then I started seeing what she was doing on Instagram and she was asking people to send her bird sounds and she was embroidering them onto this sheer fabric on embroidery hoops, and I was like, that’s absolutely in the same vein.”

On her site, Hernando explained that the project was supposed to be a collaborative performance, featuring a group going up Mount San Peyre in France and listening to the birds together. When the pandemic made that impossible, she asked for the next best thing: audio recordings.

“In the midst of the quietness that the quarantines offer, the opportunity to listen seems to have uncovered a thirst to be present, a need to be connected with nature, and in between each other, a need to express care,” Hernando wrote in her artist statement.

Credit Courtesy of Distance Gallery
Ken Rinaldo's 'Chinese Yuan/US Dollar' (agar, currency, bacteria)

The exhibition also features works from artist Ken Rinaldo’s 2017 series, “Borderless Bacteria,” which uses agar plates. Labs use the gelatinous substance to grow microorganisms in petri dishes. Within the plates, Rinaldo placed dollars and foreign currency.

“As some people probably have never thought about and have learned during COVID, money is filthy, absolutely filthy,” Murphy said. “So, these plates grew very beautiful examples of different bacteria, and I think it’s a very poignant take on what’s going on now.”

As is artist Anna Dumitriu’s 2016 series of necklaces, she added. While stunning to look at, the science behind them is mind-blowing.

The piece “Engineered Antibody” is made of polymer clay beads infused with a crystallized amino acid powder. Dumitriu based it on the work of scientist Xiang Li’s research on an antibody purified from the blood of an HIV-positive patient.

Credit Courtesy of Distance Gallery
Anna Dumitriu's 'Engineered Antibody' (polymer clay beads, crystallized amino acid powder, cloth, embroidery)

“It’s really fascinating when you see this cross-section of science and art,” Murphy said. “And actually, I think it makes both better because I really don’t think science and art are that different. As artists we are performing experiments, and those experiments fail, and we try again. The same goes for scientists.”

Even the platform for the exhibition is a nod to its subject matter. With social distancing measures still in place, “All in This Together” is being showcased exclusively virtually at the online Distance Gallery, founded by Denver artist Joshua Field.

To bring this many artists, especially international artists, to a gallery would have required a big budget, Murphy said, adding, “This is the show I’ve always wanted to curate, but in real life I probably never could.”

Distance Gallery’s exhibition “All in This Together” will be online through June 15.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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