Overflowing with Flora and Fauna, Collaged Paper Installations Comment on Earth's Dwindling Biodiversity
Sprawling across paint-chipped walls and tiny alcoves, the collaged installations of artist Clare Börsch mimic overgrown jungles and whimsical forest scenes. Layers of flora, fauna, and the occasional gemstone or human figure comprise the amorphous paper artworks as they transform spaces into fantastical ecosystems.
In a note to Colossal, Börsch shares that she began her artistic practice as a way to translate her dreams, which are often lucid and informed by memories and a strong tie to nature, into physical objects that others could immerse themselves in. “Growing up in Brazil, I had the ocean, rivers, and jungles that always existed in stark contrast to the industrial cities (I lived in Sao Paulo). So my earliest and most formative memories are of lush, humming tropical ecosystems —and the encroaching industrial landscapes of Brazil’s cities,” she says.
The Berlin-based American artist sources her many of the vintage photographs from open source archives, including the Biodiversity Heritage Library (previously), Pixabay, and Unsplash. Some of the botanical elements she draws or photographs herself before cutting around the organic elements and assembling them in new, sometimes bizarre, compositions.
Despite the vibrancy and lively qualities of the three-dimensional collages, Börsch uses her artworks to reflect on the ongoing climate crisis and destruction of biodiversity, commentary that’s laced with themes of decay and death. She explains:
This came into focus for me when I made a series of collages and then later realized that many of the species in the vintage illustrations had already gone extinct. Humanity has wiped out 68% of all our planet’s biodiversity since 1970, so working with vintage illustrations can be very heartbreaking as much of the diversity in these gorgeous old naturalist prints has been wiped out by human activity.
Since then, Börsch has been collaborating with scientist Louisa Durkin, of the Nordic Academy of Biodiversity and Systematics Studies, to identify ways the artworks can spark awareness and dialogue about environmental issues. “I often say that I do not want my art to be a funerary dirge for everything we could have saved,” she says.
In recent months, Börsch has been working on a commissioned series that will culminate in a forthcoming book, titled Why Do Tigers Have Whiskers? And Other Cool Things About Animals, which is scheduled for release by Thames & Hudson in May 2021. Follow the artist on Instagram to see her latest projects, including an immersive installation commenting on regenerative approaches to tackling problems of biodiversity, which she plans to unveil in early November. (thnx, Elsie!)
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Neural Networks Create a Disturbing Record of Natural History in AI-Generated Illustrations by Sofia Crespo
Sofia Crespo describes her work as the “natural history book that never was.” The Berlin-based artist uses artificial neural networks to generate illustrations that at first glance, resemble Louis Renard’s 18th Century renderings or the exotic specimens of Albertus Seba’s compendium. Upon closer inspection, though, the colorful renderings reveal unsettling combinations: two fish are conjoined with a shared fin, flower petals appear feather-like, and a study of butterflies features insects with missing wings and bizarrely formed bodies.
Titled Artificial Natural History, the ongoing project merges the desire to categorize organisms with “the very renaissance project of humanism,” Crespo says, forming a distorted series of creatures with imagined features that require a new set of biological classifications. “The specimens of the artificial natural history both celebrate and play with the seemingly endless diversity of the natural world, one that we still have very limited comprehension and awareness of,” she writes.
Crespo manufactured a similar project, Neural Zoo, that combines disparate elements of nature into composite organisms. “Our visual cortex recognizes the textures, but the brain is simultaneously aware that those elements don’t belong to any arrangement of reality that it has access to,” she says. More generally, Crespo explains her motivation behind merging artificial neural networks and natural history:
Computer vision and machine learning could offer a bridge between us and a speculative “natures” that can only be accessed through high levels of parallel computation. Starting from the level of our known reality, we could ultimately be digitizing cognitive processes and utilizing them to feed new inputs into the biological world, which feeds back into a cycle. Routines in artificial neural networks become a tool for creation, one that allows for new experiences of the familiar. Can art be reduced to the remapping of data absorbed through sensory processes?
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Full of extraordinary creatures, the illustrated series The Creative Specimens seamlessly combines species into unusual hybrids. Similar in color, each organism is bizarre in form. The feathered head of a bird is placed on a tortoise’s body, octopus tentacles sprout from the bottom of a cactus, and speckled coral comprises a deer’s antlers.
Adobe’s 99U Conference spurred the collaborative project as a way to offer a visual language encompassing various creative careers and passions. Inspired by the biological classifications of Charles Darwin and his contemporaries, New York-based art director and graphic designer Mark Brooks digitally rendered the organisms by referencing vintage illustrations. He then passed the project to Joanmiquel Bennasar, an illustrator living and working in the Balearic Islands, who recreated the creatures in watercolor.
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Lisa Törner repurposes the front pages of The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the French weekly Le Canard Enchainé into inky canvases for her expressive creatures. For each edition, the Stockholm-based artist offers insightful commentary on the day’s events: a pensive monkey masks an article about bankers on Wall Street, a turquoise peacock adorns the coverage of Karl Lagerfield’s death, and a slinking leopard is rendered alongside a heartwrenching story about a mother and child, who were separated more than 50 years ago. “The panther symbolize(s) the son’s escape from North Korea,” she tells Colossal.
Törner, who is the daughter of Swedish sculptor and illustrator Bernt Törner, grew up in an artistic household and learned to paint at a young age. In her own practice, she sketches the evocative animals directly on the front pages. Her technique includes a combination of blank ink, acrylics, and oil paints to complete the wild creatures.
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Australian sculptor and installation artist Georgie Seccull creates large-scale stainless steel sculptures of animals and other creatures seemingly locked in motion. Comprised of numerous pieces cut from metal sheets, the materials lend themselves to organic forms like feathers, scales, wings, or the armaments of crustaceans. Seccull’s work scales up dramatically in her installation practice where she’s filled entire rooms and atriums with suspended pieces.
“We are born out of chaos in darkness and come into the light—my process is much the same: I begin with a thousand pieces scattered on the ground, then working almost like a jigsaw puzzle, I pick them up one by one and allow each piece to come together organically and dictate the outcome,” the artist shares in a statement.
One of Seccull’s most recent sculptures has been nominated for a Beautiful Bizarre People’s Choice art prize, and she has an upcoming solo show at the Gasworks Art Park near Melbourne. You can see more of her work on Instagram.
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In the hands of Montana-based sculptor Beth Cavener (previously), clay transforms into mesmerizing, life-size animal figures charged with raw emotion and vitality. Human, her recently released and award-winning monograph, gathers and celebrates nearly two decades of these extraordinary creations, featuring 160 color plates of work from six series. The curious menagerie includes hares, foxes, goats, and other common mammals, with graceful and luminous bodies depicted in situations that are often tinged with a sense of violent tension. They are figures of pathos: Some creatures recoil, as though in fear; others seem paralyzed by some unseen force. Many are suspended, tethered, or slumped over, having seemingly surrendered to their perpetual state of entrapment. Still, others are beasts exuding tenderness, their body language and eyes inviting viewers to draw close.
Cavener is a prolific artist, and as Human reveals, she has experimented with diverse materials including crystallized sugar, black sand, and smoke. Some of her most compelling pieces engage evocative devices like steel chains and glass vitrines, with several incorporating distinctive objects like a 24 karat gold ring and a wasps’ nest. The resulting animals could be displaced from dark fables. They are haunting, unlucky characters whose precise body language and inescapable gazes express unfiltered views of human nature.
Writing the foreword for Human, critic Garth Clark identifies Cavener’s sources of inspiration: People she personally has encountered during her lifetime—including her own self—“whose psychodramas, emotional catastrophes, and sexual peculiarities play out in her work.” Roiling with unspoken affect, these animals serve as unflinching mirrors capable of appealing at one glance and suddenly unsettling at another. As Cavener has said about her own visions: “Entangled in their own internal and external struggles, the figures express frustration for the human tendency towards cruelty and a lack of understanding. Something conscious and knowing is captured in their gestures and expressions. An invitation and a rebuke.”
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Editor's Picks: Design
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