Art’s reaction to systematic and formalized knowledge
by Hong Kyung-Hwan
Depicting a detailed and harmonious conversation between our minds and nature through art, Michael Whittle’s works are essentially based on the study of biomedical sciences and philosophy. Specific subjects include genetics, anatomy and neurology, as well as a wide area of other academic domains such as astronomy, archeology and geography. Such vast academic areas have importance not only in his artistic manifestation and expansion, but also in how he approaches the topics.
Transcending simple elaboration, the work provides a more detailed exploration of the Asian concept of Samsara (the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth) and of Eternity, and the influence of these ideas on linguistics and human thought. In actuality, Whittle sources from a vast range of knowledge to presents transcendental concepts that go beyond simple visual entertainment, to have poetic resonance and deal with religious concepts.
The meticulous study of objects and phenomena that emerges from drawing, repetition, arrangement, postponement, symmetry and orders of different knowledge, all depict his style. Ultimately his intentions to promote communication between man and nature, presence and existence, and materiality and immateriality can also be seen.
His work at this exhibition also follows this theme. From ‘Arrector Pili with Apical Meristem’ (2010), which is very detailed and biological, to ‘Model for the Origin of Human Language- Plane’ (2011), which relates to space, these works span a huge spectrum. ‘Silence Tripled’ (2011) depicts the inner structure of the ear as a three parts of a closed object and appears biomedical, but the work itself could also be read as a geometric composition.
Both ‘Thoughts of a dry Brain in dry Season’ (2010), contrasting patterns formed in dry mud with the interior of the eye, and ‘Buddha with Bird Call’ (2011), which presents Buddha as a topographic map with a Siberian Blue Robin, show how his creativity emerges from a fusing of knowledge and artistry. In particular, ‘The Desert Grows’ (2010) with its philosophical undertones, and ‘Torus with Polar Jet’ (2010), which is a drawing based on the structure of a black hole in astrophysics and the design of a particle accelerator in particle physics, captures the nature of Whittle’s creativity, which shows few boundaries or restrictions.
Of interest is that the range of topics and the style of expression are so comprehensive and profound, it begs the question of whether they are from the same, single person. The density of meaning in his works is in contrast to the light nature of drawings themselves. For example, ‘How hard they try’ (2011) is a series of drawings that could be interpreted from a medical and biomedical perspective, but are also reminiscent of the seemingly perfect forms seen in nature. Many of his works, including this, offer sensual enjoyment as well as a descriptive and incomplete narrative, to suggest a channel of communication between the narrator and others.
Therefore, an important point in observing his work, and part of the appeal of his work, is to consider them as art’s reaction to formalized and systematic knowledge. Although it can appear complicated, and at first glance difficult to understand, his images aim to foster human thought, as well as to show mankind’s efforts to change the World according to its desires, and the resistance met when trying to do this. It can also be an opportunity to discover in what way art can study the World with wonder as a substitute to this.
If we read conditions of existence in his works, experience narratives, discover religious or philosophical themes, and observe the fusion of scientific study with a wider symbolic landscape, anyone would review his works positively. Furthermore, when understanding how the biomedical or genetic sciences that he studied influenced his work and philosophy, as well as how he approaches art and fundamental observation, it will not be too difficult to see how the persistent repetition between molecular fusion and dissolution was the foundation to his artistic development.