'Bloom: mutation, toxicity and the sublime' is a major international exhibition of contemporary art, the latest in a series of exhibitions at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery that examine artists' responses to topical developments in contemporary culture.
The exhibition, opening 13 December, explores compelling and at times disturbing issues of environmental change resulting from scientific progress.
"'Bloom' features an array of leading contemporary artists who respond to ethical issues resulting from scientific manipulation of the natural environment," said Gallery Director Greg Burke.
On one hand the exhibition draws on current anxieties such as the emergence of new diseases; the release of toxins into the environment; and global warming with its associated fears of altered eco systems, hurricanes, floods and rising sea levels. However, the artists approach these subjects more from a philosophical angle than a moralistic one and some works will provoke strong debate.
"The artists explore a range of views on the recent impacts of science on the environment, therefore the exhibition will encourage debate around the pros and cons of developments such as genetic manipulation," said Mr Burke.
The issue of environmental exploitation and destruction is explored by a number of artists including Japanese/Vietnamese artist Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba. His work 'Memorial Project Minimata: neither either nor neither – a love story' refers specifically to the industrial dumping of tons of mercury compounds in Japan's Minamata Bay since the 1930s.
The Japanese Government officially recognises that 1,435 people have died as a result of the dumpings and 20,000 people have registered as victims of mercury poisoning. The hauntingly beautiful video installation also refers to the use of Agent Orange, the code name for a herbicide developed for the military and used in the Vietnam War. Health concerns over Agent Orange surround its by product, a chemical that lab tests suggest is harmful.
"Eduardo Kac is a Brazilian artist who also raises questions about the ethics of controlling our environment through science and information technology by making works involving genetic mutation," said Mr Burke.
Kac's work 'Genesis' explores the relationship between biology, belief systems, information technology, ethics, and the Internet.
The key element of the work is an "artist's gene", a synthetic gene created by translating a sentence from the biblical book of Genesis into Morse code, and converting the Morse code into DNA base pairs. The sentence reads "Let man have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."
"Like many works in the show 'Genesis' questions age old assumptions regarding humanity's supremacy over nature," said Mr Burke.
Many of the works are very beautiful drawing on a tradition in art, literature and pop culture of a fascination with nature, its power and its association with the monstrous. There are echoes in the exhibition of the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch and Mary Shelley's famous novel 'Frankenstein'. The catalogue also refers to popular culture and the ongoing interest in mutation evident in such films as 'Matrix' and 'X Men' and asks the question as to why the "monstrous" continues to be so fascinating.
Kac's work was featured in the 2001 Yokohama Triennale while Hatsushiba's work comes to the Gallery direct from this year's Venice Biennale, as does the work of Japanese artist Motohiko Odani and Australian artist Patricia Piccinini.
Many other works have been shown at prestigious international venues such as Saskia Olde Wolbers work 'Interloper', which won first prize at this year's Basel Art Fair in Switzerland. The exhibition includes work by three New Zealand artists - Boyd Webb, Denise Kum and David Hatcher, reflecting the Gallery's commitment to presenting New Zealand contemporary art in an international context.
The exhibition is one of a series that has included 'Drive: power, progress, desire' 2000; 'Feature: art, life and cinema' 2001; 'Extended play: art remixing music' 2003 and 'Arcadia: the other life of video games' 2003.
The exhibition has been curated by Gallery Director Gregory Burke and features many major names in international contemporary art, such as Hany Armanious (AU), Christine Borland (UK) Tamami Hitsuda (JP), Eduardo Kac (BR/US), Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba (VN/JP), Susan Norrie (AU), Motohiko Odani (JP), Saskia Olde Wolbers (NL), Patricia Piccinini (AU) and Magnus Wallin (SE).
The Gallery's Sunday Specials programme includes presentations on Mâori views on genetic engineering and environmental issues facing the Taranaki region.
Happy New Year - Memorial Project Vietnam II, 2003,
Stills from the Digital Projection Video,
Courtesy of the artist and Mizuma Gallery, Tokyo