When art and nature connect: UCC's latest exhibition

When art and nature connect: UCC's latest exhibition
Barbara Knezevic artist. Picture: Louis Haugh

The latest exhibition at the Glucksman in UCC is themed around the concept of circadian rhythms, writes Ellie O’Byrne

Outside the Glucksman, in the grounds of UCC, a curious clock is on display.

The minute hand and hour hand progress in the usual fashion, and keep time accurately, but it may take a while for an observer to realise that they’re looking at a video: An aerial view of two figures, ceaselessly sweeping the lines of debris that form the clock’s hands into their new positions. They’re keeping time with their endless work.

This is a video installation called the Sweeper’s Clock, by Dutch artist Maarten Baas. Inside the museum, the other pieces of art in the current exhibition all have a similar theme. All are chosen with the express purpose of making us consider a curious miracle of nature that governs all life on earth.

From plants to bacteria to people, all organisms are intrinsically linked to Earth’s daily 24-hour cycle,rhythmic patterns of activity known as circadian rhythms.

Dublin-based sculptor Barbara Knezevic’s large installation may at first seem static but is laden with reminders of the passage of time; plants live and die, giant candle sculptures slowly burn for the duration of the exhibition, and sea water evaporates in her piece, Exquisite Tempo Sector.

“It’s a large sculpture made of lots of different materials, some from the natural world, like plants, alabaster, and wax, and then processed materials like Perspex and bronze,”says Knezevic. “I’m trying to create a series of relationships between these materials and objects that are unexpected, but that call attention to the qualities of the individual material.

“It’s a similar approach to the rest of my work; I create a very intensified version of a staged area, maybe a bit like a shopping mall or a film set, that makes people question their relationship to the materials.”

Circadian Rhythms installation view in Glucksman gallery 1 of Barbara Knezevic.
Circadian Rhythms installation view in Glucksman gallery 1 of Barbara Knezevic.

Although Knezevic’s work often creates these strange juxtapositions, the living element of the plants is something that museum director, and co-curator of the Circadian Rhythms exhibition, Fiona Kearney is particularly delighted with.

“We really wanted to introduce the plant element because all plants are impacted by circadian rhythms too,” Kearney says. “You can put them in a fridge and they’ll still respond to the outside environment although in the total darkness.

“It’s about how we all are incredibly interconnected, not just as humans but as organisms on the same planet.”

Circadian Rhythms is the latest collaboration between the curatorial team at the Glucksman and UCC’s APC Microbiome Research Centre, part, Kearney says of the museum’s STEAM remit that fuses art with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) disciplines.

“We’re really wrong to put art and science in opposition to each other because they have shared values,” says Kearney. “Experimentation, discovery, and observation of the world are part of how both scientists and artists operate.

This exhibition is a really good example of that; it’s got a lot of scientific ideas in it, but often being explored with these extraordinary works of contemporary art.

“Art’s strength is in allowing for multiple interpretations; I often think that art is like a cradle for different opinions. There are layers of how you see these things.”

But it’s the juxtaposition of the art and the science that lends the exhibition true depth, says Kearney.

“At first glance, something like Baas’ clock seems to be quite light in tone; it’s telling the actual time. You see these two figures in blue pushing the material that makes the clock. But then you realise, they did this work for 12 hours.

“Alongside that, we have scientists looking at the impact of shift-work on our biorhythms and the potential health consequences for our bodies.”

As well as Irish artists, Kearney says there are some international contributions that are particularly exciting, not least of which is the Irish premiere of a video installation of the work of Taiwanese performance artist Tehching Hsieh, who performs, she says, “extraordinary, committed performances of a year’s duration.

“We felt very lucky to be able to introduce a global element to this show, because we feel that as a responsibility at the Glucksman: Not just to feature work from the US and UK and Ireland, but from around the world.”

Circadian Rhythms is at the Glucksman on UCC campus until November 3

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