no longer so recent an installation
SANTA FE, New Mexico
The façade of LewAllen Contemporary is the site of a variation on a theme of a stained-glass
window. But instead of the traditional pieces of flat colored glass held together by lead,
Tracy Hicks has used 875 glass gars tinted by chemically treated water and digital images on
acetate that have been attached to the surface. Some jars actually have preserved specimens
inside or cast glass replicas of certain species. There are two different ways of seeing this
installation, called Salvage Biology. One is to view it on the sidewalk outside the gallery,
with the light bouncing off the surface of the piece. The other is to study it from inside,
and see it in its full spectrum of colors with the light passing through the jars and
illuminating them more fully. This vantage point also makes the images easier to discern.
As fascinating as the experience is when first viewing these pastel-hued bottles, the effect is
heightened when you realize that Hicks has created a kind of "cabinet of wonders" for the study
of amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. It can also be likened to a laboratory wall full of
specimen jars where one can, scanning from left to right, participate in a crash course in
vertebrate evolution. Studying the images, we trace our development from creatures of the sea to
those that led to the frog, for instance, whose skeletal system bears such a close resemblance
to our own. On the right side of Hicks' wall are photographic signifiers of human primates with
their sight-specific eyes, opposable thumbs, and essentially hairless body parts.
This work was inspired by a trip to the Guatemalan jungle two years ago with field biologists who
were doing research on the ecosystems there. Hicks, too, became involved with the study and came
away from this project with his respect for our evolutionary narrative intensified and his sense
of urgency about the future sadly renewed. Consequently, embedded within the conceptual
underpinnings of Salvage Biology is the awareness that as ecosystems are destroyed, the fate of
all is put at risk because the links in the evolutionary chain cannot be broken without danger
to the beginning, the middle, or the end. Hicks, as a concerned citizen as well as an artist,
was compelled to gather evidence of this increasingly fragmented story that gently asks us to
bear witness once again to the reality of our interrelated bio-diversified life.
That the artist's sensibility is highly developed is without question. His sensitive, beautifully
presented work has been shown all over the Southwest for many years to great acclaim. Now
however, Hicks' art seems less hermetic, and has taken a bigger step into the overlapping terrain
between art and science. This is an area of endeavor that holds so much promise for art's renewal
and its refusal to embrace a cloud of fashionable cynicism. In light of this, Hicks'
stained-glass window speaks of evolution on more than just the biological level. It becomes
emblematic of a type of spiritual salvaging effort as well.
…So much of biology is light. Chemoautotroph aside, the essence of biota is
water, carbon energized by the light. The substance of the science- the
logy- is enlightening our minds about the inner workings of life.
And the aesthetic… sperm satellites magnetized to the oocyte moons…
The bottom two rows of jars are slowly deteriorating...
The liquid in the bottom is 35% alcohol 65%distilled water. The ink dissolves in the alcohol and is held in solution. A thin layer of mineral oil seals the alcohol, otherwise the fumes from the alcohol would dissolve all the image in short order.
The images of the frogs are either from my personal collection or from a friend's.
If you look closely in the green liquid above you'll see the wheel of a car on the street outside the gallery. As people walk by or cars drive by they become integrated into the piece.
Like a pointillist image they dance down the street.
The resin cast caecilian (Dermorphis mexicanus) in the jar above
is a legless amphibian from Central America
where it is known as a topacoua
or butt hole plugger.
The topacoua reappears
in this exhibition
and in this blown glass bowl
in this exhibition.
Outside the gallery at night…