Kenyon Class of ’14, Studio Art major
Biology has fascinated me since I was a child. I watched nature shows, read books about animals, made pipe cleaner sculptures of animals, and later tried to teach my sixth grade brother what I was learning in AP Biology by drawing mitosis on napkins. Last semester, I took two biology courses that sparked an interest in biological systems and how they are integrated into one another. Each cell in an organism depends on and affects every other cell, and each organism is likewise part of a population, which is dependent on several other populations for survival.
In Breath, I have created, in a sense, my own biological system, where the breathing of the lights speak of the vitality and energy of life, and the circuits of how that energy flows from one organism to the next. They are all on the same circuit, all lit by the same current, yet each one breathes at a different rate. I see this project as both a single installation and a series of sculptures. Like an ecosystem made up of many populations or a population made up of many individuals, this is an installation made up of many sculptures. I have also begun to see this work in a broader light as well, referencing stars or phosphorescent sea creatures, capturing at the same time the cosmically large and the microscopic.
Of course art has also been a love of mine since childhood, and I have always been particularly intrigued by the wide range of materials that can be utilized three-dimensionally. In this piece I worked mostly with electronics, programing, and polymer clay. I have found that the electronic parts (LESs, resisters, etc.) have a delicacy and a functionality that parallels the simultaneous beauty and functionality that I see in nature. Programming, on the other hand, is like solving a math problem creatively and in a different language. It is interesting, frustrating—and, when I succeed, incredibly satisfying. Working with the translucent clay has been a much more intuitive and expressive experience. After kneading and flatting the clay, it is pure improvisation. I follow automatic decisions made at the fingertip level, occasional vague ideas, and the clay itself as it tears, droops, or supports itself in various ways. I have begun to think of it as a dance between my fingers and the clay.
As I’ve worked on the process of creating Breath, it too has become a dance where my loves in life—biology, art, and the three-dimensional—are combined.
—Bethany Stephens, ‘14