Baroque Biology

Baroque Biology
Jennifer Willet

Jennifer Willet - The Great Lakes Algae Organ Open Space Gallery, Victoria, CA, 2016 (Photo Credit: Jennifer Willet)

Baroque Biology is a new series of 5 quirky pieces of modified lab equipment designed in response of more typical laboratory aesthetics projecting Western notions of objectivity - cold, sterile, masculine, steel, plastic, glass.  These objects are counterintuitive, they imagine biotechnology as integrated into everyday life, life of the family and child, a life including imagination and play.  Baroque Biology is gaudy and fantastical - somewhat like Marry Poppins (Disney, 1964) but with darker undertones as in Juliet of the Spirits (Fellini, 1965) within a laboratory setting.

Baroque Biology Includes (1) The Great Lakes Algae Organ (2016) a bicycle propelled street organ that grows and displays living spirulina algae.  Audiences are invited to enjoy live organ music while engaging with a live algae colony.  The organ welcomes discussion of algae’s many roles as a superfood, as the largest producer of oxygen in our atmosphere, as a possible source of biofuel, and as an invasive species infesting waters in The Great Lakes.  It is an absurdist object – connecting the science and technology of farming algae with a long Dutch tradition of street entertainment.  But it is this absurdity – this element of play – that invites members of the general public to let their guard down and have a complex engagement with a biological artwork – an artist, a scientist, and another species.

(2) Biosafety Cabinet Puppet Play House (2018) is a functional BSL2 biological safety cabinet that is designed to look like a miniature theatre set.  Performers can reach inside of the sterile workspace from behind the cabinet, conducting biotechnological protocols for public audiences within the context of a beautifully crafted puppet theatre.

The series also includes (3) Settee-Cefuge; a functional centrifuge upholstered into an antique settee with mounted casual table.  This object will allow the centrifuge operator to sit (and take a cup of tea) while waiting for their specimens to complete the spin cycle.  The settee will vibrate (much like a motel vibrating bed) when the centrifuge is in operation.  (4) Self-Incubating Chandelier, is a chandelier installation that houses living bacteria samples.  The incandescent light bulbs provide the heat necessary to maintain the prisms at body temperature.  And, (5) Laboratory Kitchenette; a small kitchen combining aesthetics and functionality of both a lab and a tiny house / play house kitchen.  All of these objects, at approx. ¾ scale, will combine functionality with a DIY neo-baroque / kitsch aesthetic including faux finishes – gold leaf – and decorative moldings.

The Great Lakes Algae Organ was exhibited at exhibited at Open Space Gallery (2016) in Victoria, BC and the W.A.V.E.S. Festival (2016) in Windsor, Hamilton Artist Inc. and Cape Breton University Gallery (2017).

Project Assistant: Billie Mclaughlin

Supporters: City of Windsor and the Ontario Arts Council, SSHRC Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, University of Windsor.