STEVE MILLER: Crossing the Line
|Signal Relay, 2003, dispersion and silk screen on canvas, 50″ x 37.5″|
STEVE MILLER is a photographer, painter, and sculptor who has been making work at the intersection of art and science for over three decades. In his current exhibition at the National Academy of Sciences titled Crossing the Line, Miller presents a body of work based on his long-term collaboration with Nobel Prize-winning neurobiologist and biophysicist Rod MacKinnon. Curated by Marvin Heiferman, the show expands on an earlier exhibition by the artist that took place at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in 2007. For the catalogue for the earlier show, which was curated by Michael Rush and titled Spiraling Inward, an extensive interview was conducted between Heiferman and Miller. What follows is an abbreviated version of that interview prefaced by Heiferman’s introductory essay for the current show along with a selection of images from both exhibitions. Concatenations thanks both curator and artist for permitting the republication of the texts here, and the artist for providing such a wealth of images.
Crossing the Line: Paintings by Steve Miller will be on view at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. through January 13, 2014.
|Factory, 2008, dispersion and silk screen enamel on canvas, 80″ x 120″|
Crossing the Line: Paintings by Steve Miller
By Marvin Heiferman
|We Need the Following Qualities, 2007, dispersion and silk screen on canvas, 38.5″ x 29″|
Every Body a Spectacle: An Interview with Steve Miller
By Marvin Heiferman
Today, electronics and automations make mandatory that everybody adjust to the vast global environment as if it were his little home town. The artist is the only person who does not shrink from this challenge. He exults in the novelties of perception afforded by innovation. The pain that the ordinary person feels in perceiving the confusion is charged with thrills for the artist in the discovery of new boundaries and territories for the human spirit. He glories in the invention of new identities, corporate and private, that for the political and educational establishments, as for domestic life, bring anarchy and despair. — Marshall McLuhan, 1968 
MH: A quality of the work in this exhibition that interests me is how, in the process of exploring the way that science is presented in imagery, there’s a sense of spectacle and of the spectacular at work. The work is big. The images have an explosive quality about them. There’s a sense of special effects at work. There’s a sense of friction and excitement in the constant juxtaposition of language and image, the drawn versus the photographic. The work suggests that every body, every cell, literally and figuratively, is a spectacle, that something big is going on and needs to be looked at. And that something even bigger is yet to come.
|If They Exist, 2007, dispersion and silk screen on canvas, 80″ x 81″|
|Liquid Wrap, 2006, spray enamel, dispersion, and silk screen on canvas, 57″ x 39.5″|
SM: Conventionally, scientists see their images reproduced small scale, in the lab or when they’re published in journals. An image might get blown up in a PowerPoint presentation, but this kind of imagery is seldom seen on a large scale, or in a context removed from everyday work and the laboratory. When art and science intersect, it changes the context, beefs up the scale, and alters responses to imagery in unexpected ways. Images of the smallest of things become images you can get lost in. Scientists may not need or necessarily want that kind of scale or distraction. They’re making science; they’re looking for specific solutions. I’m making art and trying to communicate with a different audience, and scale is just one of the ways I try to do that.What’s ultimately important about all of this is that things and events minute in scale are monumental in terms of meaning and impact. Images are central to that process. Rod’s work employs image-making for its function. Art is about function, too, but of a different kind. My job is to use specific kinds of images to grapple with the experiences of life and of culture, and to engage viewers in a dialogue about possibilities.
Curator and writer Marvin Heiferman organizes projects about photography and visual culture for institutions that include the Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian Institution, International Center of Photography, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the New Museum. A contributing editor to Art in America, Heiferman has also written for The New York Times, Artforum, Bookforum, Mousse, ArtNews, Aperture, and BOMB. His most recent book is Photography Changes Everything(Aperture, 2012), and new entries to Heiferman’s Twitter-based project, WHY WE LOOK (@whywelook) are posted daily.