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Ann Arbor News, Saturday, September 14, 2002

Joining art, science

Geneticist's work, on display at Robbins Gallery, explores ethics

ART REVIEW

by John Carlos Cantu

News Special Writer


Biomedical flights of fancy merge with science's precise observations in Hunter O'Reilly's "Radioactive Biohazard" at the University of Michigan School of Art and Architecture Warren M. Robbins Gallery.

O'Reilly, an associate professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, has crafted a nifty career for herself at the junction of art and science. Her exhibit explores themes like human cloning, infectious diseases and stem-cell research. Her emphasis on ethics in the face of science's relentless march onward makes the display more than unconventional.

Not too many exhibits are going to champion, for example, "The Art of Death," examining HIV, influenza, Ebola, herpes and rabies. These lively artworks - dramatically oversized fluorescent electron micrographs of cells, viruses and bacteria - are breathtaking in their simple splendor.

"The System Forgets Scientists Are Only Human: Laboratory Installation" involves willful irony. This installation includes odd byproducts of scientific experiments, including DNA visualized with ultraviolet light; simulated preserved laboratory animals; and vials used to store radioactive isotopes. It's all eerily pedestrian in an understated way as O'Reilly contrasts the routine of science against its unanticipated paradoxes.

O'Reilly's abstract oils feature bold palettes commenting on contemporary scientific topics. "Madonna con Clone" illustrates the bond between a mother and her presumably cloned child. "Contagious Beauty's" red and yellow palette illustrates a woman infected with HIV through an oval resembling the virus. And "The Creation of Organs" depicts hearts, kidneys, lungs and nerve cells with women reflecting on the benefits of stem-cell research. The digital collages are the masterworks of the exhibit. O'Reilly's "Let My Family Live! Portrait of Randolfe Wicker, the First Human Cloning Activist," features activist Wicker in the guise of human clone descendants at different stages of life. And the show's bravura "Rosalind Franklin and the Discovery of DNA Structure" features, through positive and negative photographic relief, the unheralded scientist who helped discover DNA. This memorable artwork, as pointed in its social commentary as it is masterful in its sophisticated execution, indicates O'Reilly's art is still growing.

"Radioactive Biohazard: Reinterpreting Science as Art" will continue through Sept. 26 at the University of Michigan Warren M. Robbins Center for Graduate Studies Gallery, 2000 Bonisteel Blvd. Gallery hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Hunter O'Reilly will deliver "What Happens when Art and Science Collide?" at 7 p.m. Friday in the gallery. For information, call (734) 764-0397.

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