Elemental Matters: Artists Imagine Chemistry, a New Exhibit at the Chemical Heritage Foundation

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Exhibit Opens February 4, Marking Opening Week of the International Year of Chemistry

The periodic table inspires awe and wonder in those of us who love chemistry. Elemental Matters shows that Mendeleev’s work of genius can also inspire delightful and thought-provoking works of art.

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Elemental Matters: Artists Imagine Chemistry, an exhibit of contemporary artists whose work explores the elements and the periodic table, will open on Friday, February 4, at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) in Philadelphia. The exhibit opening will cap a full week of activities marking the International Year of Chemistry (IYC 2011).

Seven artists will have works on display in CHF’s Hach Gallery through November 2011. The artists will be available at CHF to talk about their work between 5pm and 8pm on February 4 during Philadelphia’s First Friday, a monthly open house for local galleries. These artists are, like chemists, passionate about the elements. In their art, the elements are used as symbol, material, or energy to transform ordinary associations about chemistry into something genuinely surprising and evocative.

“The periodic table inspires awe and wonder in those of us who love chemistry,” said Thomas R. Tritton, CHF’s president and CEO. “Elemental Matters shows that Mendeleev’s work of genius can also inspire delightful and thought-provoking works of art.”

Central to Elemental Matters is a display of the entire Periodic Table Printmaking Project, curated by Jennifer Schmitt, with 118 prints by 97 artists from 29 states and 7 countries laid out in the familiar periodic grid. The prints in this project celebrate the chemical elements as they link to everyday life.

Works on view will include the images of German artist Brigitte Hitschler’s project, Energy Field 1. Into the slagheap of an abandoned potash mine, Hitschler planted battery structures of zinc, magnesium and copper that reacted with the potash salts and moisture in the earth to fuel 400 red LED lights. Seen from the air, the 400 lights are best described by Hitschler as “tiny mysterious dots on sixteen poetic square meters. They symbolize the past and future energy potential of the place.”

Allure and mystery are both central to the work on display. The photos of Dove Bradshaw show the beauty of the human figure juxtaposed with words listing the elements of the human body. Herself in the Element depicts a seated woman, poised and unclothed. On the model’s bare back, Bradshaw has painted “CARBON HYDROGEN NITROGEN . . .” Words decrease in size as they descend her spine. Elements in great abundance appear in large letters, while the viewer must squint to see the minute letters that list trace elements in the body—“TUNGSTEN, URANIUM . . . ”

These pieces and others in the show will be of interest to chemists and chemistry enthusiasts, as well as curious visitors wanting a fresh look at the composition of the material world.

About the Chemical Heritage Foundation

The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) fosters an understanding of chemistry’s impact on society. An independent nonprofit organization, CHF strives to:

  •     Inspire a passion for chemistry;
  •     Highlight chemistry’s role in meeting current social challenges; and
  •     Preserve the story of chemistry and its technologies and industries across centuries.

CHF maintains major collections of instruments, fine art, photographs, papers, and books. The Foundation hosts conferences and lectures, support research, offer fellowships, and produce educational materials. Its museum and public programs explore subjects ranging from alchemy to nanotechnology.

For more information, please visit http://www.chemheritage.org.

Neil Gussman
Chemical Heritage Foundation
Email: neilg(at)chemheritage(dot)org

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