Natural Systems

Mari Andrews
Linda Armstrong
Mary Button Durell
Liz Hickok
Laura Splan
Claudia Tennyson
Gail Wight

May 4–June 28, 2018

Mari Andrews, Coalgem 7, 2013, coal, 2.75 x 3.5 x 2.5 inches


The secrets of nature and the universe are captivating. Humans spend a great deal of time observing the microcosm within and the universe without. We map energy, study microscopic forms, catalogue specimens, and record order, chaos, movement, and growth patterns in nature. Is there nothing more interesting than gazing upon a sparkling spider web or counting the rings of a tree, its march of time creating a grooved, record-like surface? With an almost scientific curiosity and attention to detail, the artists in Natural Systems bring to light some of these inner and outer natural phenomena, highlighting the systems around and within us.

Linda Armstrong casts mushrooms in wax, embodying their poetic forms and essence. Liz Hickok grows crystals, then photographs them as macroscopic environments. Referencing both construction and deterioration, Hickock’s crystal worlds resemble frozen explosions in acid colors. Mari Andrews builds installations of “material drawings” that also act as a catalogue of specimens collected during her travels. Materials such as coal and lichen are installed as groupings of faceted ‘gems’ or a ‘colony’ of hoops. 

Claudia Tennyson paints her unique version of “tree rings,” dabbing ink to paper as both a recording and reflection of her meditations, much like the growth of a tree. Mary Button Durell builds luminous sculptures from paper that resemble bubbling cellular-like structures. Gail Wight’s spider webs are more than meets the eye. Originally created for an exhibition at the University of California Botanical Gardens, Berkeley, Wight harnesses the sun to burn patterns of spider webs into translucent vellum. She traces webs from mid-to-late 20th century scientific studies in which spiders were dosed with various substances, such as LSD or marijuana. In her Manifest series, Laura Splan creates 3D-printed sculptures based on readings of electricity in facial muscles during a furrow, smile, or squint.

In this group exhibition, artists uncover human thoughts, movements, rituals, and the complex inner and outer architecture of plants, creatures, and minerals. A variety of curious materials and properties such as fungi, walnut ink, mica, and neuromuscular energy are transformed through an artistic lens, leaving the viewer spellbound by creation. The artists in this exhibition peek underneath the veil of these mysterious animal-vegetable-mineral systems that constitute our natural environment, revealing and reveling in nature’s wonder. 

About the Artists

Mari Andrews earned her MFA at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, California. Her work has been widely exhibited nationally, including at the Tucson Museum of Art, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, Kala Institute in Berkeley, de Saisset Museum in Santa Clara, and San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery. She has also shown her work in Japan, Israel, and England. Andrews is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. The San Francisco Bay Area-based artist has participated in artist residencies at Lucid Art Foundation and Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and she was recently selected for the 2015-16 Creative Ecology Art & Science Residency at the Palo Alto Art Center.

Linda Armstrong recently returned from a residency at Takt Kunstprojektraum, in Berlin, Germany where she exhibited at Kunstraum Tapir.  International residencies include the Sanskriti Foundation, New Delhi, India and the Caversham Centre in South Africa. Solo exhibitions include the Institute of Ecology at the University of Georgia, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (Winston-Salem, NC),  Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, MOCA GA, and Sandler Hudson Gallery,  Atlanta, GA. She teaches at Emory University’s Art History Department.

Mary Button Durell studied at California College of Art and Crafts in Oakland, CA and the San Francisco Art Institute and has exhibited internationally and in the San Francisco Bay Area including Southern Exposure, Limn Gallery, San Francisco Arts Commission, Some.Time.Salon, state space sf, and Space 151. Durell has participated in artist residencies including Chalk Hill in Healdsburg, CA and two sessions at Creativity Explored in San Francisco, CA. Durell has created several large, site-specific installations for San Francisco Arts Commission, Headlands Center for the Arts and Four Seasons Hotels.

Liz Hickok is a San Francisco-based artist working in photography, video, sculpture, and installation. She earned her MFA from Mills College in Oakland, CA, a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and a BA from Tufts University in Boston, MA. Hickok has exhibited at arts institutions across the country and internationally from Washington to Israel. Recently, Liz developed a photomural for Google’s San Francisco offices and participated in Experiments in Form & Fiction at Capsule Gallery in Houston, TX. Hickok has completed several public art projects including photomurals for UCSF Mission Bay and a neighborhood revitalization project in Denver, CO. She has also created elaborate site-specific installations in the Bay Area at Headlands Center for the Arts and the Exploratorium.

Laura Splan earned her MFA in Sculpture from Mills College in Oakland, and her BA in Studio Art from the University of California, Irvine. Splan has been included in solo and group exhibitions at Museum of Arts & Design (New York, NY), Museum of Contemporary Craft (Portland, OR), Neuberger Museum of Art (Purchase, NY) and Beall Center for Art + Technology (Irvine, CA). Her work has been exhibited internationally in Iceland, South Korea, England, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Canada and beyond. Commissioned projects for her work have included soap residue paintings for the Center for Disease Control, computerized lace doilies for the Gen Art New Media Art Exhibition, and 3D printed sculptures for Davidson College. Her work is included in the collections of the Thoma Art Foundation, the NYU Langone Art Collection, the Institute for Figuring, and the UCSF Infectious Disease Department. She received a Jerome Foundation Grant for research at venues including the Wellcome Museum (London, UK) and La Specola (Florence, IT). She has been awarded artist residencies at Vermont Studio Center and The Institute for Electronic Arts, and she received a Pollack Krasner Fellowship for The Byrdcliffe Artist in Residence program. She has been a visiting lecturer on intersections of Art, Science, and Technology at Stanford University, Mills College, University of Maine, and Illinois State University. Splan lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Bay Area-based artist Claudia Tennyson has exhibited her work throughout the Bay Area at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, Oakland Museum, Fresno Metropolitan Museum, and in San Francisco at the Exploratorium, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Root Division. She earned her MFA from California College of the Arts and BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Gail Wight holds an MFA in New Genres from the San Francisco Art Institute where she was a Javits Fellow, and a BFA from the Studio for Interrelated Media at Massachusetts College of Art. Her art has been exhibited both nationally and internationally in diverse venues such as the National Art Museum of China, the Natural History Museum of London, the Seville Biennial, and San Francisco’s international airport. Residencies have included  Western Australia’s Symbiotica, Art & Archaeology at Stonehenge, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy, and San Francisco’s Exploratorium. Public collections include the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Centro Andaluz de Art Contemporaneo in Spain, Yale University (CT), and the San Jose Museum of Art (CA). Wight is an Associate Professor in Stanford University’s Department of Art & Art History, where she focuses on Experimental Media and hybrid mediums. Her work is represented by Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco.
-Virginia Tominia, Curator