MIA BROWNELL MIXES ART AND SCIENCE AT HOUSATONIC
In the still-life paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries, memento mori motifs — “remember you will die” — often appear.
The works might portray a sumptuous table laden “with luscious fruits, gleaming oysters, wine poured into thin crystal; it may also be seen to display a melon split and rotting, scavenging mice, invading insects — all rendered with delicate precision,” Carolyn Korsmeyer, a professor of philosophy at SUNY-Buffalo, has written. “Spilled cups, broken lute strings, even the occasional grinning skull might be included in the scene to bring to mind the transience of human life in the midst of the sensory enjoyments of the table.”
In “Delightful, Delicious, Disgusting” — a traveling exhibition of approximately 30 works that will make its final stop at the Housatonic Museum this fall, Southern Connecticut State University professor of painting and drawing Mia Brownell once again revisits these ideas, but places them within the context of developments in our time.
Brownell began to develop the body of work that forms this 10-year survey as a graduate student in the 1990s, exploring the adage, “You are what you eat,” on a grant. By the late 1990s, the human genome project was in the forefront of daily news and people were already consuming genetically modified foods, even if they didn’t realize it, she said. The daughter of a sculptor and a biophysicist, Brownell had grown up steeped in the worlds of art and science. She was questioning, she said, “What it means to be human in the age of biotechnology.”
As her inquiry proceeded, she said in a recent telephone inter- view, the scientist in her had concluded, “there is nothing still about life.” Her works in oil began to reflect that, as she superim- posed graphic representations of proteins in motion and double helixes upon her gleaming still lifes.