Continuum: The Art of Rebecca Kamen
The title of Rebecca Kamen’s current exhibition at the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE)—Continuum—references not only the artist’s ongoing exploration of the intersections between art and science. It also acknowledges the fact that Kamen’s intellectual journey with this subject began at GRACE in 2009 with her Divining Nature exhibition, a poetic evocation of the periodic table of elements. The exhibition drew significant crowds to GRACE, and earned acclaim for Kamen, positioning her as a prominent figure in the nascent STEAM movement (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math). Her current work represents a continuum in her artistic exploration of scientific concepts, as well as her return to the GRACE gallery.
Kamen’s blending of art and science has a long pedigree in the history of art. Famous examples include the engineering feat represented by the Egyptian pyramids; the mathematical architectural principles of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius; the anatomical studies and fantastic machines envisioned by Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance; the long tradition of natural history illustration, perfected by artists like Maria Sibylla Merian and John James Audubon; the fractured planes of 20th-century Cubism, informed by Einstein’s theory of relativity; the mathematical tessellations of M.C. Escher; and the technologically complex, carefully engineered environmental projects of artists like James Turrell and Christo. In Kamen’s work, however, science is not something to be employed in the creation of the work; it is the subject of the work itself. Over the years, the artist’s engagement with scientists both past and present has provided her with inspiration and raw material for her work. Like her hero, Spanish neuro-anatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Kamen utilizes art to explore complex scientific concepts such as the periodic table, neuroscience, black holes, and inner and outer space.
Much has been said of the elegant connections Rebecca Kamen has drawn between art and science, yet little has been written about her artistic process. For an artist keenly interested in the intersections between art, science, and (by extension) technology— Kamen’s process is, in many ways, quite traditional. Her pieces are created through many hours of laborious work. She hand-cuts Mylar sheets with a blade to create elaborate patterns, further embellished by the application of acrylic paint. The Mylar forms are then layered, folded, or shaped into the elegant sculptures that comprise Kamen’s installations.
This exhibition includes earlier works Kamen created from wire, in which she utilized the malleability of that medium to create spaces that were tangible, yet open, and to evoke a sense of motion and kinetic energy. These works date to the artist’s initial interest in the concept of space. Her recent installations, Portal and NeuroCantos, examine the nature of both inner and outer space. Kamen’s collaborative work with sound artist Susan Alexjander and with poet Steven Fowler adds another dimension to the experience of her installations. Alexjander’s sound piece for NeuroCantos, which features the sound of actual neurons firing, is punctuated by the words of Cajal and Steven Fowler—creating a multi-sensory, interdisciplinary experience.
Kamen has spoken openly and eloquently about her early struggles with dyslexia. What was once considered an academic disability became, for her, a means of visualizing connections unseen by others. Her ability to discern these connections, to envision highly abstract concepts, and to translate those understandings into tangible artwork, has resulted in a body of work that enlightens, illuminates, and inspires all those with an interest in the complex mechanics of the universe.
Holly Koons McCullough
Executive Director / Curator
Greater Reston Arts Center