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 De Saisset Museum Explores the Intersection of Art and Science Through Two Stunning Photo Exhibitions

The de Saisset Museum opened the spring exhibition season with two photography exhibitions that seamlessly blend art and science. Life Cycle, an exhibit of photographs by Susan Middleton, and The Theater of Insects, a thought-provoking series by Jo Whaley, opened to the public on April 9 and will be on view through June 12. 

Award-winning photographer, former chair of the California Academy of Sciences’ Department of Photography, and Santa Clara University alumna Susan Middleton ’70 has spent nearly 30 years documenting rare and endangered species, creating compelling portraits of animals that are seldom, if ever, seen by the public. Through this exhibition, which highlights two distinct bodies of work—Evidence of Evolution and Spineless—the artist introduces a suite of alluring creatures that illustrate the remarkable, mind-boggling variety found in our natural world.

Completed in 2009, Evidence of Evolution pictures extinct species from the collections of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The images, which are at once contemplative and reverential, celebrate the evolutionary development of plants and animals. Middleton’s more recent series, Spineless, focuses on marine invertebrates, a number of which are species new to science. The work showcases the extreme diversity of deep sea life and highlights the ways in which marine creatures adapt and change to improve their survival in the ocean.
Working in her characteristic style, Middleton frames the specimens in both series against neutral black or white backgrounds. Through the thoughtful exclusion of environment or habitat, the artist focuses the viewers’ attention exclusively on the individual features and characteristics of each animal.
On view simultaneously, Jo Whaley’s The Theater of Insects also explores the convergence of art and science. Inspired by old dioramas found in natural history museums, Whaley creates theatrically staged images of exquisitely colored insects against imaginary—almost dreamlike—backgrounds. Her specimens are entomologically accurate, yet they are juxtaposed with backgrounds composed of weathered, man-made materials like rusted metal, broken glass, painted wood, and crumpled paper. The result is a compelling pairing of nature and artifice, science and art. Read more.


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