“Variations on a Theme” sculpture and cyanotypes by Heather Beardsley

December 17, 2018 through February 7, 2019

Artist Talk/Reception: Thursday, Jan 17, 11:30am – 12:30pm

This series is inspired by Ernst Haeckel’s illustrations, lithographs and drawings that blur the lines between art and science.  In his time these prints were ubiquitous, their presentation of a natural world whose forms can be ordered, understood and, most importantly, improved upon took deep root in pre-War Western culture.  Haeckel’s firm belief that all organisms were made up of geometric crystalline structures that could be perfected through evolution caused him to exaggerate and idealize the organisms he represented. This ideological quest for perfection in the natural world went on to become an important influence on Eugenics programs that took these views to their terrible extremes.


Like previous generations, I can’t help but be fascinated by these illustrations despite my awareness of their problematic ideological foundations and history.  My work takes Haeckel’s embellishments one step further, exaggerating the stranger elements of his creations based on my own aesthetic preferences rather than scientific observation. Like Haeckel, my figures are inspired by plants, sea creatures and protists, and my unapologetic fabulation demonstrates what happens when ideology supersedes observations.  My pieces are hand-made, but I’ve used model magic coated with acrylic gel medium to intentionally resemble 3D printed models in an attempt to borrow from the aura of objectivity that envelopes scientific illustration.   Although this work is inspired by an historical example, in this time of “alternative facts” where truth seems so illusory, these questions of ideology and objectivity are just as relevant today.