Breaking down boundaries with beeswax

A towering wolf-like figure hangs just within the doors of the GoSA, attracting curious onlookers into the University of Manitoba gallery. The fur from a wolf’s head becomes a two dimensional mask with wonky eyeholes, beneath which hangs a three dimensional human-esque plush body, a mix of white, greys and russet furs.

This hybrid form looks borne of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. It lacks a clear taxonomic definition; a mutant hybrid that cannot be categorized. The idea of scientific boundaries and the biological hybrid are theories artist Josh Pearlman confronts in his solo exhibit Bloodlines currently running at the Gallery of Student Art.

Pearlman was working in a laboratory, as well as taking classes in Systematics, when he realized that science “does not have answers for everything and that there is a lot of ambiguity [ . . . ] Many things are really just concepts and theories.”

Working on hybrid orchids he found that, when applying for grants, there are certain rules that regulate how many parent plants you are allowed to take tissue from. However, when one is working with hybrids it becomes — as Pearlman describes it — a “free for all.” He said that “you can poke and prod at them, you can do whatever, because they don’t have a definition.” This led him into an artistic exploration of “what you can create when you break down boundaries.”
The concepts of biological definitions and classifications applies to a broader social message, beyond orchids in a laboratory. Whether it is how humans socially construct, label and classify human gender, or even how we label and create categories of race.

Pearlman explained that there is an inherit purpose in having labels, “When you have systems of classification you can communicate a lot of information with one word. For example, if I say the word flower, in a very broad sense you know what I mean. Even though all of these flowers are different, it does have its use.” Pearlman uses this exhibition as a ways of dissection the problems of “creating boundary lines between biological entities.”

Bloodlines is a mixed-media exhibit and each piece in the gallery is quite different from the next. One recurring material, however, is beeswax. Pearlman worked with pollinators, such as bees, and he describes them as “a sort of vector for disorder, they won’t necessarily discriminate between flowers and they will visit species X as much as they will visit species Y. This fluidity and the fluidity of reproduction speak to the idea of boundless fertility.”

One piece, entitled Teshuvah, is composed of a large mass of beeswax. On top of this murky orange yellow mound Pearlman has constructed a microcosm, a small world where whisker-like fibers appear as reeds or tall grass and flower stems spring up looking like bamboo shoots. Contrasting with this idea of life and fertility, Pearlman has placed a large pair of metal calipers sinking beneath the surface of the wax.

The calipers could be a reference to the past anthropological tradition of measuring people and classifying them based on categories such as facial features. This system of classification was adopted by Adolf Hitler, who viewed people like Jews and homosexuals as a contamination to his concept of the “pure” race. Pearlman explained that the parallels between scientific research and something like eugenics was something he was “trying subtly to hint at.”

The calipers deeply embedded in the wax form are overshadowed by the ideas of life and fertility Pearlman has created. Perlman adds, “It’s kind of grotesque, but, to me, it just seems like a mass of life in a number of different forms. And this pair of calipers is sort of being swallowed by it — our systems or life itself. “

This piece can be read as having a positive message. Indeed, the name, Teshuvah, comes from the Hebrew word for repentance and receiving forgiveness. Pearlman explains “This piece can be therefore seen as recognition of systems we’ve employed and recognized that don’t actually work.”

Ultimately, the unique intersection of scientific background and artistic practice on display makes this exhibit both a cerebral and esthetic journey.

Bloodlines runs until October 9 at GoSA.