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McDaniel exhibit ties together art, science

McDaniel exhibit ties together art, science
Students in Katie Staab’s comparative anatomy class work on their dissections, before creating illustrated drawings of the animals sculptures. These drawings will be seen in the “Skepsis” exhibit, opening Thursday. (Submitted photo)

The Rice Gallery at McDaniel College has been home to a lot of different types of art from paintings to sculpture to multimedia work. This week, it will open its doors to artwork created with the beetle-cleaned bones of a rabbit, tanned snakeskin and a snowflake moray eel, exhibited alongside more traditional material.

McDaniel's comparative anatomy students will exhibit artwork alongside sculptures created by artist Breon Gilleran at the "Skepsis" exhibit, opening Thursday. The show juxtaposes Gilleran's sculpture with the anatomical work of the students. Gilleran said the title "Skepsis" — meaning the skepticism of the observed — relates to the scientific method and focuses on the process of investigating new interests, here both art and anatomy.

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Gallery Director Steven Pearson said he and Gilleran, of Baltimore, have known each other for many years, and she came to him with the idea of partnering with the anatomy students, hearkening back to her previous career as a nurse.

The students were selected from McDaniel professor Katie Staab's comparative anatomy class. As part of their course work, Staab has the students use art in the process of learning about anatomy. Gilleran said this was her first experience creating work to go in a collaborative exhibit, instead of exhibiting alone.

"[Staab] is very interested in having students draw their dissections as part of a memory device to help them visualize and name parts of the anatomy," Gilleran said. "I was so impressed by that, that we're going to have a portfolio of those drawings available at the show."

Prior to the exhibition, Gilleran met with the students in the class to give a talk about art history, biology and a variety of her other interests. The students then took their inspiration for their pieces from this talk, creating a show that exists as a call and response between artist and students.

Student work ranges from standard photography and drawings, to the physical bodies of animals.

Margaret "Meena" Debnam, a senior from Olney, skinned and gutted a frozen rabbit before feeding it to a flesh-eating beetle colony, housed on campus. The skeleton was then painted and re-articulated.

Alumnus Zach Royal tanned the skin of a black rat snake to be hung in the gallery.

Gilleran said these pieces recall her first foray into anatomy, one that affected her artistic career.

"When I was in middle school, I did a project where we articulated a skeleton, and I realized that was an amazing training as an artist," Gilleran said. "Looking back, I realize just how much that early experience putting bones together was really formative. I create work that is skeletal-like, even though it has nothing to do with the anatomy, it still reflect that internalization of that process."

Pearson said there's an interesting juxtaposition brought about when you include work of students who aren't affiliated with the arts program at McDaniel.

"It's especially noticeable since they're bringing in things they do in their comparative anatomy class. There's an artistic quality to their biology work," Pearson said. "When you look at the images they've created, it's a quite beautiful aesthetic in its own right, even if it wasn't created with solely artistic intentions."

As a sculptor, Gilleran works in a variety of media, from steel to cast iron, wood and found objects. The pieces in the show have little relationship to anatomy, but take on new meanings when contrasted with the work of the students.

"I don't really have an agenda, except to show delight and interest in investigating a field and collaborating within it," Gilleran said. "It has to do with learning and knowledge. Scientists can be artists and artists should be scientists."

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If You Go

What: "Skepsis" art exhibit

When: Opening reception, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1. Show runs until Oct. 30.

Where: Rice Gallery, McDaniel College, 2 College Hill, Westminster

Cost: Free

For more information: Call 410-857-2595 or visit www.mcdaniel.edu.

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