Higher Pictures presents Linnaeus After Dark, a new body of work by the artist and writer Claire Pentecost. This is Pentecost’s second exhibition with the gallery.
Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Swedish botanist known as the “father of modern taxonomy,” famously invented a Latin naming system for all plants and animals which allowed them to be classified into clearly demarcated categories. While such boundaries have advanced human scientific understanding by providing a foundation for our knowledge of the world, Claire Pentecost emphasizes that they are constructed impositions; in cutting out the grey areas of biology, making distinctions between one thing and another, we impose a logic and order that does not capture a complete understanding of the real. Classification fails us by erasing the intermediary.
Pentecost, who has long advocated for the role of what she calls “the public amateur” in the production and interpretation of knowledge, has a research background in agriculture, food systems, bio-engineering, and the history of science. In the current work she depicts the unclassifiable, writing:
“I want to suggest a liminal kind of time in which categories break down. There is revelry, longing for connection, foreboding, and posturing in new identificatory combinations…The former working title was ‘The Persistence of the Unsorted.’ Perhaps that will give you another clue as to what this is all about.”
Pentecost’s photographs evoke the murky ambiguity of interior life, toying with the boundary between natural and artificial. The artist notes that, just as Linnaeus drew borders between species and divvied up Homo sapiens according to race, geographic borders have been used to enforce apartheid and regimes of racialized economic control. Rigid conceptions of biology also police gender and sexuality, overlooking the diverse relations between human beings.
Since the early 2000s, scientists have popularized the notion that we are living in a new epoch best described as the “Anthropocene”—a measurable geological shift brought about by human activity. In this context, Pentecost sees the urgency of reexamining our current systems, creating images that uncannily dissolve “the wedge between beings and the earth that bore them.”
Pentecost has exhibited nationally and internationally at dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany; 13th Istanbul Biennial; Whitechapel Gallery, London; 3rd Mongolian Land Art Biennial; MCA Chicago; MSU Broad Art Museum; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Higher Pictures, New York; Corcoran Museum, Washington, DC; Milwaukee Art Museum; Transmediale 05, Berlin; American Fine Arts, New York; and many others. She has received awards from the Chicago Public Art Commission, Illinois Art Council, Banff Center for the Arts, Headlands Center for the Arts, as well as the Bellagio Residency from the Rockefeller Foundation.
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