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Divided Sky, by Michael Sherwin

September 2, 2010

Michael Sherwin’s exhibit Divided Sky is on display at the Melwood Gallery through October 17th.  A reception will be held on September 30th from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, at which Michael Sherwin will discuss his art.

Filmmakers interviewed Michael Sherwin on August 31st about his art, his process, and this current exhibit.

A variety of series created by Sherwin explore the theme of the change inherent in nature. “Everything is in a constant state of change,” he says. “It’s what connects us all. Even the inanimate, at the microscopic level, is changing.” Everything is in “a perpetual state of entropy. Cars, computers, buildings are all alike.”

The interaction of art and science is a theme in many of Sherwin’s works. Art and science overlap in that “artists and scientists are fascinated by wonder and mystery and the natural world.” The main difference is that “scientists are seeking answers; they aren’t content until they get answers.” Whereas, “artists are asking questions, presenting questions to the viewer to come up with their own answers. My work is about the mystery.”Collective Direction by Michael Sherwin

A variety of scientific insights have influenced Sherwin’s work. One of his compilations is a set of arrows from the parking lot of a mall. They are all clearly of the same species, but no two are exactly the same. This relates to evolution and the nature of animals and species that is greatly different from our platonic common sense about the categories of life.

Another major theme in Sherwin’s work is the connection between the macroscopic and the microscopic. Instances of such connections include his work Minor Planets, in which he photographs small rocks against a black background, causing them to look like asteroids and planets. “Deliberately placing clouds with bubbles from waves” is another way in which he deals with this theme. He visually compares the tangible with the inaccessible. “There is just as much going on in your backyard, just as much mystery and fascination, as in the solar system.” Sherwin calls it “the cosmic in your backyard.”

One influence on this way of thinking is his young daughter. “Her relationship with the natural world has infused my work.” The childlike wonder of a world in which everything is new and moving, mysterious and intriguing, is apparent in his art. Sherwin is also interested in the Butterfly effect,the causal relationships between separate things. The web of relations.”

Some of Sherwin’s works involve the appropriation of videos and images from webcams. This is due to his “fascination with the everyday and the ordinary. Webcams are designed and intended to be objective instruments for scientific purposes.” However, often, “objectivity fails” when they are “recording an abstraction.” As an example, Sherwin cites his work entitled True North. This work from True North by Michael Sherwinconsists of images from the webcam situated at the North Pole. “The true North Pole is under water, so the camera is placed on a floating chunk of ice. It is bombarded by extreme weather and can only photograph three months a year. Sometimes the camera is hanging from its mount, or caked in ice. Every few minutes to an hour, an image is transmitted. It is of no real use to scientists.” However, it has an aesthetic appeal. “To me it is really attractive. I have a visceral response to the abstraction.”

Currently on display at Filmmakers’ Melwood Gallery is Divided Sky, a work which includes the combination of photographs by Sherwin of the sky with appropriated images from webcams and the internet. One piece of the work is entitled In The Clouds and contains photographs of the sky that are broken up by Facebook status updates. The sky represents the universality of human experience, and the appropriated images from the internet represent the divide that our technology creates between ourselves and the natural and social world we all inhabit. “Webcams, youtube, internet, social media, and technology have divided us from the natural world, separated us from each other.” The title works “literally for some pieces,” because the sky is overlaid with grid or text. Sherwin says of the work, “it symbolizes the feeling I have about our society and the effect media has on us.”

Sherwin chooses to draw his his images from webcams that depict abstractions. This way, “the viewer has to work,” and can participate in the artistic/scientific processes of observing phenomena and asking questions.

Included in the exhibit are three books derived from Google image searches. Sherwin googles phrases in quotations and collects the images that emerge. When performing the searches, he has an intent, but not an exact vision of what the final outcome will be. The work arises based on the images that are out there on the internet. These books are “commenting on human society’s relationship to the natural world.” In so doing he shows a variety of subjective visions of what we tend to consider objectively describable phenomenon.

The internet has changed our sense of place, time, and physical mapping. According to Sherwin, this is both positive and negative. It has upped our connectivity, but “the process of connecting via wires has separated us from our desperate need for physical connection.” Although Google Earth is an excellent educational tool that gives us perspective on our planet, “it has taken away from our internal compass. The more we rely on GPS and maps, the less independent we are, the more automated we are by machines and technology.” Sherwin says he is as guilty as anyone of this reliance. “I don’t mean to critique society because I am an active part of it. I want to explore.”

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