Science and art have a variably rocky relationship in contemporary culture; it is not unusual to encounter people who believe these fields to be opposites on the spectrum of human inquiry. But Meeson Pae Yang’s body of work rejects such binary thinking. Her practice utilizes the affective and technical qualities of the natural sciences to create large works and immersive environments that direct viewers’ gazes into the structures and processes that produce recognizable life. Her work is a pointed inquiry into how we use the technological to define and produce the presumably natural.
While many artistic projects that aim to integrate scientific subject matter often turn into rote demonstrations of a technological gimmick, or misunderstand the critical thrust of artistic practice, Yang’s subtle work conveys a sensitivity to aesthetic experience and demonstrates the ways in which art informs scientific vision. In Index (2005–06), a site-specific installation in the Sculpture Garden at El Camino College in Torrance, California, multiple vacuum-sealed bags full of sucrose solution float within a glass vitrine, and tubing runs from their openings to perforations in the vitrine’s walls and base. The effect is clinical: The orderly arrangement of plastic sacs reminds a viewer of intravenous bags in hospitals, the mainlining of vital nutrients into sickly bodies. The vitrine’s transparency invites one to compare the piece to the backdrop of lush, green plants in the nearby garden. Rather than propose a clear division between nature and technology, Index gestures to shared biological processes. Sucrose solution is often fed to plants to help them grow; the transfer of nutrients requires the same basic systems, whether that system be roots or medical tubing. This is not so much a comparison of the differences between the organic and synthetic but rather an assertion of systems as signifiers of affective meaning.