An Unlikely Marriage of Science and Art

Anthony Haden-Guest, Hyperallergic, July 27, 2019

In our time of epidemic Modernist and Post-Modernist retro — well-made art without a radical hair on its head — it’s refreshing to walk into something as different as At the Temperature of My Body, Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s exhibition at the Fridman Gallery.


The street door opens into a space occupied by tall potted plants and an oblong stainless steel table upon which sit a dozen white bowls. An adjoining room contains a metal trolley, reminiscent of a gurney you might wander across in a hospital, but drenched in mauve light and laid with smaller varieties of plant life — at once low key and startling, appropriately for this ambitious show.


The plant life is the raw material in Spirit Molecule (2018-19), one of the three projects here in which Dewey-Hagborg experiments with the connections between powerful emotions and the most minuscule working parts in the human system, with the results constituting the art.


Spirit Molecule, a collaboration with Phillip Andrew Lewis, an artist-botanist, began with the injection of the genes of Lewis’ grandmother, Jinny, into psychoactive plants, which are used for psychotropic drugs. Jinny is dead; the project deals with mourning. So why the psychoactive plants?


“They are plants that have an effect on our consciousness,” Dewey-Hagborg told me in a conversation at the gallery. “There’s a spiritual dimension to them. The act of inserting foreign DNA into a plant is not a dangerous thing to do. It’s symbolic. And it’s not a dangerous thing to consume.”


These are memorial plants, eating them will affect mood and perceptions, wholly legally, and it’s an ongoing operation. Sebastian Cocioba, a researcher, comes to the gallery to attend to the science weekly. “So the project suggests that there might be beautiful and poetic ways to use science,” says Dewey-Hagborg, “that aren’t just the big chemical companies exploiting us and damaging the environment.”