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Exhibit's form follows function

Walking into W. David Powell's "Between Soft Machines and Hard Science" art exhibit is a bit like walking into an operating room. His design is clean and tidy. Everything has its place. Neatly framed creations of excruciating detail line the wall...

David Powell's exhibit "Between Soft Machines and Hard Science"

Walking into W. David Powell's "Between Soft Machines and Hard Science" art exhibit is a bit like walking into an operating room.

His design is clean and tidy. Everything has its place. Neatly framed creations of excruciating detail line the walls. It is as if you have walked into Powell's thought laboratory.

The look of the show, which is on display at the Minnesota State University Moorhead Roland Dille Center for the Arts, reflects both his method and his subject matter. The pieces in the show are computer-generated, archival digital prints, including work inspired by and derived from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology.

But Powell's art also references the pseudo-scientific efforts of physiognomy, which sought to determine the character of individuals based on their superficial physical traits, and phrenology, which held that the bumps on one's head were indicative of one's mental capacities and character.

Powell, 60, crosses cartoonish images and absurdity with highly detailed, technical representations and a concern for the humane treatment of people.

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Your work is very visually compartmentalized. Most of the pieces are tidily framed. And even within the works, there are often neat, distinct sections for various images? Why?

Powell: This is the way the explication of knowledge is imparted in a textbook through graphic diagrams and charts ... There are several different influences from graphic novels to scientific textbook-type illustrations.

What do you want to say with your work?

My work is about research, inquiry, curiosity and just relishing the connections that I find between different disciplines and different ideas. And I feel like that if art has a real specific message to impart, if it's too didactic, that it can become propaganda and so my work is about furthering this spirit of inquiry.

Does your work express a serious concern about contemporary society and its treatment of human beings? What is that concern?

My concern is that now that we can manipulate the genetic information and we have the potential to create designer babies, this brings up the specter of eugenics in a new way and in a way that far exceeds the ideas that were prevalent in America at the beginning of the 20th century where we were holding best baby contests at state fairs that eventually evolved into perfect family contests.

What do you want people to take from your work?

Again, it's about the curiosity and the spirit of inquiry, and I have a problem with art shows that are only about ideas and in which the presentation has a smaller role. I'm always really concerned about how things look. I mean the visual presentation is really important to me. So, of course, I want them to like the way the art looks and to find it aesthetically appealing. And also, while I have expressed some concerns about the ethical dilemmas that are posed here I don't want it to degenerate into a paranoid or cynical view. I think that humor is intrinsic in my work and certainly don't reject the entertainment value factor.

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The work could be seen as quite focused on things and issues outside yourself. Where are you in this work?

I'm the editor.

Why do you make art?

What would I do if I didn't make art? I don't know.

Finish this sentence: "At its best, art should ..."

Inspire.

If you go

- What: "Between Soft Machines and Hard Science" art exhibit

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- When: Through Feb. 27

- Where: Roland Dille Center for the Arts Gallery at Minnesota State University Moorhead

If you go

- What: Artist's reception and presentation

- When: 4 p.m. Thursday.

- Where: Roland Dille Center for the Arts Gallery

- Info: Artist's presentation will follow the reception in room 165.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

David Powell's exhibit "Between Soft Machines and Hard Science"

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