Jennifer Steinkamp’s multi-channel, synchronized video work, Madame Curie, 2011, presents a sixty-foot wide projection of swirling, intertwined flowers that glide across the gallery wall in a seemingly endless procession. Inspired by Steinkamp’s research into atomic energy and explosions and the effects of these forces on nature, this recent work takes its name from the scientist Marie Curie (1867–1934), who is best known for receiving two Nobel Prizes for creating the theory of radioactivity and discovering the elements radium and polonium. Curie was also an avid gardener. Drawing from a list of over 40 flowering plants that appear in Curie’s biography, written by her daughter Eve, Steinkamp created realistic depictions of apple blossoms, daisies, fuschia, periwinkle, rambler rose, Virginia creeper, and wisteria, among others. Employing a complex computer algorithm, Madame Curie becomes an enveloping, panoramic world of interwoven branches and blossoms that strike a taut balance between the natural world and computer-generated imagery. Originally commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Madame Curie is presented at Joslyn in a three-channel format for the first time since its original installation.
Steinkamp, born in Denver in 1958 and now based in Los Angeles, is one of the most respected digital video artists working today. Her animations utilize powerful digital projectors to engage architectural spaces in ways that either emphasize or dissolve the character of the sites where they are presented. Inspired by the west coast Light and Space artists of the late 1960s and 1970s, who sought to capture subtle atmospheric effects through minimalist gallery installations, Steinkamp asks her audiences to contemplate their surroundings as not simply a matter of space, but also as factors of time, perception, and memory. Madame Curie will undoubtedly delight with its vibrant spring colors that challenge the gray days of the Midwestern winter, as well as by testing the ways we perceive history, science, and our relationship to nature.