© 2019 By Joseph Rossano

Bold

BOLD, utilizes two-dimensional codes to link the viewer to the science behind the art. By scanning one of my sculptures, for example a butterfly collected in Dr. Janzen's ACG Costa Rica project, or a fish from Dr. Meyer's BioCode Moorea, and now in Smithsonian Institute's collections, the viewer is transported to a story about the tropical forest or coral reef ecosystem as told by scientists passionate for their work.

 

All of the specimens portrayed in this series are deliberately blurry, thus making it difficult to identify if each organism is real or a counterfeit. Yet, adorning each BOLD sculpture is the DNA barcode of the specimen that I've represented. The barcode is the reality, and the specimen, in my creative manifestation, is the link to the science.

With this series of artwork, BOLD, an acronym for the Barcode of Life Database, I bring each specimen and its viewer to the BOLD database: the same database which houses portions of the Smithsonian's digitized genetic collections.

I am an artist, not a scientist, and my knowledge of DNA barcoding is simple. If I say to you, "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?" Likely, you identify the line with Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. Or you may bypass the play's title all together and jump straight to its author, William Shakespeare. Regardless of where you end up, with just seven words from a work containing many thousand, you are accurately directed to the one and only place from whence the lines emanated.

 

As I understand DNA barcoding, a short 680 base-pair sequence, represented by letters A C T G, allows one to discern the organism which it inhabits. Barcode technology thus transforms how science determines what species are present in a specific ecosystem, and how, collectively, they surround us on Earth.

The seven words from Shakespeare are analogous to approximately 680 DNA base-pairs buried among millions in the genome; the single play's title, analogous to the one species among millions more we know (or don't). Through a short genetic sequence, life's barcode, we can now accurately digitally distinguish organisms without going through the long and sometimes inaccurate process of visually comparing similar traits in an attempting to know--name--our specimen.

Also encoded in these base-pairs are the shared and unique histories that may trace a specific organism through its evolutionary lineage. Those base pairs in common between organisms suggest a shared past, with differences in sequences pointing to unique and divergent histories.

These identities and histories--exploring the intersecting and overlapping genetic barcodes from various regions of our planet--drive my interest and my art. Developing an understanding of the commonalities among these vastly different environments, I tell stories through my work that will inform and educate my audience to the marvels of science and the natural world. I aim to inspire my viewers--you--to draw these comparisons, and realize the ways even our own backyards are connected to this global web of life.

False Eyes

Joseph Rosanno remains an elusive figure of sorts in the visual arts, particularly for an artist so long and deeply associated with the studio glass movement. His professional career began working at the Pilchuck Glass School (in the 1980s) and subsequently managing the hot glass studio of the American glass legend Dale Chihuly—arguably the most famous artist alive today regularly employing the medium. 

Generally found in mix with other media, Joe’s works of art incorporating glass are highly conceptualized endeavors at odds with the usual kaleidoscopic gloss and glimmer we have come to expect from so many purveyors the material. His is not the common pedestal-based product, but rather a spur to experience-based tutorials exposing issues of land, sea, air, and life among them. Rossano’s complex objects strive to educate the viewer-participant in an exchange of information for a true interface with the material at hand. There is an intentional physicality required of interaction with Rossano’s work—drawers pulled, texts read, barcodes scanned—there needs to be a conscious effort to decipher intent. Serving much the same function for fish or fowl, our sight drawing us to premeditated positioning, a particular spatial placement to best and actively educate.

Sight—like touch, smell, hearing, and taste—acquaints us with the world around us. Eschewing a practice of viewing in the visual arts too often associated with passivity, our interest is piqued in abstraction, goaded by focus, and enticed in pattern and brash coloring. Sight is, of course, the faculty integral to the appreciation of the visual arts and the basis for Joe Rossano’s exploratory forays inspired at the confluence of science and art. It is the most important of the five senses in avoiding danger and conflict in the animal kingdom—revealing misdirection and the undefined, tools of survival for the hunted, the imposter, and when at war. And these same organs of vision and optic systems serve rudimentary—or stunning—camouflage, disorientation, and surprise.

Exposing vulnerabilities, identifying solutions, and clarifying the hard facts of a balance threatened, Rossano’s subject then, is what you don’t see: a reverence for the natural, an appreciation nurtured from the first step on the path to conservation. A recent study finds that nature’s glory can replace religiosity in satisfying the need for inspiration, awe, and divine connection. Spiritual demands are fulfilled simply by exposure to the environmental resources surrounding us. Joe’s work is not then the fanatical—based in pomposity or preaching—but scientific observation. We would be naïve to believe his artwork may exact sudden change in a Modernist sense, but neither is there the forlorn and abject negativity of the Post-Modern. We are left a sort of simple positivity that is the rite of the Meta-Modern. Rossano knows no better. He sees clearly that not to run the metaphorical race, is not to win. So, be it the Costa Rican butterfly or the Tahitian crab, Joe Rossano’s quest is only to relay that interconnectedness, that co-dependence bared by commonalities critically necessary to the sustainable life-force, without which we are all at peril of extinction.

By John Drury