JCSM called nine members of the university community to respond objectively and subjectively to art from JCSM’s growing collection of natural history prints. The resulting exhibition is an orchestrated chorus of diverse voices responding to the art, science, and wonder of representing the natural world.

To expand the conversation, Ralph Brown Draughon Library’s Special Collections Department loaned materials from their collections; JCSM appreciates their kind collaboration. We also thank the Auburn University Museum of Natural History in the College of Science and Mathematics for loaning materials from their ornithology collection.

Jessye McDowell

The Natural Kinds (Reference Failure)

Jessye McDowell’s The Natural Kinds is a landscape built in 3D modeling software, incorporating elements of illustrations by John Audubon and John Gould. McDowell is interested in the historical and continuing role of landscape and conceptions of the natural world in society’s perception and definition of itself.

In this work, the artist investigates relationships between digital and analog processes of image creation. Gould and Audubon represent a romantic ideal of the artist as explorer; they used physical materials and processes, including direct observation of their subjects, to create highly rendered and realistic images. McDowell’s processes are, by contrast, associated with the virtual and non-material. But the boundaries are not so clearly defined: the precision of McDowell’s digital image creates an uncanny sense of physicality, belying the fact that it has no original referent, and re ecting the increasing co-mingling of virtual and physical experience in today’s technology-infused environment. The imaginary landscape depicted is its own kind of frontier, approached through technology, and a catalyst for shifting conceptions the “natural.”

Jessye McDowell is an artist working across digital platforms to examine the interworkings of lived experience and digital life. She is an Assistant Professor of Art at Auburn University.

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