Jokes of Nature Come to Life

Arts & Culture
Photo still courtesy of the USM Art Gallery

By: Alyson Peabody, Editor-in-Chief

Lusus Naturae welcomes the bizarre and the grotesque to float freely in the abyss.

The title is Latin for ‘a joke of nature.’ Eyeballs, nipples, toes, and ears come together to form creatures projected onto large screens in the Gorham Art Gallery. Some creatures playfully stick out their tongues. Elements of biology and fantasy merge to become a reality.

The video installation combines with live performance to submerge the viewer in an other-worldly experience. The exhibition is a collaboration featuring USM Artist-in-Residence Ólöf Nordal, Icelandic animator Gunnar Karlsson and composer Þuríður Jónsdóttir.

Nordal is a successful visual artist in Iceland and abroad. She uses various media to channel her work, primarily sculpture, photography, and video installation, in addition to creating works for public spaces. She has tackled topics such as culture, origin, and folklore, working with local and global matters. She will be at USM from March 10 to April 30.

Photo still courtesy of the USM Art Gallery

Karlsson is a pioneer in Icelandic animation and works both as director and creative director on his films, which have received awards at international film festivals. His latest full-length animated feature was Thor – the Legend of Valhalla. Karlsson is also an avid illustrator, political cartoonist, and painter.

Jónsdóttir has written various types of compositions, some include electronic sounds, audience participation, dramatics and sounds from nature. Her works have been performed by Icelandic and international orchestras at renowned music festivals. Jónsdóttir has been nominated for the Icelandic Music Awards and the Nordic Music Prize.

According to The Hafnarfjörður Centre of Culture and Fine Art, Lusus Naturae tells the story of the circle of life. It shares “the birth of fictional beings, their existence, death, and rebirth.” These events are slow as if they are happening in the pressure areas in the abyss.

Photo still courtesy of the USM Art Gallery

The word ‘grotesque’ was originally used to describe vivid Roman murals with monsters and beings such as centaurs and satyrs according to the USM Art Gallery page. Now the word is associated with the discomfort we feel when the laws of nature are broken. We feel disturbed by the creatures presented in Lusus Naturae as they lead us to feel mixed emotions of discomfort and unexpected empathy for their distorted bodies.
“Meaningless repetition is both mesmerizing and enchanting, and we are simultaneously reminded of how the tiniest deviation from otherwise perfect cellular activity can have peculiar effects,” wrote the Hafnarfjörður Centre.
The music is written for a tenor, contrabassoon, and flutes, offering a soundscape that is a permanent part of the installation and an element of live performance at the closing reception.

USM School of Music students will perform live music at 6:15 pm in the gallery during the closing reception on Thursday, March 12. Nordal will participate in a brief Q&A following the performance. The closing reception will run from 6 pm to 8 pm.

The exhibition is up from January 30 to March 12 in the Gorham Art Gallery located at 5 University Way, Gorham. They are open Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 6 pm and Friday through Sunday from noon to 4 pm.

Photo still courtesy of the USM Art Gallery

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