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Evolutionary Artifacts

Evolutionary Artifacts is an interactive multimedia installation by Michigan State University Professor and Artist James L. Lawton that makes use of objects from MSU Museum’s collection of human evolutionary artifacts, such as an imagined “Lucy“ (Australopithecus afarensis), interspersed with 20th-century family photographs, an ultrasound fetus screen printed on Plexiglas sheets, hanging on an industrial conveyor system and arranged with other historic objects, such as 1930s diving boots.

The exhibition also includes an interactive component of projected family photographs and imagery solicited and uploaded through a website (http://www.lucyandyou.com). Contributions of images are from students, faculty and staff, and the Greater Lansing/East Lansing community, as well as the broadest spectrum of contributors because of the Internet outreach. The installation includes uploaded digitized images of family photographs projected on the walls of the gallery as well as photocopied images mounted on the walls that have been mailed and/or delivered to the MSU Museum.

Alongside these projected family photographs and photocopied images there are artifacts from the Museum collection with additional images of ancestors printed on acrylic sheets hung from an industrial conveyor system. In addition, an imagined three-dimensional “Lucy“ and over thirty artifacts from the MSU Museum collection, ranging from stone tools to a family photo album, are presented in the installation. Artifacts were selected from the Museum’s collections to represent human evolution as well as the ethnic diversity of the overall population in the State of Michigan, based on the 2000 census. Overall this installation references varied perceptions of human evolution, diversity, mortality and the cycles of life experiences.

In addition to the exhibitions that grow from its collections and curators’ research, the MSU Museum works with MSU faculty and students around campus to explore new topics and innovative ways to present them. The MSU Museum provides experimental space for these short-run exhibits that can present a range of topics where artifacts or specimens and conventional storytelling are side-by-side with new-media technology, artistic installation pieces and performance works.


From the curator:

The objective of this exhibition is to bring together diverse cultures and diverse family histories along with objects that define that history in the global society of the 21st century to facilitate an appreciation and understanding of our global society in recognition of MSU’s world-grant aspirations. In addition, the exhibition will help illuminate the individual and personal connective ties we have to a larger global and generational community, and offer an experiential response to how far human evolution has come and how close we really are in our interconnected world. While this work acknowledges differences by individual specificity of family history, it also illuminates the unifying aspect of humanity and human history.

The exhibition also establishes another perspective where the arts are reaching out to society and community in varied ways and through ever-changing venues (e.g., MSU Museum and outreach through the Internet and other social networking sites) to establish an ongoing dialogue between the artist, the art audience, the museum, and history itself and how history is recorded, documented and preserved. As the exhibition evolves over the months of submissions, preparations and even over the duration of the exhibition dates, there will be an accumulation of printed and digitally recorded images from the local to the global community to be presented on the walls of the museum documenting contributions to the exhibition.

Details of Evolutionary Artifacts:

In addition to the solicited images and adding to the experiential quality of the exhibit, voice recordings of ancestral names, recorded in ones own ancestral language, are being solicited and recorded. These recordings, along with background music of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (origin of “Lucy,“ skeletal remains, Australopithecus afarensis) by the Beatles – which inspired the fossil’s name — will be played periodically during the exhibition.

The significance of this exhibition will be felt across many elements of our society as well as in the global area. There is still the accepted understanding that today’s global art is characterized by diversity and the differences being acknowledged around the world. While this work acknowledges these differences, it also brings attention to the unifying aspect of humanity. And, even in reference to art, it does not represent a stylistic movement but is open to all of humanity from all walks of life and from around the world to interpret and define. This exhibition is very much in the forefront of an understanding of global art of today. While Evolutionary Artifacts Exhibition promotes universal humanity, it is through an open and universal dialogue with all of humanity that it manages to link individual intentions with a conscious action so vital in art of today.

In our globalized society of today, Michigan State University Museum’s presentation of this cutting-edge installation, Evolutionary Artifacts Exhibition celebrates the recognition of MSU’s goals as a world-grant institution moving forward.

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