Heather Beardsley

After Ernst II (2017)
acrylic gel medium, laser prints, embroidery
7 x 7 x 0.5 in.

This work is inspired by Ernst Haeckel’s illustrations, lithographs and drawings that blur the lines between art and science. In his time these prints were ubiquitous, their presentation of a natural world whose forms can be ordered, understood and, most importantly, improved upon took deep root in pre-War Western culture. Haeckel’s firm belief that all organisms were made up of geometric crystalline structures that could be perfected through evolution caused him to exaggerate and idealize the organisms he representations. This ideological quest for perfection in the natural world went on to become an important influence on Eugenics programs that took these views to their terrible extremes. ​

Like previous generations, I can’t help but be fascinated by these illustrations despite my awareness of their problematic ideological foundations and history. My work takes Haeckel’s embellishments one step further, exaggerating the stranger elements of his creations based on my own aesthetic preferences rather than scientific observation. For these pieces I have made acrylic gel transfers of Haeckel’s original lithographs, then layered and sewn into them to further fetishize these organisms. Like Haeckel, my unapologetic fabulation demonstrates what happens when ideology supersedes objective observation. Although this work is inspired by an historical example, in this time of “alternative facts” where truth seems so illusory, these questions of ideology and objectivity are just as relevant today.