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(TF.News 6) Fossil Art: Art or Science? (View 3548/Answer 0)
Fossil Art: Art or Science?

Provocative Fossil Art exhibition runs from June 12 to August 15, 1999.

(Toronto, Ontario, May 18, 1999) A remarkable exhibit of fossils, spanning more than one billion years of Earth history, opens at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on June 12, 1999. Fossil Art features casts of extraordinary seafloor bedding planes from the Precambrian era to the present, intricately etched with impressions made by ocean currents and bygone beings. The exhibit blurs the distinction between art and science by presenting the casts of fossils, and the sediment that preserved them, like works in an art gallery.
Fossil Art consists of 36 remarkably detailed casts of specimens sculpted by undersea currents and imprinted by animal tracks and burrows. Dramatically mounted on starkly lit black panels in the ROM's Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall, the awe-inspiring six foot casts feature fanciful titles such as Lasso Trail and Witch Brooming, which encourage viewers to consider first the abstract beauty of the fossil traces. Scientific information about the panels is also displayed, although given less prominence in the design of the exhibit. The scientific value of the exhibit comes from demonstrating the subtlety of the fossil record and the importance of sedimentary structures to our understanding of seafloor environments past and present.

"The exhibit was conceived to highlight the beauty and symmetry of fossils," said Peter von Bitter, Head of Palaeobiology at the ROM. "Formed through the natural movement of ocean currents and the tracks and burrows left by now-extinct animals on the seafloor, the specimens provide a valuable and aesthetic record of ancient events and natural processes, as preserved in stone."
Fossil Art was created by internationally renowned German paleontologist Adolf Seilacher, of Tubingen University (Germany) and Yale University (U.S.A.). Professor Seilacher was the winner of the 1992 Crafoord Prize awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences. Using the prize money, he and his team traveled to five continents to produce exact replicas from the original rocks, which were often too large to be removed themselves or were protected by heritage laws.

Science News wrote that Fossil Art "delve(s) into the murky chasm separating art from science, forcing viewers to consider how the two endeavors overlap. In the process, it raises the thorny question, 'Can fossils be considered a form of art?' " In his introduction to the exhibit catalogue, Harvard University Professor Stephen Jay Gould adds, "We learn that organic effort can be as beautiful as organic form." Although the science vs. art debate continues, viewers can decide for themselves whether fossils can be art objects. One thing that science and art certainly have in common is an attempt to understand the world around us.

The exhibit remains on view at the ROM until August 15, 1999. Organized and promoted in North America by Alberta's Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, Fossil Art has been touring for the last year and a half and is next scheduled to visit the Museum of the Falls of the Ohio.

Visitors to Fossil Art will learn more about the evolution of the Earth in the ROM's newest and largest permanent gallery,
Dynamic Earth: Inco Limited of Earth Sciences Gallery. This spectacular gallery (opening May, 30, 1999) highlights how the powerful forces of geology and biology interact to shape our planet. Innovative interactive exhibits, multimedia presentations and touchable specimens explain how volcanoes, earthquakes and other dynamic forces affect Earth's evolution.

The Royal Ontario Museum is grateful to ROM Reproductions Shop, whose generous grant made this exhibition possible.

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