Proprioception Sits at Crossroads of Science and Art

Oliver Levine, Staff Writer

In her senior thesis show, Proprioception: A sensory understanding of one’s body in space, which opened last Friday night in the Baron Gallery, College senior Madalyn Berg skillfully explored relationships between the human body and nature. A Studio Art and Biology major, Berg used the exhibition to underscore our personal relationships to internal and external environments.

Primarily a sculptor, Berg utilizes a wide range of material — from porcelain to snakeskin — to create her pieces. Some works are not handcrafted at all, but appropriated from nature. Fittingly, these works have been put on display in ways that suggest the transience of life, but also the connection between anatomy and art. Among these pieces, a decaying deer leg hangs on the wall. “I found it in my backyard and thought it was perfect,” she said. Another piece, “Overlook,” makes further use of animal corpses and plant matter as Berg humorously places the carcasses of a bee, salamander and other creatures into jewelry boxes. While often approaching her work scientifically, Berg’s art is deeply personal, often directly referencing her own health struggles. In a piece titled “Scarrification,” she cast the scars of friends and strangers with latex. In doing so, she immortalizes the blemishes, letting the torn flesh tell its own story.

In another facet of her work, Berg was drawn to casting entire bodies in plaster. While not technically relief sculpture, the wall placement and directedness of many of the works have elements of the relief sculpture concept. In “Porcelain 1,” the artist has cast her entire body in porcelain, fragmenting her figure. “Porcelain 2” is similar, but with a smaller figure curled into the fetal position. These pieces powerfully allude to themes of self-preservation and create an almost peaceful aura.

A more experimental sculpture, “For In My Body,” was situated in the center of the gallery on the floor. The figure, which appears to be half-submerged in the ground below it, is crafted from a cement mixture that includes brass wire, Vaseline, snakeskin and about 17 insects including a butterfly and several spiders. Berg intends for this piece to return to nature, eventually be completely covered in moss.

Boasting a catalogue of over 20 pieces, Proprioception was an undeniably successful show that attracted dozens of students. Instead of wine, hot cider was served, which seemed like a more fitting beverage given the overall feel of the show. In the same vein, Berg led a small workshop on how to create salves and tinctures. Salves, waxy ointments used to treat or soothe skin, and tinctures, medicinal extracts, are both holistic treatments that are easy to make at home.

Berg’s work is situated at the nexus between two fields. “I hope it is redefining health, at least in a small way,” she explained. “I want it to engage with science and book learning, but it has to be visual, and more emotional than academic.” For Berg, art is an opportunity to reflect on the human condition through intuition in a way science does not usually permit.