THE HIDDEN ARTIST: Joshua Levine
CONNECTION TO NOHO: Lives, fathers, and works there
MEDIUMS: sculpture, digital collage
If life is art, then is art a mutation of life? I’d say yeah––in the case of Joshua Levine’s work. At first glance, his beautifully painted resin sculptures are automatically recognizable to the viewer. It may be a Chihuahua, a fawn, a lizard or something larger as a Panda Bear or a Longhorn Steer. As a matter of fact, Joshua’s living room walls were lined with all of them––“trophy heads,” as he calls them. In juxtaposition to all the toys scattered about the floor when I arrived (Joshua is full-time artist and a dad to a twenty-month-old energetic little boy), these heads sort of melded into the daycare scene. But as playful on the outside they may have appeared, their conception originated in the mysterious realms of science technology, specifically genetic manipulation.
Take for instance, his exquisitely gold leaf-like painted “4 Ocular 2 Auditory Golden Horned 3 Face” in which I made an association to a deer. Now, I might have simply called him “Fred,” but Joshua created this animal hybrid from a more methodical place and named him as if he was indeed scientific experiment. As a reference for me to better understand where part of his inspiration came for his creations, he mentioned the Vacanti mouse, the lab mouse that had what looked like a human ear grown on its back. The Google maniac that I am, I found out later this was an experiment “created to demonstrate a method of fabricating cartilage structures for transplantation into human patients.” All in all, this example only touches lightly on the world of genetic engineering or what Joshua may know of it and uses in his fantastic art.
More interestingly, I was touched by what Joshua brought into his work from his Jewish heritage, specifically the atrocities at Auschwitz by the maddest scientist of all, Josef Mengele, whose inhumane medical experiments are known around the world. I guess one cannot help but connect the worst examples of genetic altering to the most progressive today. And although six eyes, four ears, and five horns, on an animal you would otherwise consider a pet, might feel a little disturbing, Joshua gave them human eyes to soften the palette––pointedly, blue ones marked for the Aryan Race, something Mengele supported and executed thousands of Jews to help create for Hitler. In this sense, Joshua’s work is asking us to be aware that science has its place in history, good and bad, but we must always REMEMBER what happened.
So much lies in our imagination. Why, I’ve always said if a person can think it, it’ll most likely happen. This theory of mine starts way back to the old SciFi movies about space travel––and look at us today. A Star Wars reality with hybrid creatures may not be as far off as we think either. Just think of it. The idea of being able to genetically engineer a cow with more udders to feed us or a puppy dog who can lay on two laps at once. And as Joshua suggested during my interview with him, science may very well develop what he's already touched on in his sculptures––backup appendages and body parts. When one fails, grow another...ear, eye, leg, finger, or er, you know. Whatever is in store for us in the scientific future, thank you Joshua for opening our minds to just those possibilities.
You may follow Joshua on his Facebook page for his newest experimentations.