Philadelphia Inquirer Reviews Elemental Matters

David Clark's I don't think you understand the way I feel about the stove, 2000.

Canadian artist David Clark's I don't think you understand the way I feel about the stove, 2000.

February 18, 2011 - Philadelphia


Show features all 118 elements: Artists celebrate chemistry's gifts

By Victoria Donohoe
For The Philadelphia Inquirer

An alluring, mysterious feast for the eyes awaits you at Elemental Matters: Artists Imagine Chemistry at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, which organized it. Those ever-present yet elusive chemical elements are the building blocks of our world.

Elemental Matters is one of a series of kickoff events across the country for the U.S. launch of the 2011 International Year of Chemistry. This show, like the worldwide celebration, focuses on chemistry's contributions to the well-being of mankind.

A year and a half in preparation, the exhibit features seven artists. Each has invented a different way of experiencing the elements and periodic table, to reconnect us to the matter inside and around us. The show sets all 118 elements before us in periodic-table formation, as if we were standing before a holiday table laden with lots of tasty items.

Straightaway comes David Clark of Halifax with a large-wall piece, comforting in its kitchen-cozy familiarity: It's made entirely of 118 old electric-stove coils lined up as a grid. Called I don’t think you understand the way I feel about the stove, it encourages us to see the world with "chemical vision," something requiring no wordy wall signs or encumbrances.

Brigitte Hitschler of Germany achieved a difficult outdoor installation at an abandoned mine, using chemical implants that in their reactions illuminated hundreds of red LED lights, visible from the air as mysterious red dots; her piece symbolizes the past and further energy potential of land. A different sort of labor-intensive approach is displayed in the fruits of Jennifer Schmitt's Periodic Table Printmaking Project, for which she rounded up 118 prints by 97 artists that comment on the elements and everyday life.

The show's artists explore the elements as symbol, raw material, or energy. One among them who manages to transform chemistry's ordinary associations into something genuinely surprising and evocative is Dove Bradshaw. In beautiful photos of nude figures inscribed with lists of the elemental components of the human body; in one of her Waterstone series (water dripping deeply into limestone); or, in Self Interest, 57 tiny glass flasks sized proportionately to represent the elements that make up a 100-pound body, Bradshaw shows a deep understanding of what builds and unbuilds the universe.

This is a brilliant and timely show.


Chemical Heritage Foundation, 315 Chestnut St. To Dec. 16. 10-4 Mon.-Fri.; also 5-8 on First Fridays. Free. 215-925-2222.

View the original article here.

Need Meeting Space?

CHF’s state-of-the-art conference center is in Philadelphia’s beautiful historic district.

Upcoming Events

Meet us in person at one of our events.


Distillations Podcast logo
Listen to the latest episodes of CHF’s award-winning podcast.