© 2023 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Datebook: 'Prism' Refracts Chromatic Melding Of Science and Art

Don’t let the cute fool you. 

“There’s these bright colors and they look so whimsical, but there could be another story,” said artist Jan Brandt, whose deceptively whimsical sculptures and paintings are currently on view in “Prism,” the latest exhibition from the McLean County Arts Center in Bloomington. 

  Art and science weave together in Brandt’s contributions to “Prism.” Within her uninhibited and splashy works, you’ll find colorful fabrics, pom-poms, buttons and more in a vivid expression of the building blocks of life--cells, cell division, and mutation of cells. Working mostly in fabric, Brandt also included some recent paintings in the exhibition. 

“Maybe people could take that in a little easier because they might be used to a painting. They’re almost like a table of contents,” Brandt remarked, laughing. “Because the fiber work is profuse.  It is an explosion. 

brandt artwork
Credit Laura Kennedy / WGLT
"Profuse," said artist Jan Brandt. And she wasn't kidding.

“I was curious how I could use the same subject matter, this sort of cellular proliferation and growth and what happens when I put it on a flat surface. How do I still get this idea of depth and movement?” 

Brandt hopes showing the paintings alongside the fiber installations will allow the viewer to compare the two mediums and give a richer experience in the gallery. The paintings were created specifically for “Prism.” Many of the textiles are part of an ongoing process of creation, said Brandt. 

“Portions of them were first created back in 2015, and that’s why there are so many of them," she said. "I just constantly kept creating. I feel like that goes with the theme of cellular division and mutation.” 

The largest installation in “Prism” flows down the wall in a colorful jumble and took several days to install. Its original title, when it was shown in other exhibitions, was “Happy Contagion.” Brandt didn’t shy away from using that right now. 

“When you look at slides with cells on them, under the microscope, it can be quite beautiful, but it could be something really scary," she said. "And that interested me. There’s a heavier, deeper meaning now as I look at them.  I’m still calling it “Happy Contagion” because that’s what I started with.” 

All the scientists at work trying to find a vaccine for COVID-19 also factor into Brandt’s decision to hold onto the original title of her piece. 

“Some of these embroidery hoops, I’ve thought of as petri dishes and that they were science experiments. You know, there’s a lot of scientists working really hard and there’s a lot of petri dishes growing things right now, for hope and for vaccines. 

“To me, this could be a tie-in with the gulf between art and science and my personal belief that we need to trust science. So many smart people are working really hard on this, so I’m turning my idea of “Happy Contagion” into an homage to the scientists who are working so hard for us.” 

Many of the fabric pieces in Brandt’s work were donated to the artist. A closet cleaning can net Brandt quite a haul for her sculptures. And some of the pieces come with a poignant story, such as the clothing donated after the death of a loved one. 

“I’ve had people whose mothers have died, and they’ve said, ‘Mom would love to be in an art exhibit!’  It’s a personal thing to cut into someone's clothing that’s no longer being used, but it makes me think of the person. 

“And this goes back to how we all started as cells.” 

Brandt’s work is on display in “Prism” along with two other artists: Natalie Wetzel and Krystal Lyon. Including all three artists in one show makes the title of “Prism” very apt, said Brandt.

artworks in show
Credit Laura Kennedy / WGLT
"Prism" also includes the work of Natalie Wetzel and Krystal Lyon. Yes, those are fabric jellyfish on the left.


“When you look through a prism, there’s a refraction of the surfaces that separates white light into a spectrum of color," she said. "When someone walks into this gallery, it’s going to be this refraction into all these points of color. 

“That’s so important because working with three different people--and yes, there are some things that are similar with color, texture and all that--in a good collaboration, it actually strengthens each artist’s work.” 

“You’ll look at something and then it will draw you back to something else," she continued. "I think of it as a weaving, a weaving of a tapestry. That is what the viewing becomes, this interaction between all these different artists' works.” 

“Prism” is on view at the McLean County Arts Center through Oct. 9.


People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.

Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.