Steve Miller uses x-rays, MRI scans and satellite imagery to reveal an eerie, unseen side of nature. What happened when he travelled to the Amazon to x-ray its plants, piranhas, snakes and sloths?
Steve Miller uses x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, electron microscopes and even satellite imagery to take a fresh look at the complex beauty of nature – and show the fragile nature of the planet. The New York artist occasionally incorporates manmade objects – in this case a Chanel handbag from his X-Ray Fashion series – resulting in works that manage to be both representational and abstract.
On a trip to Brazil in 2005, Miller became fascinated by its rainforests, which cover more than 60% of the country. What he saw there provided the inspiration for Radiographic. ‘My idea,’ he said, ‘was that if the Amazon is the lungs of the planet, I’ll x-ray the lungs and give Brazil and the planet a medical checkup.’
In Belém, near the mouth of the Amazon, Miller became fascinated by sloths. This female was brought to a hospital by zoo workers to be x-rayed. They wanted to see what was going on in her lungs. ‘These endangered tree-dwelling mammals are being stressed by the deforestation and burning of the rainforest,’ says Miller. ‘Their lungs are susceptible to smoke and they become trapped in islands of trees. When an island can no longer support them, they have to escape, making an easy, slow-moving target for predators.’
This image from 2013 captures piranhas, known for their sharp teeth and powerful jaws. ‘Thanks to the miracle of radiology,’ says the artist, ‘one can see their tight, efficient design from tooth to tail. Swimming in predatory packs, these creatures clean the river.’
The Health of the Planet series became a multilayered project, with his desire to see, know, collect and save taking on something of a Noah’s ark quality.
Miller was one of the founders of the SciArt movement, which aims to bring art and science closer together.
A recent work, from 2015, using pigment dispersion and silkscreen on canvas. When art and science come together, says Miller, it beefs up the scale, creating ‘images you can get lost in’.
In the 19th century, photography was used to catalogue specimens and create ‘a picture atlas’ of the natural world – something Millar is now adding to with his flower x-rays.