Leeds Artist David Cotton Working in Western New York

I met David Cotton, an artist from Leeds, last summer when he was a resident artist on campus at Jamestown Community College (JCC) where he was working in the new biotechnology labs. At that time he was painting bacteria on the sterile media surface of petrie dishes and playing with microscopes equipped with cameras. The college lab techs showed Cotton how to genetically modify E. coli bacteria with jellyfish DNA so that they ‘glowed’ under UV light. He then grew cultures of the bacteria and photographed them under various conditions. Cotton shot over a thousand digital photographs, or “bacteriographs,” over about nine days. For this first series of creative lab experiments, Cotton brought a painter’s sensibility to the lab materials. With a fine horsehair brush he drew abstract designs on the surface of growth medium and exploited the florescent palette of the lab.

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Why was Cotton in rural Western New York? He and other members of the SCIBase collective had traveled to Jamestown to participate in Colinized, an exhibition presented in two local galleries: The 3rd on 3rd Gallery  and the Dykeman-Young Gallery (April 4-May 15, 2014).  SCIBase is a collaborative project between BasementArtsProject, Leeds and the SCI collective based in the Northwest of England, which includes members from Leeds, Merseyside, Sheffield, the Midlands, Sweden and the USA.  Deb Eck, a British artist who lives and works in Jamestown, organized Colonized and arranged short community-based residencies, like Cotton’s, for most of the British and Swedish artists who traveled to Jamestown to participate in the exhibition. It was wonderful to meet so many international artists during my first summer in Western New York and it was entirely unexpected!

Cotton recently returned to Jamestown during the spring of 2015 for Colliding Worlds, another exhibition organized by Eck, which mixed science, medicine and art. For this exhibition Cotton showed a set of C-prints that related to his JCC lab work but which differed from it in interesting ways. Cotton purchased his own microscope and shot images of slides that he either prepared himself with readily available materials like seaweed, cabbage or the skin of a blueberry, or purchased through eBay. Cotton’s second series of microscope photographs differ significantly from the first, in that they read more like ready mades. Although Cotton has gone to the trouble of crafting each circular image from a series of square format digital files, each image in this series reads as a ready made of sorts. Each is a kind of matter-of-fact found object, be that an antique slide purchased from eBay with a funny title like “rad irridis” or “pimento,” or a bit of fruit or veg grabbed from the fridge. Shown together this series of eighteen 12 inch square C-prints hung horizontally across the gallery wall was lush and beautiful. Each photograph a gem on its own. As a series, the luminous orbs read as planetary spheres documenting newly discovered worlds. Embodying as they do both a micro and macro perspective, as well as both abstract and ready-made aesthetic sensibility, Cotton’s new series are hard to forget. In fact, I absolutely loved them.

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About Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs is the director of galleries and curator of exhibitions at Jamestown Community College in Western New York. She writes the blog "Scene Unseen: Viewing Notes" about visual art in her community.

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