In the style of cabinets of curiosity and natural history museum dioramas, audiences are presented with grotesque humanoid creatures from a confluence of pre-enlightenment fantasies and future environmental collapse anxiety.
Bernstein draws from medieval bestiaries, the journals of world explorers, and descriptions of mythical animals in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History to create her sculptures. Her work imagines, for humans specifically, how radical evolutionary adaptations can be advantageous to survive in an altered climate. Suspended in paper, wax, raw wool, felt, and other organic material, her creatures propose alternative ecologically adapted bodies. Fused legs taper to a fleshy umbrella used to shield from UV radiation while foregoing bipedal movement; or oversized ears regulate body temperature in an environment that fluctuates in the extreme. These viscerally rendered humanoids, emerging from a new primordial soup, give animal form to a vision of awe, terror, exoticism, and fantasy.
A three-channel video installation allows audiences to observe creatures in various biomes and seasons, and a single-channel video introduces recordings of twentieth-century psychologists and behaviorists, including B.F. Skinner, Harry Harlow, sexual educators, and news broadcasters. The video serves as a document introducing another order of animal: genetically modified super-humans performing the role of pseudo-scientist by probing, measuring, and testing “lower” creatures. Their efforts suggest a quest to capture, control, and deploy their biological findings to ensure their own survival. Only, the creatures, too, seem to perform tests of their own.
Becoming Beast explores, with grotesque humor and fantasy, the free movement of genes, body parts, biological mechanisms, and power when the boundaries that define ecosystems dissolve.