Kim Morgan, installation view of “Blood and Breath, Skin and Dust,” 2022, with (left to right): Room Setting, Sigh, ink on polyester taffeta, two electric fans on timers, and SEM images of blood cells magnified c. 10000 times, dimensions variable; and Dust Ball (belly button) intervention. Photo: Steve Farmer

Kim Morgan

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Dalhousie Art Gallery

Scale remains one of the sculptor’s most dependable tools, a means of whipsawing our perceptions, keeping us off-balance and disrupting the ho-hum drone of habit that stops us from seeing anything beyond the expected. Changing scale can change the level of attention, and if that’s achieved, focus can change. When the size of something is not what we expect, we wonder about it, becoming open to the possibility of another sort of wonder—that sparked by the intellectual and emotional interaction that pulls us into an artwork’s world.

Kim Morgan uses her sculptures to bring the vanishingly small into visibility, the ubiquitous into focus. The world created by her works evokes that specific world we inhabit—our bodies. Not the familiar fleshy masses that we haul around with us (that haul us around), but the blood that courses through us, the flakes of skin that slough off us, the dust and detritus that surround us as an invisible cloud. The body evoked in Morgan’s work is porous and ephemeral, dispersed and unbounded. It’s a way of seeing ourselves that was impossible for most of human history, needing a specific set of scientific and technological lenses.

In “Blood and Breath, Skin and Dust” (on view through December 4, 2022), Morgan uses images gathered by a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to create objects depicting blood cells, skin flakes, granules of human ash, and knotted, massively gnarled balls of dust. Dust Ball (belly button) (2021) is a large sphere of inflated lightweight material printed with the image of belly button lint magnified over 1,000 times. It sits passively in a corner of the gallery, while nearby images show it in more active roles: batted between people on a green lawn, floating on the calm waters of a coastal inlet. Other images, including video, depict the ball being rolled up stairs and through curving halls, a kind of Sisyphean activity without the weightiness of stone. Despite its size (almost seven feet in diameter), Dust Ball (belly button) seems ready to float away, its surface quivering in the light air currents. Mass, too, is put into question.

Flake (2021–22) lies on the floor, an almost 10-foot-long oblong shape, only a few inches high, that “breathes,” expanding and deflating like some sleeping science-fiction beast. Made from the Silpoly fabric used in many of Morgan’s sculptures, it is printed with images of skin flakes at 6,000-times magnification. Incorporating internal fans that create its movements and covered with loose flaps that flutter in the air, Flake is both completely alien and somehow familiar.

Morgan’s interest in the sculptural possibilities of SEM imagery began with a HEALS (Healing and Education through Arts and Life Skills) artist residency at Dalhousie University. Concurrently, her mother faced terminal cancer. As anyone who has undergone cancer treatments knows, the taking of blood punctuates a patient’s days and nights. “Morgan,” curator Susan Gibson Garvey writes, “wondered what might be perceived at the cellular level regarding blood relationships and disease, and with access to the scientific imaging lab at Dalhousie University, began by scanning samples of her own blood.”

Morgan went on to make what she calls “Blood Portraits,” circular images printed on aluminum of single blood cells provided by volunteer donors. These images (and related imagery of other blood samples), which appear as stand-alone works, are also used as part of a video projection and incorporated into other wall-based works, such as Blood Galaxy (Deep Space) (2022), a wrap-around photographic mural that envelops the viewer in a seeming star field made up of images of blood cells. 

It comes back to scale. Gaston Bachelard famously wrote in The Poetics of Space that “immensity is a philosophical category of the daydream.” The very small evokes the very large, an intimate immensity created when an artistic imagination with the scope—the skills, the materials, the techniques, the tools—for defying limits, meets the viewer. Morgan’s “Blood and Breath, Skin and Dustis such a meeting.