Life of Bone: History, Aesthetics, & Science


Life of Bone is amazing.  It’s complicated.  It’s intricate.  It's not a page-turner – but only because you want to spend more time on each page, absorbing its art.  Life of Bone takes an inert object, like a bone, and demonstrates that the object is anything but static.  The bones are dynamic.  They have  vibrant histories and epistemologies.  Ultimately, they're beautiful. 


Based on the 2011 exhibition at the Origins Center (University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg), the essays in Life of Bones weave together art and science (Burroughs, Brenner, & Nel, 2011.)  The exhibit (and book) juxtapose aesthetics, humanism, history, and science.  The life histories of bones – e.g. Sarah Baartman and the Taung Child – are illustrated through a variety of media and told in a multitude of ways.


Most striking are Joni Brenner’s Watercolors of Taung series.  These watercolors emphasizes a life and a fluidity of the fossil’s presence.  The fossil is present but the life of the hominin is long-since past, illustrated through the rich color and texture.  As an artist, Brenner’s interest in the stubbornly partial or fragmented ways in which we know ourselves and others has manifested materially in her sculptural and painterly works, which very often appear to be archaeological fragments. The drips and splotches around some of the watercolors in the series would seem to parallel the fossil, itself – reworked over time, through geology and science.  The watercolors and their splotches show interaction with the Child that would seem to give the story and interpretation of the fossil agency.  The meanings and import of the discovery are imbued by its audience.


Life of Bone is a book worth reading. 


Burroughs, E., Brenner, J., & Nel, K. (Eds.). (2011). Life of Bone. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.