To some, the purpose of hyperrealistic art may seem uncertain; why reproduce reality in such painstaking detail, when we are confronted by each other’s flesh every day? Of course, some of the sculptures have disturbing and surreal aspects, which makes their illusory qualities more clear. Like rats’ tails and hairless cats, these sculptures may make many of us strangely uncomfortable, for they unconsciously remind us of our own mortal fleshiness. Beyond this initial repulsion, however, they also mimic and accentuate reality to confront the viewer with meanings they may never see otherwise: human vulnerability, and the skin as a shallow edifice that distracts us from another’s internal experience. In each of these “simulations” of real life, an intuitive (and often unsettling) truth is revealed.
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Jiyong Lee is an artist and educator based in Carbondale, Illinois, who works in the medium of glass art. In a series titled Segmentation, Lee has created fascinating, geometric glass blocks that metaphorically examine life science. Mirroring the processes of cell division and growth, each sculpture is divided into fragments that represent “cells, embryos, biological and molecular structures—each symbolizing the building blocks of life, as well as the starting point of life” (Source). As a whole, they are firm structures, much like the proverbial “building blocks”; but internally, they are irregular and segmented, symbolizing the varying growth rates and beautiful asymmetry of organic life.
The glass Lee has chosen to work with varies in its translucency, which is significant to his theme. Sometimes the fragments are see-through; in other places they are dense and clouded. For Lee, these conditions of visibility represent “what is known and unknown about life science” (Source), for although modern science seeks to fully comprehend the workings of life, there will always be an unreachable mystery within. The internal haze also represents an unknown future for cells as they live and continue to change.