“Biological Agents: Artistic Engagements in Our Growing Bio-Culture” is a presentation of the work of three scientifically minded artists. Brandon Ballengee leads groups on biological excursions to gather frogs for study. Frogs are especially susceptible to the effects of pollution, and Ballangee catalogs their resultant genetic deformities. Taking people into their backyard ponds and helping them document the destruction caused by human waste is a political art act in and of itself, but a video in the gallery serves as an insufficient stand-in for the project, along with examples of deformed frogs as proof of a degrading ecology. Performance artist Caitlin Berrigan promotes Hepatitis C awareness by “befriending” her infection, serving it chocolates and tea. The tactic of treating a serious illness with such irreverent levity strips it of stigma and enables free dialog. That is, when someone is around. Berrigan’s jokiness, though, doesn’t amount to much beyond the sympathy invoked by so much self-deprecation. Finally, Natalie Jeremijenko’s contribution suffers from a lack of information. Jeremijenko’s reputation is excellent, but the projects here seemed flat. For example, two aquariums filled with tadpoles hung on the wall with pictures of men placed behind them. While inscrutable in person, the UIC website states that the men are BP executives and that the work is a comment on Lake Michigan water quality. A didactic presentation such as “Biological Agents” needs excitement to breed engagement. Telling a compelling and complete story to go with the data activates the listener, and only Ballengee’s frog works succeeded in doing that. (Dan Gunn)
Through November 22 at Gallery 400, 400 S. Peoria.