Marc Quinn's monumental work The Engine of Evolution is a naturalistic portrayal of a Phalaenopsis, a genus of the orchid family, paired with an Anthurium, a genus of the arum family. Rendered in exquisite detail, the fine, papery petals, each distinguished by unique venation, defy the properties of the bronze medium in which they were cast to appear almost weightless and ethereal. Every element of the sculpture aspires to the perfection of reality and the accurate rendition of natural beauty. The present work belongs to a series of sculptures and paintings through which Quinn has explored the concept of ideal beauty achieved, especially, through genetic modification. These include his seminal work Garden – an installation of flowers in full bloom preserved in silicone.
Familiar though exotic, the two flowers have been rendered uncanny by their magnification. On an immense scale, the delicate petals take on an ominous presence, ranged against each other in a botanical, sexual standoff: the orchid with its pincer-like mandibles poised to snap shut at any moment, confronted by the bristling, phallic protrusion of the Anthurium's spadix - the attribute that has earned this plant the alias 'Boy Flower'. The title of the work, The Engine of Evolution, and the way that Quinn has anatomically reduced the flowers to their reproductive elements, leaves the viewer under no illusion as to the nature of the encounter, laden with latent sexual connotations.
As a result The Engine of Evolution both attracts and intimidates the viewer, forcing us to think again about the innocence of beauty whilst confirming the adage that it is often the most beautiful elements of nature that are in fact the most dangerous.
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