Wonderful Life, 2002-2008


This series was completed in 2008, six years after its accidental inception. The title is shared with the 1989 publication by Stephen Jay Gould: “Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History.”


Wonderful Life is composed of 52 sculptural forms, made with various materials such as treads, wires, and beads. Each sculpture is assigned a masculine or feminine first name in alphabetical order, from Ann, 2002 to Zelig, 2008. "52 is essentially an arbitrary number," the artist said. "Evolution plays out with no understanding of its beginning and obviously no understanding of its end. So 52 could have become 104, and it could have become 208. It could have gone on forever."


This sculptural work makes manifest Steven Siegel’s interest in evolutionary biology. It is inspired by Gould’s book and the recent revolution in theories of evolution. In “Wonderful Life,” Gould argues that during this period following the Cambrian explosion, the disparity of anatomical body plans was actually greater than today: “Because of the disparity of the Burgess Shale and later decimation we must invert the conventional cone of increasing diversity,” concludes Gould. “Instead of a narrow beginning and a constantly expanding upward range, multicellular life reaches its maximal scope at the start, while later decimation leaves only a few surviving designs.”


Siegel’s elaborate pieces reference the boundless diversity of forms of the Cambrian Explosion. As stated by Gary Walker, Biologist: “What's unusual about the art of Steven Siegel is that he was inspired by such creatures as those found in the Burgess Shale but has created detailed representatives of his own conceptualizations in very much the same way that evolutionary processes lead to the origins of previously unknown forms of life. Seeing something such as his creations in Wonderful Life is a stimulation very much like that experienced at first glance of something new to us in the world.”


Wonderful Life has been exhibited numerous time, notably at Penn State Berks, Freyberger Gallery, Albright College, Freedman in 2010, at Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, Boone, NC, in 2009; at Grounds for Sculpture  Hamilton, NJ, in 2006; and at Montalvo Arts Center Gallery, Saratoga, CA in 2005.