After leaving my first residency I felt very little discord or conflict. I came to Boston with a strong sense of what interested me and what my subject matter encompassed, although I lacked the clarity to describe it very eloquently both in words and within my pieces. The conflict was not with the themes of my work but rather inherent to the subject matter. In particular, my shortcoming was the lack of conflict within my work that had an obvious duality. During the residency I was able to whittle down all my interests and thoughts on science, the body, and anatomy into a concise statement that relates to this body of work. It was a great accomplishment to find a succinct answer to, “ What are you trying to convey?”
I am trying to create a visual representation for the dual physiological/psychological act on ones body. I am trying to create a visual for what happens on the inside when all we typically see is the outside. I was originally trying to portray this by combining the recognizable medical documentation with additional alteration to the anatomical elements to describe the emotional states of the person within the event. Due to the specific anatomical textbook style imagery, unconnected collage elements and scientific style diagrams the message of my pieces was unclear to the viewer. There was a consensus that the subject matter was interesting but the meanings of the pieces were not being portrayed clearly. A main problem lies in the homogenous nature of each piece. Each piece in the series features the same group anatomical drawing with only a slight alteration. The work also leaned too far to the neutral nature of scientific documentation rather than showing, as Hannah put it, “ultimate pain” of affliction. They showed little of the subject being affected. The collage elements did little to connect or further that emotional state.
Suggestions to remedy this lack of clarity were extensive. Going back and rereading notes I was able to divide the comments into several common veins to explore.
First, I need to vary my source material away from drawn anatomical textbooks I had previously and almost exclusively been using. Hannah suggested I try to get into a rigorous anatomy class, preferably one with access to a cadaver. I have to admit I have been waiting a very long time for someone to justify my curiosity in viewing a cadaver. I feel my work would greatly benefit from trying to create my own source material from an actual anatomy not the one step removed versions already created. Some other ways to accomplish this if I cannot gain access to a cadaver range from surgical videos, anatomical textbooks with photos rather than drawings, history of medicine and dissection texts. Medical museums were also added to my list of places to gain more sources. Tony also suggested that I look at other types of anatomy ranging from anatomy found in nature, (trees and plants,) to other types of flesh, (meat, whole chicken, fruit).
In addition, Tony and Oliver suggested I think about also how the inside of the body is accessed and viewed. In the past it was mostly done with dissection but with current advances in technology, (MRI, X-rays, tiny cameras), give a whole new vantage point of the inner recesses of the body.
I also need to search for other modes of representing the body whether through material or process. This knowledge will broaden my ability to portray the figure more effectively.
The first and over arching suggestion was to start with discovering artists that I primarily identified with and focus on the way they create marks and materials they use. I’m now looking at artists and their work with a critical eye to find why I am drawn to it and also documenting the formal devices they use to reveal the meaning in their work. Secondly, I am to look at artists that are somewhat similar in relation to with my subject matter such as Mark Quinn, Chloe Piene, Roxanne Jackson, KiKi Smith, Kate MacDowell, Marc Dion, and Jenny Saville .
It was also recommended by Oliver to research contemporary digital ways of portraying the body versus the 19th century aesthetic that I was emulating. He proposed looking at Virgil Wong and his work in digital anatomy models. He encouraged me to define why I am so drawn to that aesthetic and what it means that the current way of portraying and accessing the internal body is done with advanced technology.
Judith Suggested I look at performance art. In particular, Viennese Actionists, female performance artist and specific artists like Stelarc and Herman Nitsch. These artists use their own bodies as a canvas for depicting pain and other afflictions of the body. The process of destruction and alteration their bodies to explain the abstract idea of pain or illness will help me to understand how to more effectively depict the duality. I was also asked to read texts that describe the cultural significance of illness pain and afflictions such as Susan Sontag and Elaine Scarry.
Something else was missing from my work. It remained very neutral and objective. Several peers wanted to know where I stood and what conflict I was trying to portray. In order to depict a more moving artwork my work needs some type of subject, something to tie it to the being or person being affected. Peter suggested that I look at the work of Joe Coleman. His work depicts his subjects in a manner that their character permeates their physical characteristics. Peter suggested that not all anatomical hearts look like the unflawed versions in a textbook. “What would a heart from an asshole look like?”
Only one person brought up a slightly inconsistent idea and of course it was my last critique on the last day of the residency. Just when I thought I had everything figured out Tony brought up that perhaps I’m not as interested in portraying the body/mind’s reaction to an affliction but simply the body and how it has been viewed and represented in art and in culture. I do agree with his thoughts but I feel after exploring all of the ways of portraying affliction it may lead back to this broader idea. I feel that sorting through all my research and resources it will become apparent how strong this interest really is.
With all of this in mind, I move forward. I have begun researching and absorbing all of these sources with a conscious effort to translate the information into more effective pieces. I feel that broadening my resource material, defining mark making, and finding a ties to the affected being will result in stronger pieces for the next residency.