CAA 2017 Lightning Presentation
College Art Association Panel Session, February 17, 2017
Entangling Art & Biology: Bioart and Beyond
Panelists/Presenters: Arnaud Gerspacher, Anna Sokolina, Charissa Terranova, Laura Splan, Jane Prophet, Rachel Mayeri, Meredith Tromble, Dorothy Santos, Adam Zaretsky, Patricia Olynyk, Liselot van der Heijden
Lightning Talk Presentation Transcript
My work explores intersections of art, science, technology and craft. I’m interested in how each of these is uniquely poised and equipped to interrogate our understanding of the human body and its particular existence and experience with what is outside of its fleshy container. My early work created conspicuous pairings of biomedical imagery with decorative and domestic artifacts as a way to illuminate the disruptive presence of the “other”—how we might use what my mentor Gail Wight would call the“poetic irreverence” of art to debunk the autonomous authority of science and technology. “Blood Scarf”, created in 2002, was one of these projects that challenged the notion of biomedical devices as apparatus of “healing”. The photographs depict a scarf knit out of vinyl tubing that is filled with the user’s blood via an intravenous device, while simultaneously draining the user of their blood drop by drop. This fictitious device disrupts the warm and fuzzy connotations of a lovingly hand-knit scarf with the unsettling materialization of one’s own mortality. The photographic medium positions the speculative apparatus’ function into the history of its own documentary authority while ignoring the laws of human biology.
Other projects have drawn inspiration from the complicated histories surrounding biomedical inventions, instruments, imaging tools and diagnostic techniques. The stethoscope has a fraught history laden with social norms and gender dynamics of the Victorian era, which could account for how its own design embodies some socially-prescribed distance between doctor and patient, male and female. My project, “X-Ray Visions & Morphine Dreams”, drew inspiration from Bertha Röntgen’s experience of her husband’s research, which he was performing in the basement of their home where he discovered x-rays. The digital collages were created with images culled from radiology textbooks and medical imaging databases. The project depicts hallucinatory imaginings in which bones and intestines form the underlying structure of various domestic furnishings. The title of the piece was inspired by reports that Bertha was thought to be a hypochondriac and in the last years of her life her husband gave her multiple daily injections of morphine to deal with her reportedly psychosomatic illnesses. One can only speculate on the effects the morphine had on her understanding of those very first x-ray images not to mention the effects her husband’s home laboratory had on her health. However, it’s worth noting that upon seeing the first x-ray of her own hand, Bertha exclaimed, “I have seen my death!”
My current work uses medical diagnostic techniques to measure the body as I perform various movements and tasks in the studio. Using electromyography and other biosensors my studio process results in data-driven forms and patterns for digitally fabricated sculptures, computerized jacquard woven tapestries and laser etchings. Manifest, is essentially a series of data visualizations that depict various facial expressions such as a smile. The sculptures are at once objectifications, embodiments, and artifacts of a fleeting corporeal experience—an electromyography measurement of the changing levels of electricity in my cheek muscles as I began and ended a single smile. They are the result of a unique performance of an emotion that if recorded again would never render the same data-driven waveform again. The process continues to unfold for me in many ways but I am particularly struck with how within the components of the larger apparatus, there are always opportunities for chance, mutation, and disruption of the system within which it functions. How the stability and veracity of the system itself is an illusion.
— Laura Splan, New York, NY, February 17, 2017