Exhibition Catalog

Gone Viral: Medical Science and Contemporary Textile Art

Marion Art Gallery
Curator's Essay by Leesa Rittelmann
Gone Viral: Medical Science and Contemporary Textile Art
SUNY Fredonia

…Mounted on inky velvet squares and encased in glass, artist Laura Splan's diminutive white lace doilies beg careful study. Such ornate tatted motifs recall fine family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. Their complexity and delicacy bespeak an intense degree of labor and skill and their function as decorative coverings for other treasured heirlooms conjures powerful associations with maternal gestures of devotion and protection. ln Splan's iteration however, these familiar domestic artifacts "manifest the psychological heredity of our cultural anxieties" rather than the material wealth typically symbolized by family heirlooms. Where traditional doily are lovingly handcrafted and named after natural forms like “Rosette” or "Pineapple," Splan's precious SARS, Hepadna, and Influenza doilies are computer replicated machine embroideries of epidemic viral structures. As such, they are the kind of shared "heirlooms" that call for eradication rather than preservation. It is precisely this sublime tension between desire and fear, physical beauty and abjection, rational science and purportedly irrational or subjective art that characterizes all of the work in the exhibition Gone Viral: Medical Science in Contemporary Textile Art. Laura Splan also employs spare visual forms to convey complex cultural concerns. Her vampiric Blood Scarf diptych depicts a pale figure in a shapeless white gown sporting a thick red scarf draped casually around her neck. What at first seems a woolen hand-knit source of comfort is upon second glance revealed as a web of intravenous tubing that acquires its deep red hue only when filled with the wearer's own blood. As Splan explains, "the implied narrative is a paradoxical one in which the device keeps the user warm with their blood while at the same time draining their blood drop by drop." A somewhat less Gothic narrative informs Exam Gown – a hand-knit gown neatly folded on a stainless steel hospital cart that promises a kind of protection and warmth sorely lacking in standard-issue hospital gowns. According to Splan: “The labor-intensive quality of the knitting process evokes ideas of a more personal, less disposable institutional environment; images of a patient knitting one’s own gown during an extended stay in a hospital or perhaps the hospital staff themselves caring so much about their patients that they knit such gowns.” A blurring of the boundaries between corporeal vulnerability and the detached clinical gaze also underpin Splan's most recent work created specifically for this exhibition. This interactive sculpture featuring eight modified stethoscopes invites viewers to listen to one another’s beating hearts by standing at opposite ends of a woven network of tubing that obscures their ability to know who is listening their heart and whose heart they are listening to…

Leesa Rittelmann, essay in exhibition catalog for Gone Viral: Medical Science in Contemporary Textile Art, 2013