How I became BRANDED

How artist, Sher Fick, found the inspiration for her new series, BRANDED. The series delves into the history and the psychological/physical effects of the dropping of the atomic bombs by the Americans onto the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan.
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Been A Long Time Gone

The last few months have been emotionally unstable for me . . . preparing for my first-born's high school graduation, along with the the entire 'visiting colleges', vacations, and children's end-of-year activities, I feel like there is no me left.

I have managed to squeeze in a few art related activities - finishing 5 new art works for an application for an exhibition in London (which I didn't get into, but which was a great motivator).

Choosing to continue with the CONSTRAINT series, I created:

Post-Partum, 2011. Created from Hospital Receiving Blankets

 Love, Honor, & Obey(?), 2011; Altered Wedding Dresses

 

Rat Trap, 2011; Bridal Veil, Wooden Rat Trap 

Initially, first reactions seem to be shock, and then, either horror or hilarity. 

I mean them to be visual jesters which have an underlying message about role models and institutions.  As a bride, I refused to say "obey" and as bride and groom, my husband and I attempted to have a garden wedding with a non-denominational vow exchange.  Unfortunately, after the family friend (minister) had agreed in July to the vows we had chosen, he decided the NIGHT BEFORE OUR WEDDING to announce to us that he would be using his King James/Fundamental Baptist wording.  We were NOT happy to say the least.  We felt TRAPPED by the trickery . . . yet we had 75 invites out, the Civil War era home we had rented was decorated . . . what to do? We got married anyway and I cried through the entire ceremony because it was not what we wanted.  Comments which were relayed to me after the wedding caused me to not speak to certain family members for 3 months.  It was awful.  I shudder at the memories of my own wedding.

Regarding "Post-Partum", I was thinking about the shock of bringing home a newborn and the emotional upheaval, not to mention the hormonal, changes.  It is difficult even if you are not dealing with depression, gestational diabetes, breast-feeding, etc.  This work also correlates with the "A PAXIL A DAY" and "COPING SKILLS" series, in that I had issues with pregnancy difficulties and depression.  On a broader scale, it simply visualizes the constraints parenthood puts on the family and couplehood dynamics.

One concern I have with marriage, as seen in "Rat Trap", is that once married, the couple tends to lose their 'romance' and 'infatuations' with one another.  Having been divorced, I was terrified that our marriage might END our love.  I am happy to say, 20 years later, that, for us, that was not the case.

What are the reactions you have to these works?  I would love to hear YOUR impressions and thoughts on marriage and parenthood!

 

 

 

The One-Sentence Artist Statement

Having had a particularly difficult day today, emotionally, speaking - I want to turn the page back to last week when I had some fantastic epiphanies.

Since December and the Miami-Pool Art Fair trip, I have been trying to answer a question I received during my flight wait to Miami.  I was approached by a retired Military officer and asked "Where am I going? And "What do I do?"  One would think that I have a snap answer to that question, but I never have.  Maybe because I really work at breaking down my motivations and analyze my own psyche, I tend to answer in paragraphs or essays, NOT one sentence wonders.

So, I decided I needed to have that one-sentence answer ready the next time I am asked.

If you know me at all, and some of you do, I don't keep anything hidden, I am what I am, for better for worse . . . you know I am NOT a morning person!  I think better at night, I work better at night, and the mornings (i.e., anything prior to NOON) are not me at my best.  Last week, after realizing we would have ANOTHER SNOWDAY and that I could TURN OFF THE ALARM (woot!), I was given the great opportunity to slowly wake up and tiptoe through that twilight of sleep/dream and awake/reality.  What I realized, was that, in one sentence,:

 

I am the most broken item I have ever put back together.  It is a daily process, just like today, when I was literally ripped apart in a public forum for speaking my own truth about my rape.  I am stitching myself back together - I am a one-armed Raggedy Ann, restitching my dismembered arm back to myself.

The 2nd epiphany I experienced last week was the solution to an installation problem with "YOU MADE YOUR BED", a new series I will be installing in March at the "Ladies First", Top 10 Women Artists of Tennessee Exhibition at The Customs House Museum (in honor of women's history month).  Literally, laying 'abed' I visualized the installation solution and got it planned in my brain before I stepped onto the floor.  Here is 1/2 of the installation:

 

So, what I have learned this month?

1)  I realized what I do is, metaphorically and, literally, "I Put Back Together Broken Things", and

2)  Just as I am responsible for what my truth is, so are others, and there are deep and lasting crevices that are created from speaking one's truth.

 

 

 

 

One Week Until The Renaissance Center Opening!

 


n-cap.org and THE RENAISSANCE CENTER announces TAKE CARE: BIOMEDICAL ETHICS IN THE 21st CENTURY, a group exhibition.


Dickson, TN, January 7, 2011 – n-cap.org, along with The Renaissance Center, is proud to announce the opening of TAKE CARE, BIOMEDICAL ETHICS IN THE 21st CENTURY.  The artists of TAKE CARE began organizing the concept and exhibition in 2006-2007, and we are proud to bring the show near its birthplace, Nashville, TN.  Conceived by Nashville artist, Adrienne Outlaw, and organized with the assistance of fellow artist, Sher Fick, of Spring Hill, TN, the exhibition has traveled from Grand Rapids, MI, all the way to Miami, FL for the recent Pool Art Fair. 


Description: The TAKE CARE show highlights biomedical and ethical dilemmas, including: genetic engineering, pharmaceutical therapy, human reproduction/fertility therapies, mitochondrial DNA, familial connections, fetal annomalies, unregulated scientific testing, and the psychological/emotional impact of confronting these decisions, with the hope that viewers will take the opportunity to better appreciate the complexity of these personal decisions in a rapidly changing world.  Works include: ceramic sculpture, video art, mixed media, glass sculpture, embroidered paintings, and photography.


The Renaissance Center is located 35 minutes West of Downtown Nashville in Dickson, TN (855 Hwy 46 S).  The opening artist's reception will be Friday, January 14, 2011, from 6 -8 pm, and the exhibition will be viewable through Feb. 5, 2011.  Reception is OPEN TO THE PUBLIC and is FREE.

To read more about TAKE CARE, visit www.n-cap.org/take_care.html
 
TAKE CARE is a group exhibition including the following artists: Annette Gates (GA), Kristina Arnold (Bowling Green, KY), Adrienne Outlaw (Nashville TN),  Sher Fick (Spring Hill, TN), Lindsay Obermeyer (Chicago, IL),  Monica Bock (NE USA), Sadie Ruben (Copenhagen, Denmark), Jeanette May (NYC), and Libby Rowe (TX, formerly a Photography Professor at Vanderbilt University).
 
Excerpts taken from Art Reviews by Internationally-known critics, include the following:
 
“[T]he nine artists participating in TAKE CARE reveal that there is no definitive right answer to the question of biotechnological advancement. It is the informed dialogue that is paramount.”

“Through their artwork these artists explore the crucial social, economic, and ethical implications of biotechnological advancements and create a space for important dialogue.”

“As Dr. Sirine Shebaya, Greenwall, Fellow in Bioethics and Health Policy at the John Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, writes, ‘The best way to avoid slippery slopes . . . is to have . . . a voice in arriving at decisions with such important ramifications.’ These artists are that voice.”

-          Tonya Vernooy, Art Critic/Writer

“The artists in this exhibition apply the unresolved implications of this phrase “TAKE CARE” to their personal experiences. Together they catalog a plethora of contemporary concerns.”
 
“The artists participating in “Take Care” confirm a distressing truth – today’s mothers do not appear to be bolstered by the collective wisdom of our species. Motherhood in the 21st century remains a lonely experiment racing to keep up with procreative advances at the outposts of human accomplishment.”
 
-          Excerpts from Linda Weintraub, International Contemporary Art Critic/Author/Lecturer

“TAKE CARE is an art show about the challenges of new life and especially those problems inherent in an increasingly technological world.”

“TAKE CARE addresses an issue which is at the heart of art practices, that is the nurturing and understanding of intentional and unintentional creation and it provides a range of aesthetic reactions to this crucial issue.”

“TAKE CARE is considered a “bioethical show” because it points at the departure from one era of motherhood and traces the outline of a new one.” 

-          Veronica Kavass, New York Based Artist/Art Critic

“The artists in TAKE CARE explore the ways that social and scientific developments influence our understanding of . . . connection and caring.” 

-          Ellen Wright Clayton, MD, JD - Rosaline E. Franklin Professor of Genetics and Health Policy, Professor of Pediatrics, Professor of Law, Director of The Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Full Reviews of TAKE CARE (or reviews of works included in the exhibition), may be found on Artist Sher Fick's blog: Linda Weintraub, Chen Tamir, Rachel Bubis, Ellen Wright Clayton, MD, JD, and Tonya Vernooy.
 
For detailed directions, fill in a departure address at this link:
http://www.rcenter2.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=20&Itemid=25

The opening Reception, to be held Friday, January 14, 2011, 6-8pm, is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, and includes additional exhibitions (see invitation, above).

Contact Information:  Jason Driskill, Curator & Gallery Director, The Renaissance Center, 615-446-4450
or Sher Fick, representing TAKE CARE Artists, Cell 615-975-1025.  All artist can be made available for interviews, (please contact Sher Fick at sherfickart@gmail.com for high-res, print ready images of TAKE CARE.

Miami Hangover - The Pool Art Fair

So, big happenings at Pool Art Fair - Miami 2010:

Our suite at the Carlton Arms Hotel was spectacular (it did look smaller upon arrival than the pictures), but our installation exhibit looked fantastic.  7 of the 9 artists of TAKE CARE participated:

The Opening was well-attended and included a live band - Pocket of Lollipops . . . and there were approximately 20 rooms and suites transformed into galleries, installations and group exhibitions.

Views of our TAKE CARE installation:

 

 

 Images:

  1. Adrienne Outlaw's FECUND SERIES
  2. Kristina Arnold's DRIP
  3. Sher Fick's  COPING SKILLS
  4. Libby Rowe's WOMB WORRIES
  5. Lindsay Obermeyer's SHADOW SERIES
  6. Jeanette May's - A.R.T. Series
  7. Sadie Ruben's ALIEN FETUSES

Every time this exhibition travels and installs we learn new things.  Miami taught us to consider non-gallery spaces and their lack of lighting.  What was required of us was a real collaboration, not of the artmaking this time around, but the actual logistics of the exhibition . . . we kind of all chose different hats and did the work that we were best at, including preparing literature, color correcting images, communication between artists and between the group and the exhibition organizers, printers, and graphic artists, the physical driving of the show in a van to Miami, installation, moving furniture, running errands, and then the glory part - attending the exhibition and 'manning' our suite during the 3 day event.

Luckily for us my husband, Don, was there and pitched in, too.  It is always nice to have someone taller, stronger, and cuter around!  We (Don and I) were lucky to stay on beautiful Sunny Isles Beach for the entire week and relied on the local buses for transportation - we really got the local flavor and saved so much money; for instance we took the 'Airport Flyer' from the airport for $2.35 each, vs. paying $54.00 for a cab - that really adds up when you are eating out every day.

The actual 'post-mortum' blog will immediately (within the week) follow this posting . . . where I will get into the deeper implications of Art Fairs, Grant Writing, Travel, and What Do Collectors Mean For The Artists????

Until Then,

Take Care

& For Art's Sake,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Miami Countdown

5, 4, 3, 2,

1 - Yes, I am on the LAST day of the Miami countdown.

Upon reflection this countdown started approximately 4.5 years ago when Adrienne Outlaw first conceived the idea of the TAKE CARE exhibition.  It has been a 'long and winding road', but definitely one that provided tons of learning experiences.

It is amazing how well you can get to know an artist that you have never met face-to-face!  Although our work has obvious correlations, 'clicking' with personalities and life experiences is not a given.  We are all so blessed to have made friends and 'comrades' along the way.

Besides the countless 'unpaid' hours artists devote to their work and exhibitions, there is an emotional expense.  All we can hope for is that when the works are ultimately unveiled to the public that we reach a few people (well, to be honest, I have higher hopes for Miami as it is a 'contemporary' art fair!), people who 'get' us and our work - who might on some level appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that create the work and bring it to the public.

So, I head off to Miami with a few things in my mental pocket:

a)  excitement to meet some of my 'new' artist friends

b)  anticipation about watching the public viewing our exhibition

c)  hope that our work will be well-received by the knowledgeable International Art Community (including collectors, curators, and art enthusiasts)

d)  but, more than ANYTHING, I am looking forward to a sense of accomplishment, which is something that is beyond monetary value.

 The anticipation kind of feels like waiting for a baby to be born - we are all ready - now we are just anticipating "the day"!  We have high hopes for our impending creation:  TAKE CARE: Biomedical Ethics in the 21st Century!

 

 

 

 

"Wrapped" by Rachel Bubis, seedSpace Curator

Wrapped By Rachel Bubis Notorious artist duo Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude deny that their large scale environmental work such as Wrapped Pont Neuf (1995) Christo's "Pont Neuf"  contain no deeper meaning than their immediate aesthetic. Within their work, however, art critic David Bourdon sees “revelation through concealment,” an apt insight not only into the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude but also in the wrappings of artist Sher Fick at Seed Space (Bourdon, David: "Christo", Harry N. Abrams Publishers, Inc., New York City, 1970).  Through the process of wrapping/concealing prescription pill bottles, Fick reveals her means of coping with the physical and emotional battles that accompany a life-long illness.  Fick's Coping Skills (2009) and A Paxil a Day (2009) together make up the inaugural show at Seed Space, an 11 X 8 ft area that exudes a church-like feel due to the strong vertical emphasis of the high ceiling studio, stark white walls, and natural light spilling in from the clerestory above. In keeping with the religious atmosphere, Fick’s Coping Skills, a waist-waist-high wooden table flush against the back wall, resembles an altar. Atop the table’s mirrored surface sit dozens of prescription bottles all covered in stitched-together patterned fabrics that contain religious imagery.  Installation View of "Coping Skills" at seedSpace  Traditional church altars display holy relics, and for Fick, these relics take the form of old pill containers—the contents of which ironically not only bring her life but also debilitating pain and suffering. By wrapping these bottles, Fick covers the ugly reality of her pill bottle graveyard by sewing them shut with nostalgic vintage fabrics.  After looking at Coping Skills, the viewer suddenly spots A Paxil a Day on the opposite wall. Whereas in Coping Skills Fick carefully wraps and conceals her old bottles, in A Paxil a Day she strips the drugs down for all to see-- a grid of naked pills covered only by clear cellophane bags. In Coping Skills, the viewer walks up to the table and looks down on his/her own terms. A Paxil a Day however aggressively greets viewers as they leave—reminiscent, perhaps, of a warning Detail View of "A Paxil A Day"  memento mori at a church exit.  Memento mori remind people of their own inevitable death and the punishment they will receive if they transgress the rules of their religion. Rather than fearing the objects of her daily worship, Fick comes to terms with her mortality and reclaims control through the wrapping process. As a result, a new clarity and confidence appears in A Paxil a Day, where she reduces her struggles to the repetitive grid of pills--still wrapped, but this time in transparent plastic. Although Fick does not wrap an entire bridge traversing the river Seine, she brings revelation to one’s own capacity to cope through a concrete process of concealing.
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Sher Fick: Worshiping at the Altar of Biomedicine by Chen Tamir

Sher Fick:  Worshiping at the Altar of Biomedicine By Chen Tamir Coping Skills (2008-9) A Paxil A Day… (2008-9)  Viewer experiencing "Coping Skills" at seedSpace If there were a thing that consistently made me happy – that allowed me to be well, feel good about myself, do the things I value, and be loved by those around me– I would worship it. I would create rituals, even daily ones, and give thanks to the higher powers who have made me its beneficiary. However, my dependency on this hallowed thing would also stir anxiety caused by being at its mercy, hoping it will always be available, and resenting its power over me. Such complexity is evident in Sher Fick’s work. This all-American wife and mother works around issues of bioethics, gender, and discrimination. Fick has suffered from clinical depression and anxiety, along with chronic insomnia, pregnancy complications, and migraines. Her cure is a daily cocktail of prescribed drugs, which she uses as inspiration and defies the taboo of being a mother on anti-depressants. Fick’s interest in bioethics melds with her strong socialization as a Southern woman and her exploration of gender borrows from artists who deal specifically with materiality, symbols and even craft, such as Kiki Smith and Louise Bourgeois. Coping Skills is a sculpture comprised of 45 pill bottles ensconced in girlish fabrics and stitched shut. The bottles are arranged in three long rows over a horizontal mirror with a wooden frame, erected on wooden legs. The scraps of fabric stitched over the bottles are comprised of vividly colored, irregular patterns, often scraps of hospital receiving blankets inspired by cloying pop culture imagery. Some of the patterns have bits of texts on them, such as “please stay with…,” “Our Wedding,” “Viva Frida” (over an image of Frida Kahlo), and “Brassier.” The wide variety of bottle shapes and sizes suggests Fick takes a plethora of drugs, or has experimented greatly to find the right ones. In fact, the 45 bottles total her yearly consumption. The simple structure of Coping Skills amounts to what looks like a strange altar. It is also reminiscent of a lady’s vanity table, with dainty bottles of cosmetics that, like drugs, augment us to perform the functions of womanhood as society prescribes (pun intended!). When approaching the work, I glimpse myself over the mirror, and think instantly of Narcissus admiring his reflection. The mirror is one of our culture’s most ubiquitous symbols whose meaning runs the gamut of narcissism to introspection to doubling. All of these interpretations are valid here: The doubled person who enjoys two versions, the given one, and the one improved by drugs; the introspection and lonely battle of coping with mental illness; and the love for oneself at triumphing over it. In Coping Skills the mirror also fulfills an aesthetic function: doubling the bottles turns them into short tubes that resemble candles, bringing us back to the notion of a devotional altar. The shadow cast by the pill boxes above the mirror creates light reflected onto the back wall which adds a beautiful touch. The cast shadows resemble the gates of a baby crib, alluding to the post-partum anxiety and depression amplified in Fick’s work, and the bottles themselves resemble toys. The colorful bottles are stitched shut, ornamented with the care that comes from valuing precious heirlooms. However, a double entendre complicates the imagery here too. Damien Hirst's "Lullaby Series"  The bottles, lovingly covered, are also sewn shut, mummified and ensconced forever. Fick’s exploration of modern medicine and its social stigmas falls in line with work by artists such as Damien Hirst, whose Lullaby General Idea's "One Day of AZT" series (2002) are giant mirrored cabinets filled with rows of colorful pills, and Canadian collective General Idea, whose One Day of AZT and One Year of AZT (1991) are clear predecessors to Fick. Fick's work, A Paxil A Day…, Fick's "A Paxil A Day"
is  a more personal and modest piece consisting simply of various pills in clear bags pinned to the wall in a small grid formation. The pills’ numbing repetition of daily doses creates a calendar that counts down the passing months. Neither chalk marks on a prison wall nor happy celebrations of life - this work creates a foreboding tension between a Minimalist aesthetic and its loaded content.
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Woman Artist MIA for Two Months, Reappears, Injured, But Determined

Quick Update on Why I Have MIA on MY OWN BLOG . . . After a big health in October (dogging breast cancer but still needing to have a lumpectomy) and then having my former health issues of an injured back flare up again (culminating in a painful herniated disc) - the last month has been all about getting through the holidays, family visits, and getting myself to and from the chiropractor . . . I still have some very bad, pain-filled days which has caused me to be fighting off depression . . . but I think I have turned a corner today. Today I turned in my Fellowship Grant to the Tennessee Arts Commission.  It has been a goal for 3 years and this is the first time I didn't miss the deadline.  It almost happened, but somehow, with the help of friends and my supportive husband - that paperwork was delivered! As to the 'art', here is what has been going on since my last entry: Currently I am on the couch with my left elbow up so I can type with 2 hands.  This gets very tiresome, however, I can research and play lots of games with only my right hand! (note: I am not to sit more than 15 minutes at a time) So - more good news this week (if you haven't seen my Facebook updates) . . . 1.   I will be part of Miami Basel in December (hopefully, my pants shan't fall down as happened to a dear friend in the Miami Airport).  This will be the traveling exhibition I have been in Take Care  .  My work in it will be Coping Skills, see below. 2.   My art was featured on the Home Page of   OvationTV  (might still be there). 3.  Yesterday Adrienne Outlaw and myself were invited to be part of a museum exhibition (based on our pharmaceutical work) at The Customs House Museum & Culture Centerin Clarksville, TN for March-April  - which is actually an amazing place for kids and adults.  Not sure of exact dates or our exhibition title yet, but there you go!   The exhibition will feature 10 Distinctive Contemporary Women Artists - celebrating National Women's Month.   4.  I got the fellowship grant delivered 4 pm today to Downtown Nashville.  I don't want to throw away that 5K!  Keep your fingers and toes crossed - it would truly be a blessing to have those funds for attending a workshop at Arrowmont, to purchase more art supplies and studio equipment . . . it would be a miracle. So, if I can just live through this herniated disc, I can accomplish all these things.  I have decided not to travel to NYC for the (group) Queens, NY show in February at Flux Factory- but I will still travel to the Gulf Coast Florida show that I am assisting in the jurying . . . doing this with an art friend, Aletha Carr, because she can drive and I can be prone on her back seat . . .  so I have about a month to be mobile. Even more great things -   I made some new art a few weeks ago - it has many excerpts from emails sent by friends about encouraging me in my art.  Created from encaustic, tin, model magic, archival inkjet, tracing paper.  14"h x 12"w x 12"d.  Created for "CALL HOME" installation at Flux Factory, Queens, NY - February, 2010.   "YES YOU CAN . . . HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT, TOO" YES YOU CAN . . . HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT, TOO!           Detail view of "YES YOU CAN . . . " Currently (November '09 - March '10) I have an installation up at seedSPACE, Nashville, TN - it consists of site-specific installations and include: Coping Skills and A Paxil A Day: Coping Skills          Detail View of A Paxil a Day  above right: (detail of A Paxil A Day) - it actually covers a 4 ft x 6 ft wide area and can have as many as 169 units . . . Fresh off the press is "JUST DESSERTS" Just Desserts, 3"h x 11"w x 8"d        Detail of "Just Desserts" consists of: glass vanity mirror tray, foil candy cups, lucite cones, fabric, silicone So - I feel like I am completely unaccomplished, but I guess a few things are going on beneath the surface. So, what do you think???
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Unconfined Perspective

Obviously I have been lost for a month or so - at least to my blog.  It is the never-ending struggle of balancing my 'daily' life with my 'art' life, which somehow doesn't seem to co-exist very well during certain times of my life.  As you know, I don't have a 'day' job or a salary.  So, what, EXACTLY, do I do with my time??? I've been trying to figure that out myself.  When I do get down into my beloved, treasured studio - I am extremely productive.  In fact, I am amazed sometimes at the amount of work I can get accomplished overnight.  It is the 'getting down there' that is the problem at hand. Studio Image from Fall 2009 Studio Image from Fall 2009 Unbeknownst to some, the work of an exhibiting artists entails caboodles of paperwork.  Some days it feels like I have made work (let's say 1 day that week), but the rest of the time is spent marketing, proposing, begging for grant money, all in an effort to have that work get out to the public.  I've been struggling with this, too.  Is my work created just for me?  Would it be enough to make it and keep it hiding here in my house?  If I do keep it here, what does that make it?  A hobby? Finished Encaustic Assemblage Work - on studio shelf Finished Encaustic Assemblage Work - on studio shelf I think intent is so important here - my intent when I make objects or alter them is to make commentary on social issues.  Therefore, I have a calling to do social interpretation . . . which, therefore, requires a society to interact with them.  Would it not be so much easier if I just wanted to quilt something to keep myself and my loved ones warm?  Here is my stick - that isn't enough for me. So there.  It isn't enough for me.  So my calling is to make and my duty is to get it out there.   Towards that end I had the 2 trips to Grand Rapids for Artprize in Sept/October.  I still had my broken ankle and that made things more difficult - but the installations were great and it was seen by more than 10,000 viewers.  I found out during that trip there is still much gender-bias in the art world.  I am disappointed, but more determined than ever to move forward. Coping Skills, as lit at ARTPRIZE 2009 Coping Skills, as lit at ARTPRIZE 2009 Also during October were 2 of my kids' birthday parties (Claire's 7th was a happening in and of itself) . . . more company and then in November I had the honor of being chosen as the first ever seed SPACE artist in Nashville, TN.  [NOTE: seed SPACE is a lab for site-specific installation, sculpture, and performance-based art that brings attention to the excellence, diversity, and interest in contemporary art in Tennessee.  seed SPACE brings in nationally recognized art critics to write exhibition essays.]  My art reviewer was Chen Tamir the Director of Flux Factory, Queens, NY.  seed SPACE is currently developing their website - I will provide their link when it becomes available. Having an interview with a critic is not an easy thing.  I am a very open person (obviously) - but I find that each time I have had a one-on-one with an art critic (including Linda Weintraub) the experience has cracked my art spirit wide open - even further than it was prior to the interview.  I have likened it to having a living autopsy performed on oneself.  I maintain that opinion.  The benefit of going through this process is that the critic/reviewer, from their UNCONFINED PERSPECTIVE, can see all the connections and scars and various conditions of your lifework.  Talk about insightful.  Revelatory.  Cathartic.  I could go on and on. Thomas Eakins' THE GROSS CLINIC Thomas Eakins' THE GROSS CLINIC This all brings me to the following  responses about the experience:  the first draft review is incredibly astute and I appreciated the seriousness with which Chen viewed the work and our interview.  It  is invaluable to me, as a developing artist, to have such direct and unconfined perspective on my works to date.  Interestingly enough, these interviews always spur in me an even greater understanding of who I am becoming and my place in the world - let alone the deeper investigations with the works themselves. There are many other things which have occurred, including the beginnings of several new series, but November seemed to focus on investigating previous works as they are being exhibited.  Additionally, I have 3 years worth of blogs to re-load all the images for due to my Typepad/Wordpress transfer - total debacle! As I move into December, it begins another year of my life - my 43rd.  Although some have mistakenly dismissed me as a bored housewife, I can tell you - there is little that would be more difficult for me to attempt than to nurture my art at the same time I try to raise a family.  If I only needed to be entertained, i can think of much funner, cheaper, and immediately gratifying than being an artist.  It is not the easiest route.  Forging a new path never is.
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Afterthoughts - ArtPrize 2009 - Take Care

Entrance to Gallery 114, KCAD- Annette Gates "Colony" Series on Right Entrance to Gallery 114, KCAD- Annette Gates "Colony" Series on Right
Sadie Ruben's "Alien Fetus"; Sher Fick's "Coping Skills"; and Kristina Arnold's "Drip"
Sadie Ruben's "Alien Fetus"; Sher Fick's "Coping Skills"; and Kristina Arnold's "Drip"
  By Golly I am back . . . I lost a few posts due to the hacking of my blog and the subsequent confusion it caused. Eventually I had to delete EVERY SINGLE image from the transferred Typepad posts and delete several new Wordpress posts . . . Therefore, I have a huge hole to dig out of! It will take me some time, of course. Here are few quick images of the installation which took place at Kendall College of Art & Design, Gallery 114 during Artprize 2009. Obviously, we didn't win any of the money, but our exhibition was seen by more than 10,000 people!!! Coping Skills by Sher Fick Coping Skills by Sher Fick With the great assistance of the Curator, Sarah Joseph, and her brilliant gallery assistants - we were able to unpack and install the 9 artists exhibition in 2 short days. www.kcad.edu After 3 weary days in Grand Rapids, MI (I adore that city), I limped home by way of Indiana and was able to enjoy two visits my sister Lisa in Indianapolis and a large family get together as well. Once home, I prepared 2 birthday parties: Claire's 7th, an American Girl Tea Party, and Dylan's 17th - Gaming/Pizza Party.  Lots of help from my sister Susan and Mom & Don's Mom as well! Adrienne Outlaw's "Fecund Series" Video Installation Adrienne Outlaw's "Fecund Series" Video Installation What was amazing to me was that the many years of work that Adrienne (www.adrienneoutlaw.com) and I did - actually came to pass.  To see our work hung in a professional location, in a professional manner (kudos to myself) - it was astounding and very gratifying. It stood up admirably against every high-end, contemporary work I saw at ArtPrize.  Although the process was very costly (think: printing for brochures, travel to and from, hotels, gas, food, rental car . . .) - I believe it was worth the expense and time involved.  Note: no money has been made by anyone - in fact, all we have encountered is expense and unpaid work time . . . we are doing this in the hope that someone, somewhere, will find the social and economical value of our work and become either future venues and/or collectors.  What a shot in the dark!!!!  Does this make us stupid? Libby Rowe's "Womb Worries" Libby Rowe's "Womb Worries" The experience, after 3 years of research and hard work was satisfactory for the most part.  I feel I know this work inside and out and have a good feel for the importance of our viewpoint.  What seems to be disappointing is the gender bias we are still facing at the dawn of the 21st century.  One would think that males in 'art' would have evolved with technologoy - but that is not the case.  Those males in 'mid-power' postions were 'not interested in what we [women] had to say.'  They looked over the fact that we are a group of 9 highly talented artists.  That we cover the gamut of craftsmanship and technique.  All that was obliterated and ignored because they felt our message was 'not interesting' to their testosterone brains nor to their students - both male and female.  Well guess what - that really chaps my ass!  Our exhibition is not only about reproduction (which includes both MALE and FEMALE to get that going - apparently they didn't have sex education in high school), but the scientific and ethical issues which are now facing 21st century parents.  The very generation which is bringing forth ground breaking therapies, 'growing' their very own children - that subject is unworthy and below them!  Lindsay Obermeyer's "Shadow Series: The Blues & Red Hot" Lindsay Obermeyer's "Shadow Series: The Blues & Red Hot" with Monica Bock's "Fluid/Sac/Cord" in foreground So, eh hum, I lose major respect for any sculpture male professor who judges an incoming artist on their gender.  Grow up Neanderthals! Open your eyes - you are outnumbered according to the world census records and you will not be pro-creating with anybody if you continue your male chauvinist pig attitudes.  Plus - you suck! I am so proud of each and every one of our artists included in "TAKE CARE" - we prove the addage - those that can DO -  Do. . .. finish that phrase on your own if you have the brain power. Left: Jeanette Mays "A.R.T. series" with Annette Gates "Colony" Series on Right Left: Jeanette Mays "A.R.T. series" with Annette Gates "Colony" Series on Right This crap makes me so tired.  There seems to be very little respect in America for artists' time and expenses that they 'in good faith' enact with very SLIM chances of success.  There are a few good apples out there - but the way we are treated in the USA is vastly different from artists in Europe.  On my recent travels in Europe, when I replied that I was an artist - the people practically bowed to me.  Yes - what we do - when it is done well - is sacred and deeply deserving of respect. Yes - I will make art no matter the price.  But does that mean I should be a pauper and GIVE AWAY for free what I have spent money studying to do - I pay for supplies - etc? It is all so very confusing as I also have many dreams for my children and their educations, which also cost money.  So - I'm back - I did receive a $1,000 grant to reimburse part of my expenses . . . so all in all, I am only about $2,000 in the hole for being part of Art Prize.  I am hoping this ends up being a marketing expense and that someone out there sees the value of Art In America - and can free themselves from any bias to art created by women.
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If You Are Here, You Found ME!

Welcome to the 'new' blog . . . testing Wordpress . . . which I am determined will be easier than my technical challenges with Typepad. Amazingly, I am going on 2 years, this Fall being my 3rd year 'on-blog'. I hope I am getting better at entertaining or at least that you are enjoying the ride along with me as I fumble through my life and art career. A lot has changed for me in 2 years. I have surpassed many goals and am sad to say other goals were left behind in the dust. View of "Coping Skills" installation, from above View of "Coping Skills" installation, from above Seriously, even if inserting and labeling the images is easier, it is worth it to me! So, here we go, fasten your seatbelts - we are off!! Let me know if you are having any troubles with this format and I will try to work the kinks out.  I still have 1 week to finish setting my gallery on the website before I will really feel 'set' - but I promise to practice and keep you posted . . . so, bear (do you 'bear' with someone or do you 'bare' with someone?  English teachers???) with me while I get the hang of it . . . As always, each day, For Art's Sake, Sher
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It's Official - Showing at Art Prize 2009, Grand Rapids, MI

Momentous day as contracts were finalized yesterday with Kendall College of Art & design (www.kcad.edu) for the exhibition of TAKE CARE!  TAKE CARE: The Art, Science & Bioethics of Motherhood (www.n-cap.org/take_care.html) will be on display in Gallery 114 at KCAD from September 23 - October 8, 2009. Artprize will provide a $250,00 grand prize to the artwork which receives the most public votes (visitors text their votes).  The top ten favorites will receive cash awards. So far, artists from around the world have entered and we are very encouraged to be in the first group of selections. Now we are rushing to update ourinformation for an up-to-date catalog which will be available during the event.  After Artprize, TAKE CARE will travel through 2013.  We are still scheduling venues, please contact us if you have any ideas about venues or curators who might be interested in exhibiting TAKE CARE. Please visit all the artists' websites, linked at the n-cap site, above. This process, from beginning to fruition has been one of persistence and commitment.  The first ideas of this exhibition were verbalized in 2006, artists were selected in 2007, and finally in 2008 some of the work was realized.  Marketing the exhibition has been a huge time commitment for Adrienne Outlaw (www.adrienneoutlaw.com) and myself . . . but as the reviews began coming in (see March/April archives), we started see the results of our ideas and confirmation of our groundbreaking viewpoints. So last night, Don and I celebrated with our friends and neighbors, Chad and Jennifer, by enjoying a gorgeous and delicious bottle of Primitivo Italian wine and some imported Sorrento Limoncello.  It was divine. Salute!
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Fear of the Studio

I have suffered the most devastating loss . . . my recently finished, yet to be acclaimed, masterpiece "My Vintage Soul" was destroyed last week.   Thursday night, as I dealt with my insomnia by blogging and shopping on eBay, at 1:00 a.m. an unearthly crash shook the house - and lying on the hardwood floor in front of the fireplace was the face-down remnants of "MY VINTAGE SOUL".  As my husband lifted and turned it face-up, we discovered that not only were all the ceramic, vintage figurines crushed, but many of the rolled fabric forms crushed.  Apparently the 150 lb (supposedly) picture hooks I used were inadequate.   I am thoroughly crushed and cannot even face going into the studio right now. This is a complete wash.  I can re-install some other figurines and re-work it - but this was the seminal piece of my new series and will never be able to re-capture the joy I felt as I created it - as it formed beneath my hands and revealed itself to me. It is a memory - a figment of my imagination. I am considering a burial or a cremation.  This was to be the highlight of my new exhibition. In deep mourning, For Art's Sake, Sher
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Part II - Durham Journal - Augusten Burroughs/Haven Kimmel

So Thursday everyone visited different things.
 
Kate, Baby Alice and I did a Thrift Store Bingo ride, led by the Tom-Tom. I found a few great things . . . in one store they didn’t even speak English . . .
 
Here are a few of the treasures I found in the Durham Thrift Stores:
 
 
 
Above you can see the great hat and dollhouse/shelf I found for Claire at "Everything Except Granny's Panties" - which had to be my favorite location of all.
 
 How could I possibly pass up these vintage copies of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books?  Garth Williams, the illustrator, really inspired me as a child and I spent endless hours drawing women and girls in old-fashioned clothing and sunbonnets.  I can barely wait to use the aged pages in some collage encaustic paintings.
 
 
Also at 'Granny's Panties', I found these bizarre Lucite balls.  When placed on the fabrics (those were given to me by fellow blog baby, Carrie) they create bizarre distortions which I find greatly intriguing.  I also found and purchased Lucite cones:
 
I am very intrigued by these Lucite objects as I will be able to create some amazing sculptures, their characteristics also remind me of my 2006 series "Collected Works" were I suspended obje cts in resin and candle gel within toy capsules.  If they still have any left in July when we re-visit NC, I plan on buying them all.  Sometimes it is hard to know until you get home, how 'valuable' the items will be to your artistic production.
 
"Collected Works I" with detail.  2006. 2" toy capsules with found objects.
 
Around 2 pm, we made our way to GEORGE’S GARAGE (which was sadly George-less). The decor was unique and so was the set up . . . Mediterranean food  . . . purchased by the pound . . . so we all loaded up our plates and gathered together (hosted by Caryl) . . . unfortunately Linda and her gorgeous son SAM were held up at Chapel Hill and didn’t make it to the dinner.
 
Towards the end Caryl and I explained DEAR CARRIE’s “Fugly Bead” game . . . which brought her presence right in the room with us . . . Molly won the ‘ugliest bead’ so will receive a masterpiece from Carrie. Each bead was wrapped in lime green handmade paper tied with tiny twine - so I kept the remnants to use in future artwork.
 
Here is a view of two of Carrie's masterpieces, which I call my "Molten Sky-Drops"
 
 
As we left many pictures were taken, but not by me, because I was just STUPID . . . I think GiGi has the most pictures . . .
 
We then all visited the Regulator Bookstore (fabulous independent, they hosted the reading) which is just across the street. I already have every Augusten/Haven book, but I loaded up on some others (including one of Suzanne’s and lots of art journals).
We also went to a store called “Vaguely Reminiscent” nearby and Amber and I (we realized later) bought the same lovely handbags! Kate found some smashing vintage earrings . . .
 
We headed back to the Inn to freshen and dress up for the Reading . . . As we arrived at the Carolina Theatre around 6 pm we were greeted by Kimbits (a fellow blogger) who came up to us and explained “ARE YOU KATE AND SHER?” - we had our own ‘fans’ and had been ‘recognized’ on the street. It was thrilling and sweet. It was fun getting know them better and then we finally got to meet Linda and darling SAM . . . and on into the theatre we went.
 
We were all held like cattle waiting for the official seating. The Carolina theatre is GORGEOUS . . . even the vintage ticket box was evoking of the old, glory days. We were not worried because, thanks to Nora Barnacles a/k/a Sherrill, we had reserved rows of seats right up front. I had made some tags just like the t-shirts, so we were set!
 
 
Kate's daughter, Alice, waits for the seating . . .
 
I totally embarrassed myself by acting like a dork when I saw Kat (Haven's adult daughter) and her Gorgeous Boyfriend Tyson . . . I was like “Can I say HI???”  . . . but they were gracious and chatted like normal human beings, of course!
 
 
Here is a row of Official Blog Babies, holding our seat reservation signs.  From Left: Sam (Linda's son), Linda Carter, Molly, Amber, Kathleen, Maureen, ME, and Sherrill a/k/a Norabarnacles.
 
Here we see GiGi waiting with her collection of Augusten/Kimmel books.
 
Maureen and I had already agreed to sit together because we had not had a chance to ‘hang’ much. You could even get soda/wine/beer and popcorn to consume during the reading . . . wow!!!! I was driving and in pain so chose Root Beer and Milkduds as a lift me up.
 
Awaiting Haven and Augusten was fun in itself because you could see the family hanging around the entry door . . . the introductions were touching and then Haven did a beautiful introduction of Augusten. They then took their directors seats and began on a riff . . .
it was obvious we were attending the Haven/Augusten Show and not a typical reading. It was HysteriCAL. All the sudden they asked for questions and we all sat there enthralled and stunned.
 
They really need their own radio show!
 
Then the signing . . . which was standing in line for what seemed like hours and probably was . . . as we were in the end of the line!
 
They and WE prevailed and stuck there as they signed every book proffered. I had Haven sign a “Klattermaster” book for Claire and she made sure to say it was MADE IN AMERICA. I also had my much marked up, highlighted, flagged IODINE and she talked about the notes and symbols she used when she wrote the book. I told her I was working on my own index and she gave her blessings on that endeavor. For Augusten I had him sign a specific page in my Wolf At The Table Book - which made me cry as I stood in line choosing which page . . . I finally chose the one with “my mother couldn’t protect me”.
 
 I blathered at him as I am rather amazed that he is alive, that he never tried to commit suicide as a child. I am just so glad he survived with such resilience of spirit - that is something that is impossible to figure out - how some of us ‘dark place’ survivors actually blossom and others fall into an eternal abyss.
 
So now, at 10ish, we finally make our way back to the Inn, Linda and Sam joined us there . . . and we are trying to figure out where to eat in the lounge . . . I go to the bathroom and everybody disappeared except for Sam and Linda. We wait and wait . . . and wait . . . then we finally leave out of exhaustion as well.  Now, instead of ordering room service and taking a long hot bath and going to bed early as most sentient beings would do, I chose to  . . . follow this scenario:
 
I was painfully exhausted and all I wanted was my 2 bottles of Italian wine. I was determined. Kate was visiting with her brother, his wife, and newborn niece in our room so I went knocking on doors . .. Shanna wasn’t next door so I went on down the row until Molly and Amber answered - yippee!!!! - I petulantly refused to eat any of their chicken they had smuggled in from TGI Fridays . . . and Molly went downstairs to have the bartender open the bottle of wine . . . and, low and behold, everybody had re-gathered down there! But we decided to have our bottle of wine (which was already paid for!) in their room. We talked about breathing the wine, the bouquet, and the legs . . . they enjoyed the imported wine and we had a hoot. Talked about the reading, the barn, the whole experience and even went into relationships and surviving abuse. It was a great talk with much depth and moments of pure joy. I love me some Amber and Molly and I am encouraged that we have such intelligent, hopeful young adults to help us, as humankind, move forward into a bright future.
 
Before we made our way downstairs Maureen and Kathleen returned upstairs and Kate called begging for the party to convene to our room . . . so we all marched or 'ballet-ed’ over there.
 
I did a hysterical search for a corkscrew again, called the front desk in sheer desperation while Maureen suddenly appeared with one. Ooops, we ended up with 3 corkscrews. So we had the 2nd import and Amber and Molly offered up their White Zin . . . Alice slept through the entire 4 hour slumber party.
 
All I know is this: we are an amazing group and I want to know all of you the rest of my life.
 
I didn’t get to hang with Caryl or Shanna or GiGi 1/2 as much as I really wanted to . . . so I am thinking another get together is in order . . . to include all the missing Blog Babies this time . . .
 
After a quick goodbye to Shanna and Caryl in the lobby after Kate loaded up earlier and went to breakfast with her brother . . . we headed out of Durham with one last stop at the SCRAP EXCHANGE. What a glory that was.
 
Here is an Ode to Durham and our Blog Babies Retreat . . .
 
 
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Off the Hotplate . . .

  New work, just to prove that all those sleepless hours are bringing forth something! Above is a studio image of "My Vintage Soul", still on the easel.  Here are some detail views:       I really enjoyed adding this vintage puppy's broken tail nearby . . . This series took a surprising amount of time and a surprising amount of beeswax.  Measuring 24" x 24" and approximately 7" deep, it weighs at least 50 lbs! As I was forming the rosettes from the wax infused textiles, I though of the roses my mother creates for decorating wedding cakes. As I was working on this large, focal piece, I also experimented with smaller assemblages.   This diptych of boxes includes a guardian angel and other vintage figurines. After a rather bizarre dream of GIANT "little people' peering at me sleeping (thru a window), I had this idea.  These are the oldest versions of little people I could find . . . I hope to do many more works with Little People in them.
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Another Art Review for TAKE CARE!!!

Art Review by Ellen Wright Clayton, MD, JD

Rosaline E. Franklin Professor of Genetics and Health Policy, Professor of Pediatrics, Professor of Law, Director of The Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center

 

Motherhood is about caring and connection. Recent developments present new challenges to this fundamental institution. Some of the developments are social. Women have always cared for other women’s children, especially since women until recently frequently died in childbirth.  Women historically confronted pregnancy, labor, and delivery with no small amount of fear.  Literature is full is stories about stepmothers, some of whom were wonderful, and a hopefully exaggerated proportion who were not. In today’s society, with divorce and remarriage, children often have two or more mothers at the same time, which can stress notions of the unitary family that characterize our society’s dominant discourse. Other developments are scientific. New technologies can enable pregnancies that otherwise would not occur.  Conception can be separated from carrying and birthing. The fetus can be visualized during pregnancy. Baby’s first picture is often a sonogram. And while blood ties have always had particular social salience, increased understanding of genetics has t ended to make them even more important. Not so long ago, efforts to establish paternity depended on whether the child looked like the father. Now the relationship can be established with certainty, using a blood sample or a simple swab of the inside of the cheek.

The artists in TAKE CARE explore the ways that social and scientific developments influence our understanding of motherhood, of connection and caring.  Sometimes, new knowledge of connection is beneficial. Take the case of mitochondrial DNA, the focus of Annette Gates’ work.  Unlike most of our DNA which comes from both parents, the DNA in mitochondria, the energy sources of our cells, comes entirely from our mothers. As a result, we are connected directly with our mothers, and their mothers, through generations. Maternal inheritance became important after hundreds of young professionals and dissidents were “disappeared” by the military regime in Argentina in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Their children were confiscated and placed in new homes, seemingly without a trace. But the grandmothers, the abuelas, enlisted the aid of Mary-Claire King who used the mitochondrial DNA to identify and return their grandchildren.

But the supremacy of genetic connection is not always so benign. New reproductive technologies allow many to overcome infertility, but often at a steep price. Some women experience the process of hyper ovulation, egg retrieval, and pharmacologic support of gestation as alienating, as transforming them into the objects of the medical gaze.  Jeanette May’s at times almost comical images of eggs serve as a counterpoint to quotidian pictures of women and sonograms. And yet women pursue these procedures specifically to create a family with children to whom they are biologically connected. Notably, while some women use donated eggs so that they can have the experience of gestation, it is far more common for women to implant and carry to term embryos created with their own eggs, evidencing the importance of genetic connectedness.

 

Our laws often enact the primacy of genetic connections. A number of courts have ruled that gestational surrogates, women who carry embryos created using the egg of another woman, usually the woman in the couple who commissioned the surrogacy, are not “mothers” of the resulting children and so have no basis on which to seek custody or contact. In these cases, the experience of pregnancy, with its risks,

discomforts, and obviousness, simply disappears as a matter of law.  Monica Bock’s inclusion of bits of umbilical cord, amniotic fluid, and the amniotic sac into dustpans perhaps symbolizes gestation as waste, of women as fetal containers. In our legal system, children are permitted to have only two parents no matter how many adults play a role in their lives, and those two parents have supremacy over all the others. In blended families, where the genetic parents separate from each other and then form new relationships, the new adults – the stepparents – can struggle to define their roles as parents, particularly as against the genetic parents whose claims once cemented by a modicum of nurture persist unless severed by abandonment or abuse. It is rage against the iconification of the genetic link that Kristina Arnold explores in her work. In her Drip installation, red glass pieces encased in hastily stitched plastic covers, protrude from the wall.

 

While behavior is almost surely the product of complex gene environment interactions, much effort has been devoted recently to dissecting the genetic contributions. Several years ago, for example, Caspi and his collaborators demonstrated that children with a particular genetic variant who were seriously abused during childhood were more likely to have serious behavior problems as adults. Such findings can be used in a variety of ways – to identify children who need special protection (although all children deserve a safe home), to identify druggable targets for treatment, to undermine the inadequate mothering explanation for children’s problems. Each of these uses raises its own ethical and policy challenges. As light dancing on Obermeyer’s beadwork shifts one’s perception of the work, so might new findings shift our understanding of behavior.

 

For millennia, women have worried that their children would be born with something visibly wrong. The ability to visualize the fetus using techniques such as ultrasonography and MRI has transformed pregnancy, providing the potential to make these fears concrete. These technologies can and often do provide reassurance, which is one reason ultrasound has become routine. At times, however, they reveal variations, some of which resolve but many of which are serious problems, leaving women with decisions about whether to continue the pregnancy, whether to undergo fetal therapy where possible, or whether simply to prepare for what may lie ahead. These concerns are represented in very different ways by Sadie Ruben and Libby Rowe.  Ruben represents the fetus as alien, strange, frightening, floating in liquid evoking amniotic fluid within the womb, taking over the woman’s body. Rowe’s malformed sock monkeys, by contrast, suggest that we are meant to accept and love children no matter what their challenges.

 

Finally, some of the artists comment on the technology itself. Sher Fick celebrates pharmaceuticals, which allow her to live. Her pill bottles are covered with fabrics, many of which show story book characters from our childhood.

 

Adrienne Outlaw intersperses colorful scientific videos of the embryonic heart and blood flow using such techniques as confocal microscopy with pictures of the dailyness of mothering and taking care – breastfeeding, snuggling, nurturing. The science is spectacular, but which is the more wonderful?

 

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TAKE CARE? Take Care!

 
 
 

Take Care? Take Care!

 
 
by Linda Weintraub www.lindaweintraub.com
  Motherhood is on trial. It is being tested by a dedicated and well-meaning corps of inventors, engineers, scientists, and doctors. Their technological achievements are designed to create and prolong life, but they are weighing upon "mother love," challenging "mother wit," and surpassing "mother instincts." Mutually loving relationships between mother and child are relegated to the background of the works of art in this exhibition. The emotional tenor that occupies their foregrounds is trepidation, anxiety, effort, and frustration. The triple meaning of the phrase that serves as this exhibition?s title reveals the nature of today?s disputed definitions of motherhood. Spoken softly, "take care" is an affectionate parting expression that conveys the desire to protect a loved one from harm. Uttered sternly, "take care" conveys the foreboding of danger. To actually "take care" of something or someone can either be burdensome or gratifying. The nine female artists in this exhibition apply the unresolved implications of this phrase to their personal experiences. Together they catalog a plethora of contemporary concerns.    
 
Annette Gates, Adrienne Outlaw, Sadie Ruben, and Jeanette May acknowledge the medical breakthroughs that offer women unprecedented options for fertility, prenatal screening, diagnostic testing, and extend fetal and infant survival. But they concentrate on the inadvertent and inevitable opportunities for anguish these technological advancements introduce. The ethical dilemmas they express in their works of art were unknown to previous generations of mothers.
Annette Gates returns to the instant of conception that has been occurring since the first multi-celled organisms arose on planet Earth. But her installation is a riveting reminder that unleashing this generative force may not be an occasion for celebration. Such concerns can be products of sophisticated technologies that make improbable outcomes appear like looming certainties. The harmless crocheting and knitting techniques that Gates employs to form her porcelain molecular sculptures are jarring contrasts to the dangers of tampering with life on the microscopic scale. Each component in her wall relief suggests irregularities in cell differentiation and unchecked multiplication during fetal development.   Adrienne Outlaw?s "Fecund Videos" require that the viewer peer into breast-like conical forms arranged across the wall in order to discover what fecund processes are referred to by the title. Alternative answers are presented in the form of tiny videos installed within each form. Some videos capture intimate scenes of babies suckling, fetal kicking, fingers fluttering, and a nursing mother?s breast draining. Others apply the word „fecund? to state-of-the-art microscopic imaging that probes the miniscule realms where new life stirs and takes form. The videos convey the complexity of reconciling advanced technological discoveries with the traditional role of mother as incubator, feeder, and nurturer of infants.   Sadie Ruben?s "Alien Fetus Series" presents a line-up of specimen jars containing in-uteri forms that resist objective scrutiny despite their sterile laboratory appearance. These curiosities elicit the squeamish apprehension that might accompany a collection of extraterrestrial creatures, not the research of an Earth-bound scientist. None of the sculptured fetus forms appear normal. They are either humanoid, mammaloid, reptile-oid, fungoid, or some other bizarre deviation from norms of life on Earth. The work confronts views with the strange and unsettling frontier of contemporary genetic manipulations.   Jeanette May practices art, however she introduces an alternative meaning for the letters „a?, „r?, and „t?. In her work "Fertility in the Age of A.R.T.," these letters stand for Assisted Reproductive Technology. May explores this theme by creating complex assemblages of found images paired with borrowed texts. The visual world she constructs is shiny, colorful, but disturbingly engineered. While viewers observe a pregnant woman proudly displaying her protruding torso, a healthy cow, and infant toys, they also observe eggs that have been forced to assume the shapes of squares. The accompanying quotations track evidence of such intrusive procreative manipulations to health books, government reports, and advertisements. Kristina Arnold, Sher Fick, Lindsay Obermeyer, Monica Bock, and Libby Rowe present full disclosure of the emotional toll of high-tech, commercially-supported, media-sponsored motherhood. They articulate the dread of bearing a malformed or malfunctioning infant, the concern of adopting a child damaged by a harsh life experience, and the anxiety of being loved by a child that is not a biological offspring. They present these forms of adversity as opportunities to honor motherly courage, resolve and achievement.   Kristina Arnold?s "Fragile" series includes a relief comprised of individual dark red droplets of molten glass that appear to have cooled so abruptly that they congealed mid-way as they fell. Dozens of these hardened glass drips protrude precariously from the wall. Protection is feeble. It takes the form of clear plastic coverlets hastily stitched around their bases. The drips that cluster into units seem no less fragile. A brittle material presented in a threatened position is a poignant manifestation of motherhood at the breaking point. Arnold places her work within the context of the guilt associated with a mother?s yearning to reclaim her independence, the destructive effects of custody battles, the futility of providing protection, but also the persistent hope for resolution.   Sher Fick?s "Coping Skills" discloses the dismantling of her pre and post partum psyche. The focus, however, is not on mental unraveling. Fick?s work celebrates the success of her determined efforts to stitch the fractured parts of her personality into a coherent persona. This internal struggle is conveyed through the use of prescription drug bottles that are encased in soft flannel fabrics, the kind that are used for baby clothes. Idealized and sentimentalized images of childhood are printed on these tiny swatches of fabric. Hastily stitched together, they suggest the disorderly spontaneity of crazy quilts and the emergency suturing of emotional ruptures. One means of overcoming such mental anguish comes packaged in pill bottles. In this work, Fick defies the stigma against the use of prescription drugs to assist women in becoming responsible and loving mothers.   Lindsay Obermeyer chooses a sumptuous medium associated with wealth and celebration. She uses it to address the challenge of bonding with a child whose short life was devoid of opportunities to develop trust in others and confidence in self. Obermeyer portrays her daughter?s silhouette as an impenetrable barricade dividing flat empty fields of color from dense patterns that are meticulously stitched with beads, sequence, and embroidery. The care and patience required of mothers is embodied in the stitching process that formed this artwork. In "Blues," the surrounding swirls and stars appear to assault the figure. In "Red Hot," searing flames surge within the figure. Both works evoke the psychological blockade built of scars from a child?s damaging upbringing, and the adoptive mother?s determination to breach this divide.   Monica Bock removes procreation from the two contexts where it is usually situated. On the one hand she reclaims procreation from advanced technologies that probe the development of a fetus from its single-cell, microscopic origins. By preserving bits of the umbilical cord, the amniotic sac, and the amniotic fluid that her body created to give life to her daughter, she reaffirms the body?s primacy over technology. At the same time, she removes these relics of birth from the sacred context that shrouds them in mystery. By inserting these visceral remnants into the handles of dust pans, the birth of a child is joined to mundane tasks of cleaning. Bock cast the dust pans in glycerin, a sweet-tasting fat that conveys the twin sides of mothering: as an ointment it soothes; as a solvent it bonds.   Libby Rowe?s "Womb Worries" takes the form of stuffed monkeys that cannot be purchased. They are only available for adoption. In this manner Rowe teases out the difference between three forms of money exchange - purchasing a commodity, paying to induce fertility, and adopting a child. She then intensifies the emotional stress of deciding among these alternatives by rejecting the cherub-like perfection of Gerber and Gap babies. Rowe?s handmade dolls are afflicted with abnormal quantities of limbs, misaligned backbones, and distorted faces. Yet they are endearing, not grotesque. An official decree of adoption accompanies each adoptee. The temptation to sign a certificate is instructive. It reveals that opportunities to delight in mother love can be attained by caring for a mal-formed child.   The artists participating in "Take Care" confirm a distressing truth – today?s mothers do not appear to be bolstered by the collective wisdom of our species. Despite the fact that Homo sapiens have been bearing and raising children for over 100,000 years, motherhood in the 21st century remains a lonely experiment racing to keep up with procreative advances at the outposts of human accomplishment.    
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First Review of TAKE CARE: The Art, Science, & Bioethics of Motherhood

 

Written by Tonya Vernooy, Art Critic/Writer, 2009 for TAKE CARE: The Art, Science, & Bioethics of Motherhood Exhibition.

  

Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity; for if man's power is increased, the checks that restrain him from abusing it must be strengthened.                                                                                                     -- Madame de Stael, 1835[1]

 

 

As molecular medicine, genetic manipulation, cloning, and stem cell research their rapid progress so too must the morality and ethics that assist in governing their boundaries. Through an examination of the gray area between enhancement and therapy, necessity and desire, parent and child, the nine artists participating in Take Care: The Art, Science, and Bioethics of Motherhoodreveal that there is no definitive right answer to the question of biotechnological advancement. It is the informed dialogue that is paramount. The political philosopher Michael J. Sandel writes, "Breakthroughs in genetics present us with a promise and a predicament. The promise is that we may soon be able to treat and prevent a host of debilitating diseases. The predicament is that our new-found genetic knowledge may also enable us to manipulate our own nature...to make ourselves 'better than well.'"[2] Caught in the middle of this is the mother whose fundamental need to create, protect, and support her offspring to the best of her ability has to contend with biotechnology's possible repercussions While scientists are driven by the aspirations of discovery and improvement, the artists serve as the cultural conscience, helping to explicate the complex and question the ramifications of a science that will pervade social, political, cultural, and self beliefs.

  

 

Both Sher Fickand Lindsay Obermeyer examine normality and the question of enhancement versus therapy. But what is normal? In May 2008 USA Today reported that 51% of Americans were taking at least one prescription drug for a chronic condition, a 50% increase since 2001. In 7 years time, maintaining a certain standard of health by taking daily medication had become the norm.  In Coping SkillsSher Fick constructed a table to hold all of the medication she has consumed in her "pursuit of physical and mental health;"[3]prescriptions that enable Fick to become, and remain, an attentive, present mother. The structure exists as both an altar and a vanity. The mirrored shelf implies a dressing table that might hold cosmetic goods. Yet, the artist challenges this notion by carefully encasing each medication in a finely made quilt with suture seams. The preciousness or fragility implied by these colorful coverings can be attributed to either the medication itself or, more likely, the medicine taker. The coverings themselves contain varied images of skulls, religious imagery, monetary symbols, band-aids, plant life, 1950s children playing, and Frida Kahlo, who suffered a tragic miscarriage.  The vibrancy and symbolism along with the altar itself suggest Dia de Los Muertos, a celebration that honors lost loved ones. Could it be that the artist is commemorating her past self and simultaneously rejoicing in the person these pharmaceuticals have allowed her to become?

  

 

Lindsay Obermeyer also deals with the pain and stigma of someone who requires medical and pharmaceutical intervention. Her fastidious beadwork enables the viewer to visualize the complexities of emotional and mental health care. All three portraits show her daughter in profile. In Shadow – Blues the internal silhouette is made up of clear crystals while contrasting shades of blue fly and swirl around her. She is completely still, unable to move, amidst a sea of activity; she feels empty, cold and alone. In the other portrait, Shadow – Red Hot, the pattern and complex beadwork take place within her profile; as if her mind and body are on fire. The world around her seems to melt away, again she is alone. In Voidthere is only her faint profile leaving the viewer asking: will her daughter ever emerge? Obermeyer's work calls out to the audience for help. The artist desperately wants to know if mood and mind altering medications will help or hurt. Are the trials and side-effects worth the possible outcome? Currently, geneticists are working on  prescriptions tailored to a patient's genetics, eliminating most trials and tribulations while opening up the door to enhancement possibilities. Nicolas Agar suggests this may become a slippery slope. "Some think that we should pass different moral judgments on enhancement from those we pass on therapy. They say that while therapy is justifiable, enhancement is not. The problem is that it is difficult to make the therapy–enhancement distinction principled. It is hard to find definitions of disease suitable to serve as a moral guideline for genetic technologies."[4]

 

 

The idea that our genetics will one day define our medical treatment is at once promising and scary. Everyone wants to be seen as an individual yet that individuality should not be an uncontrollable deciding factor in receiving health care and insurance or in becoming someone's companion, lover, parent, or child. In Kristina Arnold's Drip installation, the artist seems to be questioning how blood defines a person. The "drips" are dark red projections in clear plastic pouches with sutured edges, each unique in size and form, like individuals in a family.  The plastic pouches resemble microscope slides while each blood drip casts a long shadow on the white wall. These silhouettes of bloodlines are altered by light changes in the room, implying the coming changes in how a person is perceived as genetics becomes interchangeable with the definition of self. The self then becomes a commodity as Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, predicted in 1998, "It’s likely that within less than ten years, all one hundred thousand or so genes that comprise the genetic legacy of our species will be patented, making them the exclusive intellectual property of global  pharmaceutical, chemical, agribusiness, and biotech companies."[5]While Rifkin's forecast proved over-eager, it certainly seems to be progressing. Stefan Lovgren of National Geographic wrote in October 2005, "A new study shows that 20 percent of human genes have been patented in the United States, primarily by private firms and universities." If one-fifth of our genetic material is owned by companies and colleges what does that leave for the individual? 

 

 

 

Focusing on the definition of self, Annette Gates creates porcelain organisms that are casts of originals; they are the structures left behind once the fabric shells have been destroyed in a firing process. The end result is an archetype, similar yet distinct from its mother. Within current cloning practices, where one de-nucleated donor egg is injected with another donor's genetic material, the end result is a clone with replicated DNA but this does not mean an exact duplicate. First, the genetic material from the donor egg does become a part of the clone, and second, as the clone matures the environment that created the original can never be the exact same thus its gene expression will vary. Gates' organisms tell tales of a fragile future where they cannot meet the expectations of the original; they are new conglomerations of old material. As the British philosopher, Jonathan Glover, points out, "There is the objection that a child created as a replica is treated, not as an end in himself or herself, but merely as a means."[6]Those means, he goes on to explain, can be the wish of a parent to live on after death or the desire to recreate a passed loved one. In the end the clones, like Gates' organisms, will always be fragile reproductions.   

 

Libby Rowe's Womb Worries series addresses the anxieties all mothers-to-be have when they prepare for a new life. Currently, genetic testing is still in its early stages, generally for upwards of only 14 genetic abnormalities. However, a laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine has begun trials for genetic testing that looks for 200 different genetic diseases. Its chair of molecular and human genetics, Arthur Beaudet, believes that this screening process will become routine in five years time. The Houston Chronicle reported, in December 2008, the issues surrounding such a test include potential false positives, which could lead parents to abort a healthy fetus, the implication that a life with a disability is not worth living and disparity between those who can and cannot afford such a test (it is currently $1600).[7]  It is interesting then that Rowe has chosen to use the sock monkey to convey her worries. The sock monkey was historically a working class child’s toy, made from red-heeled knit socks used by factory and farm workers. The artist has taken this toy and remade it for adults as either a cautionary tale or to highlight the possible horrors that await us if we don’t get tested. Although each monkey is still smiling, unaware of their abnormalities, ready for love, how is a parent supposed to care for a child that has two heads, one genital, and no legs? Like Paul McCarthy's Tomato Heads of 1994, whose "novelty item appearance hints at the manic consumerism of our theme-park utopias," Rowe makes us aware of the capitalistic culture behind these natural maternal anxieties.[8]There is no right answer, it is an individual choice, but one that is made for a price. As Richard Hayes, Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society, states, "We support the use of that [genetic screening] to allow couples at risk to have healthy children. But for non-medical, cosmetic purposes, we believe this would undermine humanity and create a techno-eugenic rat race."[9]

 

Whether through cloning or genetic manipulation, Sadie Ruben's Alien Fetuses ask if the aberrations that originate from gene expression errors are worth potential desired results. Her creatures' destinies are unknown as they sit, brewing – growing – within glass jars that seem to resemble pasta containers used in the kitchen rather than scientific vessels of experimentation. Ruben's fetuses are commenting on the commoditization of lab created embryos. The gold flecks adhering to their opaque, amorphous bodies indicate their precious worth. But we are left to wonder what happens to them if Ruben is unable to care for them? They are helpless and completely dependent upon human ministering. These beings can be seen as a critique of trendy hobbyists trying to genetically engineer life in their garage. With visions of becoming the Steve Jobs of biotechnology, laypersons are beginning to experiment with new life forms at home. A group known as DIYbio has begun a community laboratory where amateurs can explore their scientific ideas. Co-founder Mackenzie Cowell suggests that this type of unrestrained environment could lead to some very important discoveries. He added, "We should try to make science more sexy and more fun and more like a game."[10]But Ruben's fetuses tell a different story, one of a nebulous future where their lives are not entertaining rather they exist in a lonely laboratory.

 

This laboratory lifestyle could become a reality if Dr. Davor Solter, developmental biologist at the Institute of Medical Biology, is correct in his prediction of the future use of artificial wombs. He says, "In essence, it would eliminate all the limitations we have now: you could have as many or as few progeny as you want...I can visualize a fetus floating freely in fluid and the umbilical cord attached to a machine."[11]The work of Monica Bock questions the current and evolving value of the mother in our society as biotechnology advances. Bock's Afterbirth (Sac, Fluid, Cord) focuses on the importance of a mother's body in keeping her fetus alive and growing. Yet it is the placenta – whose sole function is to provide nutrients and oxygen from mother to child – that is so quickly discarded after the child is born. The three dustpans reference this quick disposal and hint at the possibility of life as a commodity. That they are three in number indicates birth, life, and death or mother, father, and child; all are easily swept away in the world of biotechnological progress if they do not meet decided standards.

 

 Embryo selection and enhancement is key to Jeanette May's investigation of a mother's role within these new biotechnological advancements. The artist's initial question seems to be: Is it not the mother's responsibility, nay, purpose, to want the absolute best for her children? The use of slick photography and poster-size imagery draw the viewer into a bright environment surrounded by happy, beautiful people, colorful plant life, and a consumer-happy lifestyle. Upon closer inspection, we realize that all is not right with this world. Eggs are forced into square molds, growing fetuses are compared to plants bred for certain characteristics and mommies-to-be are perusing magazines imagining their lives as Michael Kors advertisements. May's posters seem to ask: once society has screened for all possible defects, how long until we manipulate those genes to acquire certain traits under the auspices of having a "happier" life and the duress of "keeping up with Joneses"? The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Fertility Institutes of Los Angeles will soon offer its clients the ability to pre-select their "choice of gender, eye color, hair color and complexion, along with screening for potentially lethal diseases."[12]Is it the duty of the future mother to provide the best that technology has to offer for her children? Or is she turning her children into accoutrements?

 

Adrienne Outlaw continues this examination of maternal responsibility within the realm of advancing technology. The artist posits: How far should a mother go to protect her young? Does technology offer the best outcome for a child born today or tomorrow? In Outlaw's Fecund video series, electrified, metal breasts protrude militaristically from a white wall, each containing a unique video. The recorded imagery shows either the latest in biophysics research, such as green florescent proteins tracking tumor growth, or the natural tenderness that exists between a mother and her child, like a newborn baby breastfeeding.[13]As the viewer's get up close to the metal nipples to peer inside, similar to a breastfeeding infant, they become aware that the hard material of the bosom creates a distance between mother and offspring; technology seems to be getting in the way.    At the same time, however, the viewer is given a chance to see the amount of knowledge possible at the cellular level, thus parents may be given the opportunity to make sure their progeny's cell division is developmentally on target. The question then becomes one of what happens when a cell goes awry.  Is it a mother's duty to make sure that her embryos, her fetuses, have everything they will need to survive and succeed in the 21st century, even if that means genetic interference? Professor Ronald M. Green of Dartmouth College suggests that with gene manipulation we could live in a disease-free world, he asks, "Why not improve our genome?"[14]

 

While Sher Fick and Lindsey Obermeyer investigate the growing pharmaceutical role with advancing medicine, Annette Gates concentrates on the idea of the self within the world of cloning, Libby Rowe   and Sadie Ruben   examine the rights of the fetuses within genetic progress, and finally Monica Bock, Adrienne Outlaw, and Jeanette May explore the function of the mother within the biotechnological age. Through their artwork these artists explore the crucial social, economic, and ethical implications of biotechnological advancements and create a space for important dialogue. As Dr. Sirine Shebaya, Greenwall, Fellow in Bioethics and Health Policy at the John Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, writes, "The best way to avoid slippery slopes to bad outcomes is to have an informed, democratic discussion that takes into account both expert opinions and social values. We need regulations because scientists and the general public need clarity about what they can and cannot do, a convincing rationale for permissions and restrictions, and a voice in arriving at decisions with such important ramifications."[15]These artists are that voice.

[1]

De Stael-Holstein, Madame Influence of Literature Upon Society (
New York : William Pearson & Co., 1835)  

[2]   Sandel, Michael J. The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering. (

Cambridge , Mass: Harvard
University Press, 2007) p 5-6.
University Press, 2007) p 5-6.

[3]See Sher Fick's artist statement

[4] Agar, Nicolas, "Designer Babies: Ethical Considerations," ActionBioscience.org, American Institute of Biological Sciences, 2006.

[5]Rifkin, Jeremy. The Biotech Century (London: Phoenix, 1998), p.63.

[6]

Glover, Jonathan. Choosing Children: Genes, Disability, and Design (
Oxford : Clarendon Press, 2006) p. 65.  

[7] "

Houston
Chronicle Examines Prenatal Genetic Test That Can Detect More Than 200 Conditions," The
Houston Chronicle, December 24, 2008.  

[8]Rugoff,  Ralph, "Deviations on a Theme – works by Paul McCarthy," Artforum, October 1994.

[9]Steere, Mike, "Designer babies: Creating the perfect child," Cnn.com/technology, October 30, 2008.

[10]Wohlsen, Marcus, ""Hobbyists try genetic engineering at home: Critics worry amateurs could unleash an environmental or medical disaster," MSNBC.com. December 26, 2008.

[11]Pearson, Helen, "Making Babies: The Next 30 Years," Nature, Vol. 454, July 17, 2008, p. 260.

[12] Gautam Naik, "A Baby, Please. Blond, Freckles -- Hold the Colic:  Laboratory Techniques That Screen for Diseases in Embryos Are Now Being Offered to Create Designer Children," The Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2009, page A10

[13] Created in

collaboration with biophysicist Dr. David W. Piston of
Vanderbilt
University .
 

[14]Britt, Robert Roy, "Designer Babies: Ethical? Inevitable?" www.livescience.com, January 11, 2009.

[15]Shebaya, Sirine, PhD, "Are 'Designer Babies, on the Horizon?" www.scienceprogress.org, May 15, 2008.

 

 

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