Visiting the Past

Looking forward to Juroring the Arnie Hart Student Exhibition at The Mattie Kelly Arts Center, located at my undergraduate college: Northwest Florida State College, Niceville, FL in March 2019 . . . where I took my 1st art class in 1997. Back then it was known as “Okaloosa-Walton Community College”. I was a young 27 art student and I still use those fundamentals art skills in every work of art I created.

Perspective Exercise at The OWCC Library, Drawing 1 with Professor David Owens, Fall 1997

Perspective Exercise at The OWCC Library, Drawing 1 with Professor David Owens, Fall 1997

I still use the Principles of Design Professor Owens taught me. I became so passionate about art and becoming an artist through him and, later, my Art History Classes with Dr. D. Anne Waters, deepened my artistic obsessions even further. My art advocacy started way back then, when - discontent with the ‘status quo’, I pioneered a new system for the student exhibition and even fought for it to be held in the fancy NEW galleries of the Mattie Kelly Arts Center. I didn’t know what I was doing - but I figured it out: demanding outside Jurors and even drumming up Cash Award Donors (who later left millions to the college to build a new art instruction building as our old one had, literally, DRIPPING ceilings).

Status: The American Dream, 1998, Painting I with Dr. D. Anne Waters, OWCC

Status: The American Dream, 1998, Painting I with Dr. D. Anne Waters, OWCC

It was a privilege to take Painting I & II as an Independent one-on-one course with Dr. Waters. Day one of the syllabus required focusing the entire semester on sketches from one item. I had recently the SW for my anniversary and choose a bovine skull as my subject. Each assignment required a different technique: from how to build and stretch my own canvases to full abstract (although referential) triptychs . . . I completed a series and I still use that theory to this day - developing a single item or thought or phrase into multiple works that stand alone or together.

Some people might deride community colleges, but as a woman who chose to get married young and start a family - those small, local doors opened my passion wide open. I hope that I have continued to build my techniques and I KNOW that the fundamentals I learned there have kept me in good stead all of these 20+ years.

It took me 7 years to finish my AA (I was raising 2 kids and had an additional ‘surprise’ baby), and only attended part-time and a total of 9 years to earn my Bachelor of Fine Art (1997 - 2006, first class to finishing). I was accepted into some prestigious graduate schools in 2006, but after already moving my entire family from NW Florida to the Nashville area in 2003, I decided NOT to continue my education. For me, the struggle between my responsibilities and having to choose between my family and art opportunities (such as moving to attend grad school), the stress was too much to ask of my own soul or to expect from my family.

I have had amazing avenues to expand my techniques and exhibition options, following a path of an internship with the amazing Adrienne Outlaw - leading to becoming a Studio Manager and eventually making work about the challenges of being an artist mother, such as Coping Skills and A Paxil A Day . . . one thing leads to another, and we learn and grow.

Life is full of obstacles and challenges (such as falling down the stairs of my new studio in 2009 and subsequent spinal surgeries in 2010 and 2015). It leads back to the beginning, though - doesn’t it? What drives you? What do you get excited about?

I hope I am regaining that eagerness and anticipation I had in August of 1997 when I walked through the doors of a decrepit building in Niceville, FL, sat down on a drawing horse and heard the words of David Owens: “Let me see where you are at”. We all drew an old, bent bicycle tire and I knew I had entered the gates of heaven. David Owens died less than a year later. I remember speaking at his memorial and vowing not to let his death stop us (the ragtag group of art students and himself) from making the art department better and we just formed a student art club (The Association of Visual Arts/AVA, now defunct).

I know I kept that promise . . . returning to Jury the Annual Student Exhibition, still held in those gorgeous new galleries and still based on the entry forms I made back in 1998 and knowing those art students aren’t sitting under a dripping ceiling. I may have moved away, but I did make a contribution to the arts; and, REALLY, isn’t that what matters? Making your mark (unbeknownst) and carrying forward all the foundations that have made you a stronger (hopefully, better) person.

Hibakusha (one of trio), Encaustic Mixed Media, Private Collection, Hiroshima, Japan

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.

 

 

 

 

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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