science in artistic form – a symposium

This project is a call to action – for all of us – to pay attention to the artists among us, in all our communities, big and small. – Don Bacigalupi


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Friday, November 14th
I sit on the stage with a group of 4 practiced artists. We are in the Great Hall, at Crystal Bridges Museum of Art. This is the first day of a 2-day symposium and the house is full.
The panel discussion circles around connection between humanity and the natural world through the lens of art and science.

photo1The 5 State of the Art artists included in this afternoon’s mix of scientific study within artistic form are Dornith Doherty’s seed bank study of biodiversity (TX); Flora C. Mace’s three-dimensional botanical specimens (WA); Isabella Kirkland’s homage to species recently revealed to science (CA); Susan Goethel Campbell’s merging of nature and consumerism (MI), and (myself) Monica Aissa Martinez’s holistic and spiritual study of human anatomy (AZ). The panel is moderated by University of Arkansas’ Art History Professor Alissa Walls. The opening lecturer is Curator Chad Aligood. Sara Segerlin, in charge of public programs, makes introductions.

To give you some sense of the range of work the audience sees – here is one image from each artist – linked in to the State of the Art website. 

Millennium Seed Bank Research Seedlings and Lochner-Stuppy Test

Dorinth Doherty, Millennium Seed Bank Research Seedlings and Lochner-Stuppy Test Garden No.2, Digital Chromogenic Lenticular Photograph, 79 x 36″

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Flora C Mace, Big Violet (detail) Botanical glass, compost, and shell stand, 16.5 x 14 x 6″

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Monica Aissa Martinez, Male Torso – Anterior View MM on canvas, 45 x 35.5″


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Isabella Kirkland, Emergent, Oil and alkyd on polyester over panel, 60 x 48″

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Susan Goethel Campbell, “Clod” series, dirt and dried grass cast in packaging molds

Excited and nervous, I stand at the podium to speak. My sense of being an artist has broadened. I now have a more expanded sense of community as well as new responsibility. I am not completely settled into these new feelings. I know I won’t say everything I want to say, but I hope I can at least keep things organized in my mind. Ironically, I discuss connecting mind and body – clearly, it’s a skill I am learning.

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After the symposium artists continue into the galleries to connect with visitors in smaller, more intimate groups.

One person I sit and talk with notes a common trait among each panel member. She says we each have a strong sense of commitment to our work. That is true of all 102 artists in the exhibition. The conversation ends with commentary about how everyone appears to deconstruct their subject, in order to reconstruct again – and represent it.

I speak to a mother and daughter about hereditary and environmental health issues. Her daughter is Latina, she tells me. Two works I show and (very) quickly run through in the lecture, allow for this conversation to take place. They related and I am more than pleased.

This is how it goes for the evening and some of the next day.


About my presentation:
Here are my slides and notations about some work.

Note: Because I am visual I would have done well to organize this image and sentence blog post before the symposium. Hindsight is 20/20. I will do it next time.

I begin with informing the audience about the questions I bring to the studio and to my work:

Who am I?
What am I?
What is this world?
What is my relationship to it?

Image #1 Male Torso – Anterior View (this work hangs in the exhibition and seen above).
Image #2 its counterpart  ↓ – Female Torso – Anterior View.

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My work is fed by my 2 practices of running and Yoga. I want to understand both the physical body and the subtle body. All my current work is influenced by scientific anatomy study (medical texts and illustrations) and Yogic philosophy.

My work expresses ideas of the masculine and feminine. I focus on balance of the two principles. These energies show up in many ways: literally as male and female, or symbolically as linear/organic. I consider associations of logic/emotion, rational/intuitive, technological/artistic.

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Image #3 – single organ renderings ↑
I’ve studied and drawn out all the organs of the body, one by one. I used to understand my organs as parts that made up the whole. That’s changed now – I see the whole within each organ, and everything is connected.

How we experience ourselves determines how we experience the world.

We are whole and interconnected.

Dependent and interdependent.

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Image #4 – Map of Phoenix
Cell as city, living organism / living organism.
A complex living organism.

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The legend helps clarify connections and unbeknownst to me at that point, will lay out the foundation for the course that I take now.

Image #5 – City as cell. State as organ. USA as system of organs. Planet as whole body.

IMG_1245Image #6 – Self Portrait ↓
Balances masculine (the brain/logic) in upper area, and the feminine (the pelvis: the enteric nervous system, immune system and genetic networks / gut, instinct, creativity) in lower are of composition.
Whole view of self – in balance.
Homeostasis.  A_Self_Portrait

Image #7 and # 9 – A study of my niece Sara, and a study of my mother↓.
Mapping out areas of the body with consideration to hereditary traits and environmental factors (in health). And life-style choices.

In the drawing below I make a literal connection between the brain and the gut with the mapping out of the Vegus Nerve (upper right area).

sarappImage #10 – detail of intestinal tract
I look closer and closer at the life within – to understand what activates it all.
Where is the source of this life?

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detail of small intestines

A mapping of my mother (energy) ↓ depicts the work she did (speech and hearing clinician – in upper left area).
Includes organs and parts effected by Diabetes and RA.
Included is that she birthed 6 children (ground). I’ve added skin and bone tissue in the lower layers.

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Image # 12 detail of my mother’s torso ↓
The more I look for the life source – the denser the forms become.
Living organism within living organism … and it continues.

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detail

I bring in and comment on an anatomy series based on pollinators (bee, Monarch butterfly, bat) and possibility of their  extinction.

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Anatomy Study of a Bee

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Anatomy Study of a Butterfly

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Anatomy Study of a Bat

We travel into art history – Egyptian, Aztec, and Mayan world’s and see depictions of these creatures. I hope generations to come will continue to observe them directly. They are being effected by pesticide and genetically modified crops, among other things.

Conclusion:
A disconnect between the mind and the body is not conducive to life.

A disconnect between the thinking brain and the feeling brain create vulnerability and may lead to destruction.

I hope to inspire you to experience yourself fully, enter the body/mind and consider who you are – and locate balance.

I leave the audience with these words:

 I am a complex living and creative organism. 

Who are you?
What are you?
What is this world?
And what is your relationship to it?

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a sketch

 

The evening ends with Michael Moore speaking about his experience as an artist and as a farmer. I am unable to attend day 2 of the symposium because I teach a workshop on Saturday.

I am honored to be a part of this art exhibition – one that takes in creative energy from across our country. While I already have a strong connection to my community – that sense is broadened (coast to coast) – and with that my work will continue to expand and grow. And so will I.

drawing your body’s anatomy – a workshop

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Arriving to the museum last Saturday morning, I ride up the elevator with a young woman who appears to be jogging. Are you out … for a run? I ask her. She is. It’s colder than I thought it would be, she tells me. And you came to the museum? She nods a yes and goes on to say … to warm up and maybe look around.

In the 2 trips I have made here – between the conversation in the museum with both visitors and docents, and in the city – I get the sense that the museum is a part of regular life for the local community.

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I return to Bentonville to take part in a Symposium at Crystal Bridges. The panel I present with focuses on Science in Artistic Form (I’ll talk about this another time).  This is one event in many. I also teach an anatomy drawing workshop for teens.

After the symposium on Friday night, I meet a couple who visits the museum regularly. We have a long talk about the facility and its various activities. Their daughter hoped to take my workshop but it sold out. I suggest they contact the museum and while I can’t give her a firm invite, I tell her I am open to more participants. I like the synergy of a large group. The next morning they arrive with their daughter. She attends the workshop while her parents attend the rest of the symposium. A few others join us. When everyone signs in I learn the group comes from all the surrounding areas.

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I walk into the studio to find a few artist anatomy books. Influenced by medical illustrations, I am more than excited to see that we also have one of the museum’s rare books on hand – Medical Anatomy; Illustrations of the Relative Position and Movements of the Internal Organs , Folio Size, 1869, by Francis Sibson. Earlier when I learn the museum owns this book, I ask if we can have a special showing. I explain to the class this is a rare opportunity. Anatomy! 1869! Hand-colored lithographs!

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I talk about my work and explain how we’ll proceed with the afternoon. I show one sample of a drawing and pass out postcards of my artwork – one to each participant. I explain general process including  use of color. I note that while I do look at artist anatomy books, most of my references come from medical anatomy and Yoga study sources. I mention I have a full human skeleton which is part of the video I end my introduction with. I pass out flash cards that include skeleton and muscle diagrams – and we begin.

The next 3 hours – we work out anatomy of their choosing. Class ends just as rain begins to fall in the small lake in front of the classroom. Here are photos of the productive afternoon.

A special thanks to Lori, an art instructor at Crystal Bridges, who helped me with the workshop.

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The purpose of the museum is to educate and build community – I’m glad to be a part of it.

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To go to the State of the Art website, click on the image above.

 

the little armored one

Armadillo is Spanish for little armored one. The Aztecs called them  āyōtōchtli meaning turtle rabbit.

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The Nine-banded Armadillo is the state small mammal of Texas. It’s believed to have crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico in the late 19th century. They tend to be solitary, mostly nocturnal, and forage at dusk. It feeds mostly on ants, termites and other small invertebrates.

From the start I intend to draw in the anatomy . Usually I begin with the foundation (skeleton) and move back and forth from there. Here, I couldn’t help but complete the covered shell first and it causes me to have second thoughts. Would the anatomy add to the image? I could ruin everything. After reading more I decide to continue as planned.

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The Texas mammal has a distinct shell casing made of bone. It has two large shell casings covering shoulders and rump, with seven or nine bands in the middle. When the armadillo is born, the armored shell is soft and leathery, and hardens once the animal reaches adult weight. Its total body length is about 15-17 inches, and the male weighs  11-17 lbs. while the female armadillo weighs in about 8-13 lbs. It has strong claws and a long, tapered tail covered by bony rings. It has 30 or 32 peg-shaped teeth and a long tongue.

A female armadillo reaches sexual maturity at 1 year and can produce up to 56 young ones over the course of her life. A single egg is fertilized, implantation is delayed 3-4 months, gestation is about  4 months during which identical quadruplets are split, each developing its own placenta. It will give birth to the same gender quadruplets from a single egg.

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The armadillo symbolically connects to boundaries and shields. It points to vulnerabilities, empathy, discrimination, and the idea of being grounded. The armadillo wears its armor on its back and its medicine is in that part of its body. It encourages us to protect our inner selves.

This week I meditate on the little armored one.

 

el murciélago

Murciélago is Spanish for bat. I like the word, and I like the creature.

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Approximately 70 species of bats live in the Sonoran desert region, about 27 of those species live right here in the state of Arizona, more than in any other state. I live near a bat colony and note them as they occasionally fly about the neighborhood.

About bats:
Bats are from the order of Chiroptera (meaning hand-wing), which describes their most unusual anatomical feature and the reason why it’s the only mammal naturally capable of true and sustained flight. In the course of working on this study I learn more about this magnificent nocturnal creature.

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  • A bats body is hairy while a leathery membrane makes up its wonderful wings.
  • Bats are not blind though see best at night.
  • They use echo-location to maneuver through space, and to help find shelter and prey.
  • They have an acute sense of smell which helps in the rearing of their young in large maternity colonies. In fact, it’s the way they find their own young in the midst of hundreds of others. I find it particularly interesting that colonies include non-reproducing females that help with rearing duties.

In the lower elevations of Arizona bats mate in late Spring, maybe as early as March.  In Northern Arizona bats can hibernate 5 to 8 months. 

Bats are in serious decline. They are an important part of our ecosystem helping to keep populations of night-flying insects like mosquitos, in control. They disperse seeds and pollinate many plants. In the state of Arizona bats and bat colonies are protected by law.

Symbolism:
Because bats live in the belly of Mother Earth, they symbolize death and rebirth. They are  reborn every evening at dusk. The Native Americans observed them as highly social creatures with strong familial ties. While the bat is nurturing, verbal, enjoys touch, it is also shy, intelligent and gentle.

Bat medicine teaches us to release fear. Think new beginnings.

 

rivers i don’t live by

In early March I receive a request from poet Kelly Nelson. She won a chapbook contest, she explains. The small collection of 18 poems will be published in the fall by Concrete Wolf, a press in Washington state.

Kelly writes:

I love the anatomy series you’ve been working on – both human and animals.

My chapbook is called “Rivers I Don’t Live By” and deals with themes of place and dislocation. I would love to have a detail from your work “You Are Here” or from another map-like piece of yours as the cover art. I think that would fit beautifully with the title of my book as well as with the theme.

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I receive 10 signed copies this week. The cover includes a detail shot of a work titled It’s All Intimate.

Naturally I make associations to the way I experience an art exhibition and how I might relate to Kelly’s chapbook. It’s a small book, with an appealing cover. I like the way it feels. I think of each poem like a painting, together they are a series – a connected body of work. I open the book and look at Kelly’s words.

The Practice of Female Dispersal
Abstract
Two million years ago, males stayed close to home, females radiated.

The first poem and its first line catch my full attention and I go sit and do a full read.

Congratulations Kelly!

Thanks for inviting me be a small part of this. I understand now why my maps and studies caught your attention.

Rivers I Don’t Live By is available through Amazon and Concrete Wolf Publications


About the Author
Kelly Nelson’s poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for Best of the Net and have appeared in 2 River View, I-70 Review, Watershed Review and elsewhere. She’s the recipient of a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and was a Visiting Artist at the Regional Cultural Center in New York Mills, Minnesota. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Brandeis University and teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Arizona State University.

For more info visit → Kelly’s website.

 

studying a tarantula hawk

10653809_10152734901582298_1046389924362837580_n My friend Patricia gives me this tarantula hawk for my insect anatomy series. She finds it dead inside her home. I learn it’s the official state insect of New Mexico. After what I read about the wasp I wonder why the Land of Enchantment would adopt such a creäture. Ironically there are a few animals that will eat a tarantula hawk wasp – the road runner, New Mexico’s state bird, is one of them.

The tarantula hawk is a spider wasp with a metallic blue body and rust colored wings. This one here has large, silvery graphite eyes (very New Mexico if you ask me). The striking appearance is aposematism  or warning coloration that benefits predator and prey – the wasp has a most painful sting. Despite these qualities it is relatively docile and attacks only when provoked.

The female wasp hunts tarantulas. When she captures one, she paralyzes and drags it to her nest where she lays a single egg in the spider’s abdomen. The larvae will feed on the live tarantula until it emerges as an adult to continue the life cycle.

The day Patricia gave me this bug, my husband saw one while on his bike ride in the Phoenix dessert. By his description, which included a newly caught tarantula, I knew what it was immediately. It lives in warm climates and here in the US is mostly found across the Southwest.

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a wandering nerve

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Vagus – Latin for wandering. The Vagus Nerve is known as the wandering nerve.  To understand why and where it wanders, I decide to draw out its path and the organs affected. The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve – CN X (there are 12 cranial nerves).

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It extends from the brainstem (Meudlla Oblongata)

The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of the cranial nerves and has both motor and sensory fibers. It extends from the brain stem ( the medulla oblongata)  through the face and thorax to the abdomen.  It forms part of the involuntary nervous system and helps to regulate heart beat, control muscle movement, keep a person breathing, and to send a variety of chemicals through the body. It is also responsible for keeping the digestive tract in working order, contracting the muscles of the stomach and intestines to help process food, and sending back information about what is being digested and what the body is getting out of it.

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CN X moves from the brain stem and the neck, through the thorax, lungs, heart …

 

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…. and through various parts of the viscera


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and continues to the digestive tract

In this study I learn through the work of Kevin Tracey MD, there is a direct connect between the brain and the  immune system via CN 10 – in regulating the body’s  inflammatory response to infection and auto-immune diseases.

The body is more complex than I can ever really understand, but the glimpses and connections I make are exciting to me.

The images posted here make up only a small area in the upper right hand corner of a new figure composition.


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A few years ago before I began my current full body anatomy studies, I drew out all the  individual organs.  I collage many of them into small compositions. This one above is my best guess at the autonomic system.

Today as I better understand the Vagus Nerve, I realize this is some of the area I was trying to formulate through this early study.