the all that is

I call this post The All That Is, but I could call it We Are Not Separate. Or maybe, I could call it What is Microchimerism? #Art #Philosophy #Science


The holiday puts a pause on my studio work.  Away, visiting family for a week, I catch an NPR segment* on fetal cells and placentas. It begins with two people (or three or maybe four) sharing one body (the maternal body).

I recall learning about microchimerism**, which is the presence of cells from one individual in another genetically distinct individual. While there are different ways to consider the phenomenon,  pregnancy might be the main cause of natural microchimerism.

The NPR episode paints a distinct picture for me. Think (like a fetus): You have mom’s cells in you (just as your cells are in hers) and if you have an older brother and/or sister, mom’s likely to have passed their cells on to you, too. And what about grandma and great grandma? Does mom also carry their cells? Consequently, do you?  You, me and we…might in fact be…the All That Is! 

Prior to listening to this show, I’d already decided to indicate generational presence in Portrait of Vanya, though I had not settled on exactly how I would do this. 

The first day back in the studio, I work into the entire ground of the painting, a large and colorfully detailed placenta. I now imagine placenta holding a family tree, of sorts. Visually speaking, the chorionic villi ↓ of the placenta do have a tree-like quality.

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Placenta, Latin for cake, related to Greek plakous, a flat cake. My glossary of medical meanings also informs me it serves as communication between fetus and mother, by way of umbilical cord.
(I’ll hope to write a future post about the placenta that might include placenta encapsulation.) 

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Something else I come across, while visiting mom over the holidays. She has a large, almost as big as her hand, butterfly she’d found and was saving. It is a stunning Swallowtail butterfly.

The butterfly, symbol of change and transformation, feels appropriate for a newborn who arrived weeks early. And it so happens, the meaning of the name Vanya is butterfly! 

Right into the painting, it goes…

When I share this detail of the study, Jeorgina, Vanya’s mom, sends this photo.

Unaware that Vanya means butterfly, she’s excited to explain she got the tattoo when she found out she was pregnant. #iWhoa! #Change!

During this holiday break, I also catch a Gloria Steinem interview where she briefly talks about symbols. For Steinem, the circle connects to the circle of life, while the triangle represents rank. I associate the triangle to stability. Thinking about it as rank, I rework the eyeball, directing gaze up ↑ and think summum bonum, the highest good.

I add and subtract many elements ↑ to this painting including mammary glands and endocrine system, fetal stem cells (which may contribute to maternal health and wound healing), microbes…etc.

Somewhere, this casein and egg tempera painting took a turn of its own. I’ll sit with it a little longer to know if it is complete. #TheAllThatIs

Portrait of Vanya may be the final work for an upcoming solo at Mesa Contemporary Art Museum. The exhibit, Nothing In Stasis, will open the first week of April and run to August.
More later…

→ * NPR Fetal Cells May Protect Mom from Disease Long After The Baby’s Born
→ ** Microchimeric mombie: Amy Boddy


©2022 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY MONICA AISSA MARTINEZ

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