12 weeks – neuron to mandorla

Artists-in-Residence:
We re-organize work-spaces Thursday, at the Tempe Center for the Arts, preparing for the closing celebration of our summer artist residency Friday evening.

Twelve weeks – they fly!

Crossing paths with the many people at TCA including employees, docents and guests (many guests from around the world!) is one of this residency’s perks. I especially enjoy getting to know and work alongside artists Kyllan Maney and Bobby Zokaites.

Kyllan’s Radial Patterns are full of spiraling detail. I’m impressed by the relaxed, yet quick pace at which she moves. The generous Kyllan (she shares a lot with me) has a most notable ability to bring together community.

Bobby’s nature is full of curious and intelligent play. His color scheme for his many compositions is influenced by Dr. Suess. We spend many afternoons talking and cover everything from the elements of design to the business of art. I watch as he constructs his robotic designs. And for the record, I envy his ability to construct a cool sentence.

The three of us connect on a few occasions talking politics – history and world events. And art.

My work: 12 weeks from the Neuron to Mandorla

Understanding the healthy brain seems necessary to understand the brain with dementia. I first study the neuron and in this I discover a variety of supporting glia.  Looking at all the various parts of the brain, I also emphasize and draw the hippocampus and I isolate and draw the motor and sensory cortex.

The Homunculus – Photographed by Tricky Burns

In June I come across an article linking mitochondrial dysfunction to Alzheimer’s Disease.   I feel sad to know the form I tend to favor in a cell is one of the first to redirect in AD. The mitochondria ↓ are the powerhouses of a cell and produce about 90% of the chemical energy needed for the cell’s survival.

Mitochondria

Last week I read about the endoplasmic reticulum (ER)  in Alzheimer’s disease. Consider the ER ↓ like a road system moving into and throughout a city allowing for transportation of goods. Within the cell these passageways allow proteins (“the goods”) to move from the ribosomes (red ↓ dots below).

Based on work I complete a few years back, I know about unfolded or misfolded proteins. Now I make their connection to the amyloid plaques in AD.

Endoplasmic Reticulum with Ribosome

My first study in this residency introduces neurons and microglia. My final study in the residency has me return to the neuron. This time it is a diseased and dying neuron surrounded by amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.

dying neuron drawing in progress (front of drawing)

completed dying neuron (Back of drawing)

The completed drawing of a dying neuron appears like a sacred mandorla holding space where opposing worlds and forces meet. A subtle (not so subtle) location where heaven and earth, the divine and the human interact.

The residency is over – the work continues.


A special thanks to gallery director Michelle Dock and all the crew (Tricky, Brady and Anthony) at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Thanks to all the docents who shared personal stories with me. You do a fine job of sharing the work with the public.

Thanks again to Kyllan and Bobby, my fellow resident artists. I hope you both know how much your hearty laughter served me this summer.


The Artist-in-Residence is over but draw: the art of curiosity and innovation continues to Sept 1st at TCA.

Mom, who had not seen dad’s study, saw it yesterday.

can a robot create?

The 12-week artist residency at the Tempe Center for the Arts has come to an end. Most every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon you would have found me working alongside or talking with artist Bobby Zokaites. Today I welcome Bobby as guest writer.


My Name is Bobby Zokaites, I’m a local sculptor here in Tempe Arizona, my tag line is, “Engaging the imagination through the creation of large scale objects and spaces.” This summer I participated in the Tempe Center for the Arts exhibition and residency “Draw.” For those in the know, sculpture cannot exist without drawing, in fact most sculptors are very proficient drawers. However, I was included in the exhibition because of a project that, on the surface, seems to challenge the very notion of what it means to draw.

The premise is simple: can a robot create art?

I began this line of inquiry in 2005 during a sophomore painting class at Alfred University and in response to the ever-ubiquitous self-portrait assignment. The history of art is littered with self-important, foreboding and grandiose articulations of the portrait and myself, being 19, of course wanted to join this history. By asking a robot to make art, I had the idea I was creating a portrait, an expression, an illustration, of a generation growing up within the digital revolution.

And so, I purchased a robot—a Roomba vacuum cleaner. Equipped with propulsion, preferences and aversions, the Roomba was already well on its way to being an artist, but lacked the tools needed for painterly expression. To provide it this, I simply removed the vacuum components and added a very basic foam brush and paint reservoir, creating something akin to a homemade marker. The first painting made was such a rush, my mission after that was to get out of the way to let the Roomba do just whatever it was going to do. Large black brush strokes combined with delicate tire treads on a white background these first paintings, produced using India ink on gesso-ed panels, existed in the tradition of Abstract Expressionism; Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and the like. I felt that reexploring this canonical aesthetic with contemporary technology would be fun, and it was, I thought that updating this aesthetic with contemporary technology would be fun thing to do. Which it is, fun, the public likes it because they have a different way into the paintings. For me however, with every successive painting I lost more of my own control, agency, creativity, my own self-expression; I had given it to a robot and so, the process became very existential and surreal.

I was still a student and incredibly young so I set this project aside to focus on becoming a sculptor. I took work as the site manager at Franconia Sculpture Park, learning the pragmatic skills associated with the production of large-scale sculpture. Sculpture became my way of regaining and developing my voice, and gave me the opportunity to have visible impact on my immediate surroundings. I became an educator, teaching others how to use tools, to manipulate materials, and to develop their own agency. Currently, I’m involved in several municipal projects, in a way I see this as being involved in governance, a way to add a unique flare to the urban environment.

In 2016, I was asked by the Center for Science and Imagination at Arizona State University to readdress the Roomba paintings. I dug out the now-decade-old robots and made a very large painting, this time on canvas. We produced a 4-minute video in which we decided to bring the relationship of artist, human, and robot to the front on the conversation.

“Draw” has allowed me the time to further address this relationship. I’ve broken the process down into its components: where do I have choice, when do I need to react, and when do I hit stop? Conversations with Monica Martinez and Kyllan Maney, the two other artists-in-residence, have helped with the transition back into thinking towards two-dimensional output. Considering aspects as simple as how colors lay on top of each other, composition and line weight, to those factors as detailed as the viscosity of paint and pigments, I’ve become a painter. Although to study these things I’ve had make more paintings resulting in more failures; some winding up so far gone that I’ve painted over them right in the gallery (much to Monica’s initial dismay). Over this summer, I’ve changed how I think about these painterly concepts several times, using different aids and brainstorming techniques. Dr. Seuss has the most amazing grays, and since his books are well-known for inspiration, I made four paintings using his color palettes.

In addition to the ‘shop talk’ between artists, large school groups would stop through providing several other opportunities to re-examine and re-explain the conceptual parts of the story. Now that I’ve identified where my choices are in the process, I have more involvement and the paintings are more collaborative, less reactionary. Engaging a larger community in the process has brought new points of view, new conundrums, new humor. In keeping with some of the light-heartedness of the project, Tricky, TCA’s preparator, even named the Roomba, “Mayhem”.

Though I’m not the first person to use robots as a way to produce art— American artist, Roxy Paine uses robots to produce a variety of sculptural objects and Leonel Mora of Portugal even has robots that sign their own drawings— my own contribution is in the realization that a commercially available robot was, even 10 years ago, sophisticated enough to produce its own paintings; proving the mantra, “any significantly advanced technology is synonymous with magic.” Along those lines, many people are fond of Frankenstein, Blade Runner, and the Terminator as cautionary tales of technological advancement and morality. However, with the Roomba project I’ve always gravitated to the earlier example of John Henry, the steel-driving man. His story, is one that pits man against machine, in a race to build the transcontinental railroad. All of these stories present a dichotomy when in reality man is not in opposition with machines. Modernity, with is mechanized metaphor, encourages us to idolize efficiency and progress, and in doing so, reduce individual labor. The paradigm of this train of thought has put me in an interesting head space: on the one hand I can anthropomorphize the Roomba, reducing my own self-importance, or I can claim authorship and be seen as an “artist” and “painter”. Truthfully, my preference is still “sculptor”, though I would accept manufacturer as well; both of these terms place importance and thought on to the tools and processes associated with production. With the Roombas as a tool, I can create an infinite number of composition.

present and re-present

Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the leading cause of neurodegenerative dementia associated with aging, affects over 5 million adults in the United States and is predicted to increase to 16 million affected by 2050. – Alzheimer’s Association 2017 


Looking at the PET scans  – I recognize his profile. This is my father.

Talking to my sister Mercedes, she reminds me how for years when one of us called out Dad! he’d yell  back, YO SOY EL SEÑOR MARTINEZ! 
I smile. I don’t ask if he still does this.

It’s natural when I make art to think about it as installation. I want some sense of a bigger picture. With this particular work, I imagine a small series of studies and words. Maybe the words are text (as marks) across a wall.

I ask mom, my 4 sisters and brother to jot down thoughts/words about dad, past or present, as I make a small scratchboard series of his PET scans.

Mercedes: His funny sayings – CON UN DIABLO!!

Dad never really cusses in front of us. My guess is this saying is his version of Damn it!

Elisa: He likes to play with words, he always has. Every time we pass a one-way sign or stop at a four-way stop sign he says…”un guey”. “Cuatro gueyes”.

Dad’s humor includes playing with words and the English and Spanish language. 

Elisa: He used to say grocerias for groceries. Now he says, narizona when we get to Arizona Street.

Elisa also sends recordings she’s made of some of their conversation. In one recording she asks dad about his sister Carmen, who died last month at the age of 99.

Elisa: How many years between you and Carmen?
Dad (who is 86): I don’t know, followed by a long pause, she was old enough to scold me.

Mercedes: He liked Gabriel-Garcia Marquez’s, Cien Años de Soledad.  He took us to the Plaza Theater to see 2001: A Space Odyssey when it first came out and Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein at Plaza…Jaws and Star Wars at Cielo Vista. 

I laugh because within minutes of Young Frankenstein starting, I saw in his face he’d  regretted it. Not a kid’s movie dad!

Mercedes: …summers and swimming, Washington Park and Armijo….with all the neighborhood kids.

Dad, for many years was a summer life-guard for the city summer recreation program. He took us to work with him every day, Monday to Friday (lucky mom). And along with us, he often did have many of the neighborhood kids piled into the station wagon.
He swears he taught me to swim. Maybe I didn’t pay attention. His mouth dropped when years later, as an adult, I told him about the afternoon I almost drowned at my best friends house.

Mercedes: He liked Yoga!

This comment brings back my 10-year old self, skipping over him as he holds Cobra Pose.

Mercedes: …candy apple red Alfa Romeo. Guayaberas. He taught me to make Gin and Tonics. He likes to eat :).

Gin and Tonics?!

Analissa’s memory takes her back to high school:  I went to the library to pick a book, I chose One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garcia-Marquez. He read it with me. He went on to read everything by him, took a class on the author and later magical realism. I thought that was cool – he made himself an expert just like that. I once went to play cello for a class he was taking. I forget the class, but I played the same program as Pablo Casals did at the Kennedy White House. I sensed he was proud.

Analissa (younger than the rest of us, never knew dad the lifeguard, but does know dad the swimmer):  I would go swimming with him, since I was a little girl. He taught me to swim. I have specific memories: his cadence and body movement and endurance – his swim bag and goggles, flip-flops and little shampoo bottles. The last time we went swimming I sensed it would be our last time at the pool together. So I stopped and just watched him swim the whole time.

…We once looked up the town he was in, in Germany, on Google Earth. It was exciting for both of us. He had 3 memories: The train station that would take him into town, the ‘biergarten’ where they would drink, and the cathedral where they’d go to church after drinking all night on Saturday, then back to the train station. We found all three of those things, they were still there.
Dad is funny. 

Chacho, my brother, notes John Nichols and the Milagro Beanfield War – When I read it, at Cathedral, he told me it was one of his favorite books.  He would read it at least once a year. He likes Hemingway. When I was reading For Whom the Bell Tolls he would tell me about it. He had the movie on VHS.
His favorite drink is Negra Modelo.

‘El Sapo High’…He says this every time we pass El Paso High School. 

Clearly Dad read a lot and – he suggested I read Cortázar’s Rayuela and also the English translation titled Hopscotch. The book had instructions in it on how to read it. Apparently it bounces from the past to the present. Instructions?! Too complicated dad!
It’s still on my list.

One of my sisters never responded and mom wasn’t sure what to say. She’s in the thick of it with taking care of dad.

As Artist-in-Residence, I focus on dementia and Alzheimer’s this summer.

I sit at my drawing table at the Tempe Center for the Arts, talking to people who come in and share their personal stories about how dementia touches their lives. I’ve connected with professionals on the issue. And last week a chemical engineer visiting the gallery talked to me about President Reagan, who died of Alzheimer’s. He was known to drink a coke a day. This chemical engineer, who spoke 5 languages, told me about a project he took in Japan shortly after graduating and consequently he never drinks out of aluminum cans if he can help it – only bottles for him.

…I know I want these small scratchboards bigger. I admit, this summer it sometimes feels odd to be working with new materials, mixing colors, and laying out ideas.

Raising awareness…my own and yours.


Tempe, AZ →  Dementia Friendly City
More → The Alzheimers Association
Special TIME Edition June 2018 → The Science of Alzheimers

i visit a brain bank

Much of my research comes via anatomy books and the internet. I make the occasional trip (2 weeks ago in fact) to the Science Center. And I will admit to appreciating the Body World exhibit (as well as Gunther von Hagen’s dissection videos).  I have toured a number of labs, including Barrow’s some years ago. This week I visit a brain bank with new work in mind.

Driving to Sun City where Banner Sun Health Research Institute is located, I think about Kathleen Bartolomei (UrbanLab LLC) who connects me to Maribeth Gallagher (Hospice of the Valley), who directs me to Jan Dougherty (Special Projects Consultant at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute), whom introduces me to Dr. Thomas Beach and his research center -so that I might better appreciate the human brain in full, in part, and under the microscope.

I could title this post No Woman is an Island.

I arrive and meet Geidy, a Neuroanatomist. She will take me through the facility until Dr. Beach, who is in a meeting, becomes available.

She points out workstations each with a dry ice pad and scale, among other things.

Lab workstations

This particular lab is unique in that it requires rapid autopsy (within 3-hours postmortem) to ensure the highest quality tissue. Geidy explains, there is always an on call team to do the work. I assume donors have to live in the area. They do and she emphasizes the need for controlled brains, including enrolling a potential donor and meeting with them. She clarifies the work here is to study the aging process.

A good idea, I think to myself, because we are living longer.

The first area we enter includes a high-powered microscope and large computer screen. I don’t photograph the space because we plan to return after walking the lab. We never do come back.

Geidy announces we’ll make stops in various rooms on our way to the morgue. I’ve avoided morgues my whole life, is all that comes to mind.

I believe she identifies these refrigerators as -80°C lab freezers, which I understand now are ultra-low freezers.

Freezers

We walk through several rooms with rows and rows of tissue samples.

Brain tissue samples

Heart tissue samples

Organ tissue storage

With over 3000 people enrolled as donors, this lab has performed 1400 autopsies since 1987.

We make our way to the morgue.

I ask a particular question and Geidy says … because I am a Scientist, I would not say that. What I will say is…etc. I am aware of her ability for careful listening and mindful answering. Naturally I’m compelled to try to do the same.

Before she brings brain tissue out for me to see, she ends a part of our conversation by noting she believes they are finding better ways of diagnosing insults to the brain.

The brain appears so delicate and so beautiful. She notes pathology in the sample she holds. We talk about gray (not really gray) and white matter. 

Coronal section of the brain

When I later show my husband these 2 photos, he reacts by saying it looks like highly conductive material. Yes it is. I pose a (philosophical) question but he has no response for me.

Cerebellum

Taken aback by the cerebellum (the little brain), I know my renderings are on point.

Below is the left hemisphere of the brain. Knowing my artwork will include the normal brain and the brain with dementia, I ask Do you have diseased tissue samples?  No, she does not.

External structure – left hemisphere of the brain

Geidy points out the Corpus Callosum and notes the area is where the 2 hemispheres connect (center flat horizontal area in image below). I don’t say it out loud but I recall corpus callosum is Latin for tough body.

Midsaggital Plane – left hemisphere of the brain

Surprised that she brings out a heart (below), I see it is unusually large with (too much) visible fat. This prompts a conversation about age, aging, weight gain and weight loss.

Heart

As we exit the morgue I photograph a curtain rack sitting in the hallway. It has an image of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. I recall the da Vinci book my father gives me that is currently sitting on my drawing table at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Finding the particular visual here represents for me a nod to timing and all that is right.

Walking back down the hallway, I hope to return to the area where the microscope sets up. I am eager to look at neurohistology. We meet Dr. Beach at the entrance to his lab and introductions take place. I also say goodbye to Geidi and thank her. She tells me she’ll go to the exhibit and she’ll invite her colleagues. It’s the sort of thing they’d all enjoy.

Dr. Beach and I have a very different interaction. He is curious to know what I am doing. I share a few drawings with him and one of his colleagues. I tell him about the artist residency and my father. He shares books and images with me. He explains particulars about dementia and Alzheimer’s. We look over some scans I bring along and he talks anatomy (CAT scan) and chemistry (PET scan). He tells me about glucose and synaptic connection.

We discuss the hippocampus and at one point he explains it is involved in only a small part of dementia (Alzheimer’s). He states dementia is a global loss of thinking. It’s not just about memory, it is about language (input and output), it is about losing ones understanding of abstraction…losing metaphor…and losing mathematics. He emphasizes…the whole of the cerebral cortex…is affected.

I ask about people who specifically use their intellect. I realize quickly everyone uses their intellect but I want to understand how an avid reader and thinker might be affected by dementia.  How (I really want to say why) does it take them (anyone)? Perhaps the root of my question is more emotional than logical. His general response is simple – the more one does with their brain (their mind) the longer it will take for it (the disease) to bring them down (I paraphrase).

Can you see a cure happening in your life time? He pauses before answering and I imagine it is because he is a scientist and wants to answer in a factual way. I suppose he can’t know the duration of his life. His response is firm – Yes. We will find a cure.

In your life time?  He may have answered – within 20 years – and then maybe changed his answer to 10 years. I can’t say for sure. I am listening intently though I forget to write this detail.

I never make it to the microscope to look at histology. It’s after lunch now and we’re both ready for a break. He extends an invitation for me to observe an autopsy. My name would  be put on a call list. I don’t jump at the opportunity. I’m good here and now.

As I make the drive home, I know the brain to be a most extraordinary organ. It is not like a computer. It is not a machine. It is a living thing – enfolding life.

In my artist statement I write about my interest in both the physical body and the subtle body. Perhaps I should use the words gross (what is visible to the eye) and subtle (what is not visible to the eye). Right in this moment I understand the brain to be the best example of this.

Thank you to everyone who helped direct me to the Banner Sun Health Research Center. Thank you Geidy Serrano for the tour. And thank you Dr. Thomas Beach (Senior Scientist and Lab Head) for the opportunity to meet with you.


draw: the art of curiosity and innovation is now open and continues through Sept 1, 2018. I am 1of 3 Artists-in-Residence through Aug 3, 2018. You can find me there every Tuesday, and depending on the week, either Thursday or Saturday.
More info → Gallery at TCA


 

cortical homunculus

This last week artist friend Tim, who has an undergrad degree in Neurobiology, sends me an image of a figure. Cortical homunculus, thought you mike like it, he writes.  He explains…a map of the nerve receptors in the brain as related to scale on the body. I know the 2D version of this 3D form and immediately  make the connection.

Cortical homunculus! Why didn’t I ever look closer and why didn’t I note the cool name (words always pull me)?  Homunculus is Latin for little man, add cortical and you have a cortex man (a man in the brain!). The depiction basically represent a map of the body, more specific, nerve fibers from the spinal cord, that end at various points in the parietal lobe formulating a map of the body. I see mostly male (it is a little man, after all) though I do find female representations.

Initiated by Dr. Wilder Penfield who envisioned an imaginary world in which a homunculi (a very small humanoid form) lived. He and his colleagues set up experiments to produce a topographical brain map and a corresponding homunculi.

I enjoy working out the composition and now that I understand, I plan to draw more of them. No doubt, my versions will include the female in the brain!

I label as best I can considering the space I set up before I know all that I will include. One side of the homunculus maps the sensory nerves, while the other side maps motor nerves. ↓

Sensory Cortex (sensory body map)

Motor Cortex (motor body map)

Scheduled to facilitate an adult workshop in mid July, for my artist-in-residency, I now consider the color, line and text of the Cortical homunculus.

draw, the art of curiosity and innovation

Artist-in-Residence studio spaces

One of three artist-in-residence, I will spend a couple of days, for the next 12 weeks, at the Tempe Center for the Arts (researching dementia and Alzheimer’s). They (we) set up our 3 studio spaces ↑. Mine includes a desk that resembles the one I have in my home studio. ↓

My studio area, and the beautiful braincase

Now to get used to working in a public space…

Arriving early, I decide to organize a blog post. My computer is not picking up wi-fi. Ahhh… I forgot the USB cable to connect my camera and computer. But hey, my camera works!

I enjoy looking closely at the work as I shoot details.

Ryan Carey

Beth Shook

Carolyn Lavender

Laura Tanner Graham

Christopher Jagmin

Mary Shindell

Matthew Dickson

Hyewon Yoon

Bobby Zokaites (Artist-in-Residence)

Kyllan Maney (Artist-in-Residence)

The gallery includes several art maker ↓ spaces.

Before the afternoon is over these women ↑ (who before entering the gallery were out enjoying Tempe Town Lake) walk over to my table. They want to talk about my work – the drawing of my father in particular. I gather they’re related: mother, daughter and grand-daughter. We talk about their family, aging and dementia. I also talk to a couple of other people including a friend who is an artist.

I drive home knowing we are all in this together. The connector is art.


We’re working things out. Hours subject to change until they’re not…
I’ll be in studio on Tuesday and possibly Thursday
Kyllan Maney considers Tuesday and Thursday or Saturday.
Bobby Zokaites plans for Wednesday and Saturday.

TCA has a drawing workshops scheduled almost every Saturday for the duration of the summer. More info →  draw: the art of curiosity and innovation