PRESCRIPTION FOR CHANGE: Through Art, Emison Art Gallery Exhibit Explores Health

The Depauw
Published on Tuesday, October 5, 1999
By Megan Hockley

Walking into the Emison Art Gallery these days may afford a few surprises, from a collection of deformed plastic baby dolls in metal cages to a bed featuring a quilt made entirely of matchsticks.

Eight local artists have joined an artist from New York to create "Rx: An Art Exhibition," a show that focuses on health. Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel, co-guest curators, organized the exhibit. The opening reception took place Sept. 30 with many of the artists present.

"We think that putting [art] into a thematic show enriches its meaning," McDaniel said. "There is a dialogue between the pieces."

Karen Baldner, of Indiana University/Purdue University - Indianapolis' Heron School of Art, uses life-size charcoal drawings resembling X-rays to make statements about survival from assault. The viewer sees the artist's spinal column, brain, heart and pelvis on damaged and marred paper, which symbolizes physical and psychological wounds.

Baldner's artist statement says: "My focus is on the actual act of survival from assault - an assault which reached down to the bones, the heart, the vital systems - but which ultimately did not destroy the core of life itself."

Perhaps the most intriguing work in "Rx: An Art Exhibition" is that of recent art school graduate Melissa Martin. Her three pieces are all bed converings and beds, structures that can be the site of birth, death, sickness, rest, dreams, nightmares and sexuality. In Martin's case, the beds are used to make a statement.

"It is a personal struggle of mine," Martin said. "It's also about the paradox that goes along with those issues."

One of the beds is covered with a security blanket made of matches stuck in a flexible material. "The blanket is about wanting a safe placed, but there's always ... danger present," Martin said.

"I like the matches, " said Susan Watt, University curator and Emison Art Gallery director. "I'm intrigued by the form and the concept ... the meticulous amount of work that went into it. I like the fact that there's a live person in the bed."

Freshman Abby Brosmer laid under the matchstick blanket for the opening reception.

"It's not bad at all," Brosmer said. "I actually fell asleep." Brosmer was asked to do the job by her freshman seminar instructor, Cynthia O'Dell, assistant professor of photography and video.

O'Dell had three photographic quilts on display from her series "Common Threads." She was "searching for heroines" to showcase on these pieces, which represent the experiences of women with breast cancer.

O'Dell's piece "Hariette Gruber" is a large photographic portrait of a middle-aged woman missing one breast as a result of mastectomy. Surrounding the portrait is text embroidered in gold lettering on black velvet, saying "I will be on chemo for the rest of my liife."

Despite the somber nature of the topic, the woman has her arms crossed and a defiant grin on her face, conveying a sense of hope which carries through the rest of O'Dells's work.

Chicago artist Katherine Shaughnessy has created "Mutants," a piece of art that considers the potential for genetic bioengineering. A series of metal cages enclose mutated figures which seem to be half-human, half-animal. Behind the cages is a large mirror that "insinuates that however weird it looks, it is our world. We are in here," McDaniel said.

He went on to explain that Shaughnessy's work is both a medical and social critique.

"It's not only science causing us to rethink how we look," McDaniel said. "Hollywood manipulates us."

"'Mutants' disturbs me the most," said senior Emily Jackson, a gallery volunteer who is concerned about genetic testing.

The show also features 26 woodcut images from "Cancerous People" a book by artist Virginia Tyson of Terre Haute. Each image corresponds to a letter of the alphabet, an image and a piece of text, such as "A is for Addiction to cigarettes, which leads to self-inflicted cancers."

I admire the way [Tyson] has used short text," McDaniel said. "It ups the emotional ante. She has a wonderful sense of wit and challenging notions as to who is to blame for cancer. There are subtleties in her work that belie the visual imagery."

Added Tyson: "I try to think about things with a little bit of humor. [Cancer] is scary, but sometimes people get what they deserve. Sometimes something so serious and scary can only be approached with levity."

Featured artist Eric Nordgulen, of the Heron School of Art, contributed nine life jacket sculptures made of materials from tobacco leaves to strips of Webster's Dictionary.

Nordgulen says that the lifejackets symbolize both disaster and salvation. They force people to ask questions about the relationship between the two opposites.

"Rx: An Art Exhibition" will be on display in Emison Art Gallery until Oct. 31. The gallery is open weekdays from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 - 5 p.m.


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