Bone Stories is a loosely knit group of images that I made over a period of several years, based on bones collected as study specimens. During a facility cleanup at Reed College, bones from courses taught in the 1930's and 40's were discovered stored in a janitor's closet. Opening the dusty and often mislabeled boxes was a highly charged experience. like small burials, these specimens seemed imbued with meaning. My encounter with this material began my work with scientific study collections.
I made a sequence of sixteen grids with many of the cat bones used in Twelve Cats. The changing arrangement of the bones from one grid to the next is reflected in the various grid structures, which are made with string, thread, and nails. The work refers to navigation (finding one's way through the unknown), archaeology (discovering order in chaos), and text. There is movement--a building up, a breaking apart, a falling down--throughout the piece.
Comparative Anatomy seeks to re-create the experience of anticipation and revelation that I had when I first opened the boxes of specimens from Reed College. With the diptych form I was able to give equal weight to the cover of the box and to its contents. The layers of text--labels postmarks--on the candy, cigar, and scientific-supply storage containers provide historic and ironic contexts.
In Cartwheel Suite, a series of six 40" x 50" gelatin silver prints, I used the bones of a disarticulated calf. I stored the bones in a corrugated box that had contained large sheets of mat board. One evening, the light in my basement studio transformed the bones into aluminous figure, suggesting to me a "dance of death." I made alterations to the box and rearranged and re-photographed the bones until the "cartwheel" movement developed. The painted and delaminated box can be perceived in various ways (as stage curtains, coffin fabric, candy wrapper, and so on).
Together, the six images depict an acrobatic sequence in which the expressions of the figure are joyous and have a spirit of high good humor. The juxtaposition of the cartwheel and the skeletal materials suggests the Epicurean injunction carpe diem, "seize the day."
These butterflies and moths from India were preserved in folded, triangular paper wrappings. I photographed them so that the wrappings appear to extend out from the picture plane, as might the wing of the insect. All of the images in the series rotate on an axis around a shared central point, and a delicate sense of movement is suggested as the direction of the light changes from one piece to the next.
The diagonal lighting in this series echoes the visual impression I had when I opened the door of a weathered shed in Canada's Northwest Territories and saw a shaft of sunlight transform the bleached skull of a horse. The title refers to the malevolent toy of that name, which provokes multiple responses: surprise, fright, laughter. Although all the images are composed using the horse skull and a piece of cloth inside a corrugated box, each suggests a unique character--a jester, a swamp creature, and so on--some more ambiguous than others.
The selecting and categorizing of insect specimens in collections is an effort to impose order on the diversity of nature. Some of the collections I photographed for Insecta were methodically arranged by scientists; others offer a random record of a collector's travels. For one of the photographs I placed a friend's treasured moth specimens in a standard collection box, which can house one insect or one thousand.
In these small portraits of animal fetal specimens from Portland State University and lewis & Clark College, I wanted to call attention to the exquisite way in which form evolves, and to the evolutionary history and life force that we share with other living beings. The colors are achieved by selective masking in conjunction with various combinations of toners and stains.
The Marine Algae Project
In the spring of 2003 I was invited to spend a month at the Whiteley Center residence for scholars and artists at the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island. In particular, I was there to photograph in the marine algae herbarium. In these pigment prints, the physicality of the ink on paper closely mimics the thinly pressed algae specimens, and the photographic prints take on attributes of graphic media such as watercolor or pastel.
The Marine Algae Project comprises three groups of work: Celebration Quartet, Cors Mortale, and Evidence of Its Occurrence.
The shapes of the seaweeds in Celebration Quartet suggest chalices raised in toast.
Cors Mortale, Latin for human (mortal) heart, is a play on descriptive taxonomic determinations of genus and species. As I looked through hundreds of marine algae specimens, remarkable and suggestive forms began to recur. In this series the seaweeds represent hearts--as muscles, as icons, as metaphors. I created my own Latin nomenclature for these images, based on taxonomic naming conventions.
Evidence of its Occurrence
This work takes its name from text I found on a specimen card that carried just a stain of what had once been preserved. The piece Evidence, which bears part of this text, serves as a sort of frontispiece, referring to the value of collecting, preserving, and identifying as a basis for scientific knowledge and understanding. The text takes on elegiac resonance in this age of habitat depletion.
During a second artist residency at the Whiteley Center in 2004 I came across a collection from 1908. I was especially taken by the bits of "tape"--usually strips cut from labels--that bound the pressed plants to the paper. I found that adding more strips of label and tape increased the spatial dimension of the pieces and provided an abstract counterpoint to the figurative reproductions of the specimens.