"Untitled #16" (In-Sight series) from the project WHILE I AM STILL. Image courtesy of the artist.
SciArt: As an artist, you came to focus on science as your subject matter a bit later in your career. What pushed you in this direction?
Linda Alterwitz: After graduate school, I continued painting and drawing for about 15 years. The paintings were large scale and non-representational, heavily influenced by the Abstract Expressionist movement. After events in my life, there came a point in time within the last decade where I felt my work needed more meaning. Although I appreciate and relate to non-representational work on so many levels, the fact of the matter was that I had changed. This recognition encouraged me to search, which in turn led me to my intrigue with the intersection of art and science.
Above is the condensed, but true, version of why, as an artist, I decided to focus on science as my subject matter. Yet more accurately, I can say that the “events in my life” made me realize that life is about science and science is about life.
About 15 years ago I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was removed and because of the time that has gone by, it now lives as a hazy memory. Yet at that traumatic time in my life, the events had affected my psyche in a way that made me certain that science was bound to seep into my art at some point.
The event that led up to the idea of using medical imagery in my art began with one of my routine brain MRIs. My physician asked me to take the scan home because the measurements were inaccurate due to the fact that I was sent to the “wrong” imaging machine. The film of my MRI sat in my closet for a couple of years until I had the courage to bring it out and take a close look. I was so fascinated by the imagery that the large film quickly made its way to my light box. I have been using medical imaging to some degree in my art ever since.
What began as a personal project of healing and understanding quickly evolved into something much bigger. To my surprise, I came to discover that there was an entire community of artists and scientists who shared what I formerly believed was a personal vision. This relatively new movement of art and science possesses incredible momentum, and I am thrilled to be living in a time when the blending of these two fields has given both artists and scientists the ability to reach a broader audience.
"Untitled #75” (Portrait series) from the proj-ect WHILE I AM STILL. Image courtesy of the artist.
SciArt: In your project “WHILE I AM STILL," you overlay medical imagery with your own photography of landscape and fabrics. Can you talk a little bit about what is behind these works?
LA: My ongoing project WHILE I AM STILLcurrently consists of two photographic series, “In-Sight” and “Portrait.” Through these works I challenge the viewer to explore a disquieting escape of the mind amidst the physical body’s subjugation of testing inside a medical imaging machine. I weave together images of the human body derived from medical PET scans with landscapes and with images of fabrics, revealing ethereal figures in a raw and vulnerable state. The mind, wrestling with sadness, fear, and hope, retreats to a safe refuge. I hope to bring insight and awareness to the struggle and the resulting withdrawal of the inner mind.
SAiA: In “Flesh and Bone,” you use canine X-rays to form landscapes images. What do you think is gained from this overlay?
LA: The “Flesh and Bone” images appear as moody, ambiguous landscapes, tied together with muted tonalities and a shifting horizontal line that divides land and sky. Yet there’s a kind of tension accompanying the silent pictorial space: A metal screw suspended in time for a fleeting moment, vertebrae that create a contour line defining a section of land mass and unidentifiable filaments moving in space map out a visual journey of an unreal world.
By reshaping x-rays into landscapes, “Flesh and Bone” uses internal landscapes as a mimetic reflection of the external world to show how everything, from dust to dogs, is connected. This series reminds us through both fear and acceptance that we are all made of the same particle matter with apparent strengths and hidden vulnerabilities.
“Untitled #4 (Daisy)" from the series Flesh & Bone . Image courtesy of the artist.
SciArt: As a science-based artist, how do you view the role of such work in terms of the art world, and the audience?
LA: Through my work, I strive to bring imagination to the logical mind and add dimension to the creative mind, reflecting what lies beneath the surface of our physical beings. That’s the easy part. Finding my audience and getting that idea across to my audience, there’s the challenge.
Someone whose opinion I respect once asked me the question of whether my work was art or science. In which category did it belong? I told him it was both, there was no separating the two, they are interconnected. He gave me an analogy - that my work resides on the space where two benches meet and therefore it has the inclination to fall through the crack. For my work to move forward, he told me, I need to be clear regarding specifically what category the work represents and defining my audience. After much consideration of his words, I must say he is right. And he is wrong.
He is right in regards to publishing a book, when knowing and targeting your audience equates to having your book published and resulting sales. Yet he clearly is wrong as well. It certainly is possible to reside in two worlds and find a broad audience. Incredible artists such as David Maisel, Jo Whaley, Justine Cooper, Laura Splan (and so many other great artists) have bridged that gap. Their successes give me great optimism that this new movement of art and science will continue to make great leaps forward!