Artist's Statement: Inscription drawings
2016 (first edition: 12 pieces)
Laser cut on birchwood panel
20"x 16"x 1.5" each
2018 (second edition: 13 pieces)
Laser cut with acrylic and varnish on birchwood panel
20"x 16"x 1.5" each & 18"x 18"
Inscription drawings series was created during my tenure as artist-in-residence at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Observations made during my residency at this biomedical research institute made me feel more aware of the sense of compressed time. What I mean is that how we experience time, and that the things are moving at a very fast speed. For example, the Human Genome Project took 13 years to complete and it cost 2.7 billion dollars. It was completed in 2003. Today, sequencing of the human genome takes a day or two, and costs less than $3,000. Scientists were telling me that the experiments which used to take a decade now takes much shorter time period, much the same case as sequencing the human genome.
How did we get here? This was one of my first thoughts which led me to investigate the beginning of medical history.
The Edwin Smith Papyrus is the earliest known surgical treatise on trauma, from 1,600 BC in Egypt, that included prognosis for the first time in recorded history. On this papyrus, rational science is not seen as being at odds with magic, and on its verso, magic spells are recorded as legitimate medical treatments.
Fascinated with this papyrus, I created a number of works combining images of magic spells that I traced from a copy of a book on the Edwin Smith Papyrus. These drawings were then made into laser cut on vellum. During the laser cutting process, I experimented with different types of substrate for various vapor effects on papers.
During the laser cutting process, my attention went to the base board of the laser cutting equipment. My laser cut technician had just opened her laser cutting studio, and I was one of her first clients. Because there were only just a few burned marks from the previous laser cut projects, I could easily see the burned effects on the base board after each cutting. I found it interesting and beautiful. I also experimented with birchwood as one of my substrate for the vapor effect, and I liked the marks that laser cut left on the birchwood. So, I decided to make work on birchwood panels.
My project at the Broad Institute explored the interconnectedness between knowledge and belief, while bringing forth forgotten ideas—like the magic spells once considered legitimate. What have we lost? What do we still believe? What do we hope to find? These ancient spells—indecipherable to the untrained eye—operate also as formal visual elements, like technical scientific writing today that can sometimes seem at once beautiful and difficult for a layperson to understand.
In a time when science, medicine, and technology are accelerating at a rate unprecedented in human history, I revisit our ancient beliefs and find exploration as a recurring theme for scientists and artists alike, there is always the quest for discovery, knowledge, creation, and beauty.
A quotation from T. S. Eliot’s long poem “Little Gidding” has been laser cut onto a wood panel and displayed, but then a backward version of this same text, lying over the inscription, makes it difficult to read. The same Eliot quotation concludes the paper on the Human Genome Project, “Initial sequencing and analysis of the human genome,” originally published in Nature in 2001:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
The first edition of Inscription drawings series was exhibited as a part of my solo exhibition, “Lost and Found” at the Boston Arts Academy in the fall of 2017.
Throughout the exhibit, to point back toward a cycle of exploration, I presented paradoxical ideas. Scholars believe that in ancient Egypt, when the Edwin Smith Papyrus was written, the same content was recopied many times, spanning 200 to 300 years, and this means that the methods of diagnosing and treating patients did not change significantly. Only fifteen years after the sequencing of the human genome was completed in 2003, we’re talking about precision medicine. During recent decades, science, medicine, and technology have been moving at an exponential speed. How do we begin to comprehend a world which moves at this super-fast speed? For me, it was by looking back to see where we started, and in understanding that progress is never a straight line.
The second edition of this work is currently shown in my solo exhibit, "Excerpts" at the Hollister Gallery at Babson College through November 1, 2019.
Image below is a partial view of the installation.