Yearly Archives: 2016

Panelist for “The Mind’s Eye: The Art & Science of Awareness”

Dates: November 30th, 7-9 p.m.
Location: 61 Local, 61 Bergen St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 (Upstairs)
This event is a production of SciArt Center and YHouse
21+, Free and open to the public

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How does awareness arise? Defined as knowledge or perception of a situation or fact, awareness plays a large role in our conscious and unconscious lives. From the neurobiological to the psychological, awareness spans the micro and macro levels of our human existence.

Join us for an evening of cross-disciplinary conversation we discuss awareness as interpreted and researched by artists and scientists. The evening will consist of three presentations followed by a panel discussion.

Panelists include:
Judith Modrak (artist): http://judithmodrak.com/
China Blue (artist): http://www.chinablueart.com/
Nicholas Stavropoulos (Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience & Physiology, NYU Neuroscience Institute)
Moderator: Nadja Oretelt (scientist, producer, filmmaker)

Dendrites featured in Art the Science blog, Nov. 2016

Author: Julia Krolik, blog curator
Publication: Art the Science
Published: November 4, 2016
Article link: https://artthescience.com/blog/2016/11/04/works-dendrites/
Article PDF: works-dendrites-by-judith-modrak-art-the-science-blog

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New York based artist Judith Modrak draws inspiration from neuroscience to create a sculptural body of work titled Dendrites. Dendrites are the branched parts of a nerve cell responsible for receiving signals for the cell to become active. Modrak anthropomorphizes dendrites and adds an accessible and tangible element to her work by increasing their scale. Several of Modrak’s Dendrites sculptures are over five feet tall.

What inspired you to include neuroscience in your work?

Decoding our internal physiological and emotive worlds has been an ongoing source of artistic inspiration and interest to me. Examining our differences and similarities led to a desire to understand the brain and the mechanisms responsible for triggering and regulating thought, action and emotion.

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Fading Memory, 2016 – 44″x24″x34″, plaster cast, oil on wood base

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fading Memory, 2016 - 44"x24"x34", plaster cast, oil on wood base

Fading Memory, 2016 – 44″x24″x34″, plaster cast, oil on wood base

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over a decade ago, I read about the role of neurotransmitters in psychological states, and mental illness, and their influence on one’s mood and overall well-being. Revelations about how our brains are encoded helped to explain my reactions to certain life events, as well as those around me.

In 2013, the seed for what became the Dendrites series was planted as I read an article about advances in understanding the role that neurons and dendrites play in autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The current belief is that ordinary experiences along with neurological aberrations create distinct neural pathways and formations. The anthropomorphic sculptures in this series use dendrites and neurons as a departure point to unmask larger themes of aging, family dynamics, memory and disease.

When I'm Scared_Judith Modrak

When I’m Scared, 2014 – 42”x46”x12”, plaster cast, pigment and oil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I'm Scared_Judith Modrak

When I’m Scared, 2014 – 42”x46”x12”, plaster cast, pigment and oil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you describe your process when planning Dendrites? Did you have all of the pieces in mind before starting?

Interestingly, I have never pondered this question before and in fact, as I begin each series, I am never certain of how many sculptures will ultimate comprise the group. For Dendrites, I began with When I’m Old, which was a contemplation of old age from the vantage point of a younger age. When I’m Oldprobes into the manner in which memories and experiences accrue over a lifetime. The figure’s long dendritic branches reach skyward and back in time. The sculpture’s nucleus is filled with smaller replicas of the larger dendrite to emphasize the repetitive nature of emotion and experience as we age. Delving into aging naturally led to the next sculpture, When I Was Young, which is a reimagining of a fertile, newly formed neuron only beginning to generate memories and experiences.

When I'm Old_Judith Modrak

When I’m Old, 2013 – 44”x10”x18”, plaster cast, oil, pigment and silver leaf on wood base. Recipient of the Nicholas Buhalis Award of Excellence, 2014 (private collection)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aging led to other considerations regarding the emotional states of neurons and dendrites, which materialized in pieces such as Tried to Change and When I’m Scared. Tried to Change interprets what a cell in transition may look like, trying to change, though perhaps unable to with a palpable desire for connection in the form of a dendritic arm reaching out. Conversely, When I’m Scared, is turned inward and curled in a protective, fetal position, unable or in such a state of fright to reach out.

Here and There_Judith Modrak

Here and There, 2015 – 88”x12”x14”, plaster cast, pigment and oil on wood base

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
In Here and There, I explored in great depth the underlying concepts contained in the New York Times article responsible for sparking the larger Dendrites series. Here and There is based on bipolar disorder, a condition my twin step-siblings have. Scientific research suggests that certain conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have associated degeneration of synapses and dendritic spines. The spines are considered “immature” and do not develop fully. Here and There manifests this discovery in the form of a shortened, almost reptilian spine along her back, while the other attributes of her sculptural form are entirely imagined. Her long dendritic arms are intertwined, though never touch. Her rose to deep red nucleus is filled with sunbursts and striations, representing the intensity of both aspects of this condition—the mania and depression, with the gradations in between.

Familial Memory and Family of Memories, 2016 - 44"x28"x30", plaster cast and oil , 2015 - 37”x36”x24”, plaster cast, pigment and oil on plaster base

Familial Memory and Family of Memories, 2016 – 44″x28″x30″, plaster cast and oil , 2015 – 37”x36”x24”, plaster cast, pigment and oil on plaster base

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final sculptural piece in the series, Family of Memories, serves as a bridge from Dendrites into my current series, Vital Memories. The sculptures represent a Madonna and Child grouping with a noticeable twist in the form of a human-like neuron mother cradling several smaller cellular forms. The sculptures also depict bits of memories being assembled and cultivated to create a larger, more defined memory. As I pondered the memory function more, the natural evolution was to create a series entirely devoted to personifying aspects of short term, long term, working, autobiographical, collective, and compromised memory.

Fundamental Filaments featured in Rochester Review Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2016

Author: Karen McCally ’02 (PhD)
Publication: Rochester Review, University of Rochester
Published: September, 2016
Website: Rochester Review
Article PDF: An Artist’s Homecoming

Rochester Review_Judith Modrak

Sculptor Judith Modrak lives in Manhattan and keeps a studio on Union Square. But she remains pretty rooted in Rochester. Her mother, Deborah Modrak, a professor of philosophy, has been teaching Rochester students the ancient Greeks since 1982. Her brother, physician Joseph Modrak, treats patients at the Strong Sleep Disorders Center, and her husband, Mark Lobene, is a native. She visits often. Still, her solo exhibition, opening in the River Campus’s Hartnett Gallery during Meliora Weekend, is a special kind of homecoming. “Your time at a university is a milestone in your life. A solo exhibition is a milestone in an artist’s life. The two converge in a really wonderful way,” she says. Titled Fundamental Filaments, Modrak’s exhibit will consist of about a dozen pieces that reflect her full range. Her aim, she says, is “to shed light in sculptural form on the complex neural and psychological circuitry involved in bringing life to our memories and experiences.” The Hartnett Gallery, on the second floor of Wilson Commons, is a student-run professional gallery. Part of Wilson Commons from the student center’s inception, the gallery is celebrating its 40th year. For more information about the gallery, the exhibition, and the complete 2016–17 exhibition schedule, visit blogs.rochester.edu/hartnett/.

Fundamental Filaments at Hartnett Gallery

Fundamental Filaments at Hartnett Gallery, artist talk on opening night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judith Modrak
Home: New York City
Exhibition: Fundamental Filaments Hartnett Gallery, Wilson Commons
Opens October 7, Meliora Weekend, and runs through October 30.  Modrak has exhibited in solo and group shows in galleries and museums across the country in cities such as Los Angeles, Palm Beach, Trenton, and New York. Her work is also held in many private collections.

Fundamental Filaments at Hartnett Gallery

Fundamental Filaments at Hartnett Gallery, opening night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What got you thinking about memory?
I was always drawn to art and expressive media as a child, and as an adult, to psychology and biology as well. What intrigues me so much about memories are questions like, Why are some so poignant, joyful, or unnerving, and others ephemeral? Where are they? What regions of our minds do they inhabit? They’re elusive and incredible.

What are dendrites, and why depict them?
Dendrites are the branches, similar to arms and legs, of a nerve cell. Scientists once thought they were passive transmitters of information, and then they recently discovered that dendrites aid in etching and storing memories. The essence of sculpture is that it occupies physical space. And in a way, the physicality of sculpture mirrors the physicality of actual memories as they’re imprinted in our brains. As I investigated and sculpted neurons and dendrites more, they came alive to me in a very anthropomorphic way.

Fundamental Filaments at Hartnett Gallery

Fundamental Filaments at Hartnett Gallery, opening night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What can an artist’s rendering offer that scientific investigation can’t?
For me, art has always been a tangible expression of one’s experience. In one series of figures, I explore feelings of vulnerability, uncertainty, and anxiety to provide a lens for other people to explore their own feelings, which can be unsettling, though equally cathartic. My sculptures provides a three-dimensional emotional interpretation of phenomena and experience. From earliest times, humans have sought ways to record their experience in material form and leave testimony that their lives mattered. I really do view the artist as a visual anthropologist of sorts. In my case, I’m rendering a very small sliver in the overarching timeline of human evolution. And at this particular time, I’m struck by the amazing advances in neuroscience. Collectively we understand what’s happening in our brains in a way that we never have before. It’s really quite astounding.

Fundamental Filaments at Hartnett Gallery

Fundamental Filaments at Hartnett Gallery, opening night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fundamental Filaments at Hartnett Gallery

Fundamental Filaments at Hartnett Gallery, opening night

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Fundamental Filaments at Hartnett Gallery, opening night