Yearly Archives: 2018

Fundamental Filaments in Sculptural Form, February 2018

Author: Excerpts from prior published articles
Publication: Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy
Published: February, 2018
Article PDF: Fundamental Filaments in Sculptural Form
Article link: http://cdt.amegroups.com/article/view/17315/18607

Judith Modrak’s art has focused on the hidden, yet deeply experienced aspects of the human condition. Her subjects—the origin of emotions and instincts, the location of memories, and the cellular anatomy of the brain—are esoteric and often intangible concepts that she seeks to translate into three-dimensional, emotive forms. The interior landscapes that are revealed during unguarded moments or hidden deep in the recesses of the brain drive her work, their mysteries a continuous source of inquiry. Modrak’s work is a series of investigations—the texture of memory, the repetitive nature of experience with age, the physical experience of vulnerability or mortal decline. Jungian archetypes, folk stories, and creation myths converge with the biochemistry of neurons and neurotransmitters. Her sculptures are often hauntingly familiar to their audience; by mirroring their beholders with a pronounced stance or curve, they offer deeply human embodiments of psychological and emotional states.Within this realm of anthropomorphic, three-dimensional form and gesture, deeply tactile surfaces mimic the encoding of memory and experience. All of the sculptures are formed by hand, clay, and plaster, imagining the obscured terrain of the human experience (Figures 1,2).

Figure 1 Familial Memory and Family of Memories, 2016—investigate the nature of memory formation and family dynamics. 44”×28”×30”, plaster cast and oil; 37”×36”×24”, plaster cast, pigment and oil on plaster base.

Figure 2 Here and ThereHere and There, 2015—amplifies and reimagines bipolar disorder from a neuron’s perspective. 88”×12”×14”, plaster cast, pigment and oil on wood base.

The great neuroscientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal once described the human brain as “a world consisting of a number of unexplored continents and great stretches of unknown territory.” Modrak reflects on Cajal’s view of the brain’s unexplored continents, asking herself what these hidden parts of ourselves look like and what they tell us about our internal composition and one another.

Our Memories, an interactive audience participatory sculptural installation on Governors Island, addressed the nature of memory and experience through the creation of a collective memorial piece.

Our Memories first unveiled in the fall of 2016 in the form of an outdoor installation composed of three translucent sculptures involving the audience in unexpected ways. Recognizing the need to record one’s personal experience, this neuron inspired, humanesque sculptures contained cavities in which the participants placed a color-coded acrylic “memory” stone. The viewer recalled a powerful memory and then shared the memory by depositing it in a sculpture. Memories were color-coded into six primary emotive categories: joy, anger, love, sadness, fear and surprise. The sculptures took on the colors of the collective “memories” and transformed as the piece came to life and stored more “memories”. The larger vision is to add new memory sculptures with each installation, ultimately collecting emotions and memories from people all over the world (Figures 3-7).

Figure 3 Our Memories sculpture, 2016—explores the recollection and storage of personal and collective memories. 54”×22”×24” and 60”×16”×24”, fiberglass resin casts on metal bases.

Figure 4 Our Memories sculpture close-up, 2016—explores the recollection and storage of personal and collective memories. 54”×22”×24” and 60”×16”×24”, fiberglass resin casts on metal bases.

Figure 5 Our Memories on Governors Island, 2016—visitors adding color-coded memory stones to the empty sculptures. 54”×22”×24” and 60”×16”×24”, fiberglass resin cast on metal base.

Figure 6 Our Memories on Governors Island, 2016—sculptures with memory stones storing personal and collective memories. 54”×22”×24” and 60”×16”×24”, fiberglass resin cast on metal base.

Figure 7 Our Memories on Governors Island, 2016—sculpture filled with thousands of collective memories. 54”×22”×24” and 60”×16”×24”, fiberglass resin cast on metal base.

About the artist

New York sculptor Judith Modrak is fascinated with scientific advances that increase our understanding of the mechanisms that trigger and regulate thought, action, memory and feelings. Her sculpted figurative forms, embedded with messages of hope and despair, seek to decode inner psychological and emotive worlds as she tackles universal issues of empathy, cognition, aging and mental illness. Her work has exhibited in solo and group shows in galleries and museums throughout the United States including Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, the Trenton Art Museum, Point Park University, the Palm Beach Art Armory, the Woodstock Museum, the Hartnett Gallery and is represented in many private collections.

Modrak has received a chashama/National Endowment for the Arts grant and two gold medals in sculpture from the National Association of Women Artists, among other awards. Her work has been featured and reviewed in literary, scientific and news publications, including The Seaside Times, The Gothamist, SciArt, Sculpture Magazine, and The Pittsburgh-Tribune. For more information about Modrak and her work, visit www.judithmodrak.com and Instagram/Facebook @JudithModrak.


Acknowledgements

Photographs of sculptures in studio taken by Metin Oner; Installation photos of Our Memories on Governors Island taken by Judith Modrak.


Footnote

Conflicts of Interest: The author has no conflicts of interest to declare.

Cite this article as: Modrak J. Fundamental filaments in sculptural form. Cardiovasc Diagn Ther 2018;8(1):118-120. doi: 10.21037/cdt.2017.10.10

 

When 2 (Disciplines) Become 1: Reflections on the Convergence of Art and Science, January 2018

Author: Amanda Montañez
Publication: Scientific American
Published: January 10, 2018
Article PDF: When 2 (Disciplines) Become 1: Reflections on the Convergence of Art and Science
Article link: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/sa-visual/when-2-disciplines-become-1

Last month I had the pleasure of attending two separate conferences focused on the intersection of art and science. I had co-organized one of the events, a one-day affair called SciVizNYC, which featured 15 speakers working in various fields involving science visualization. After listening to this diverse series of professionals, including medical illustrators, journalists, fine artists and academics, I headed off to a weekend-long conference called Art & Science: The Two Cultures Converging. As I climbed the steps of the venue, still buzzing with inspiration from SciVizNYC, I wondered what more could be said on a theme I felt I had just explored so thoroughly.

In fact, it turned out there were volumes more to be said. In 12 hours of discussion over three days, surprisingly little of the Art & Science conference felt redundant or even similar to the material covered at SciVizNYC. The distinction arose in part from the format of the event: rather than a series of speakers expounding individually, the conference featured several roundtable discussions, each focused on one of three themes: “Science-Art Collaboration;” “STEAM and the Future of Education” (STEAM being STEM + Art); and “Science, Art and Society.” Moreover, the event felt tonally very different from any other conference I had attended. The discussion often veered into abstract, philosophical, even existential territory, leaving me at once enlightened and a little disoriented.

I am used to thinking of the intersection of art and science in fairly concrete terms. In my work as a graphics editor for Scientific American, art is essentially a tool for communicating science. And much of the science-themed fine art I have seen appears to do something similar, if less tangibly. The neuron-like sculptures of Judith Modrak, for example, are inspired by advances in neuropsychology and read as visual contemplations of this mysterious field of science and its connection to our humanity. Without conveying a clear academic message, Modrak’s work certainly seems to celebrate science and invites viewers to consider how the physical structures of the brain translate into who they are.

Thought Storm, created at E2C, 2017, Judith Modrak. Credit: Image courtesy of the artist

But, as some of the roundtable participants pointed out, art can have other roles with respect to science. As it does with virtually every aspect of society, art can serve as a critic. It can point out science’s shortcomings, or even parody it. And in the face of ethically dubious research practices or the global threat of nuclear technology, art can hold up a mirror and act as a moral compass. The work of visual artist Jordan Eagles provides one example of art in this role: his project Blood Mirror challenges the Food and Drug Administration’s policies regarding blood donation by gay and bisexual men.

Blood Mirror sculpture by Jordan Eagles. Credit: Leo Herrera (photo)

Additionally, practicing an art can enrich scientific thought. The example of Einstein’s dedication to the violin was cited several times at the conference, as was the exquisite draftsmanship of the neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal. In both cases, the scientists’ artistic practice made them better scientific thinkers and observers—and in Cajal’s case, doubled as a tool for communicating his findings.

Albert Einstein playing his violin, 1932. Credit: Getty Images

The Art & Science event also stretched my thinking with respect to different modes of artistic expression. Being a visual artist myself, I reflexively tend to think of art within a gallery setting—paintings, sculptures, installations, and other (usually) static, permanent or semi-permanent media types. But this conception of art leaves out dance, for example, which has yielded fascinating expressions of scientific ideas—such as Elizabeth Streb’s amazing, acrobatic explorations of Newtonian physics. Roundtable participants also made several references to film, including Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and large-scale public installations such as Agnes Denes’ 1982 ecological artwork Wheatfield: A Confrontation. Such works can exert a substantial impact on their audience in part by rejecting the gallery setting in favor of a less aloof, more socially prevalent backdrop.

Looking toward more practice-oriented issues, conference participants discussed challenging the typical hierarchy of roles in science-art collaboration. In such interdisciplinary endeavors, it is easy to view one field as functioning in service of the other. In my role, for example, there is a necessary hierarchy: I create images that communicate science, and while I do enjoy some artistic freedom, the relevant scientific information, above all else, drives the development of each graphic. Yet, this relationship can also exist in reverse. At the School of Visual Art’s Bio Art Lab, for instance, science serves art—or, more precisely, science becomes a medium for creating art. As students sculpt with mushrooms or paint with bacteria, the line between artist and scientist begins to disappear.

Bio Art Lab at the School of Visual Arts, 2012. Credit: Raul Valverde

At one point during the conference, the discussion leader pointed out that the vast majority of science-art collaborations are initiated by artists. Another participant commented that “artists are not great collaborators” because they don’t want to take instruction. For many artists, I suspect this is true—an artist’s work usually originates from whatever inspires her personally, so for a scientist (or anyone, for that matter) to instigate a collaborative project may prove fruitless.

However, as an artist who has always preferred structured assignments over open-ended ones, I would challenge this notion. I love taking instruction! And in my experience, most people who go into scientific or medical visualization are similarly oriented as artists. We are not necessarily driven by a need to express our own emotions or experiences, or to make statements through our art. Instead, we simply want to draw. Give us something to draw, and we will represent it skillfully, relishing the whole meticulous process. My field of work not only validates this preference, but the “something” I get to draw is invariably fascinating in both substance and form. Moreover, my work serves a concrete purpose—to convey scientific information—which strengthens and sustains my motivation.

This idea may get to the heart of why the Art & Science conference differed so sharply from SciVizNYC, despite appearing so closely aligned thematically. Scientific visualization is just one specific type of science-art collaboration. And while it is crucially important, its reach is limited. Other permutations of the intersection of art and science are incredibly diverse and abundant, and as both fields evolve, surely so will the connections between them.

Recorded discussions from the Art & Science conference are available here. Those in the New York City area can also check out other events from the SciArt Center, which aims to “stimulate and cultivate the growth of partnerships between the arts and sciences on the local scale.”