Category Archives: Press Release

Judith Modrak featured in Art the Science, April 2017

Author: Julia Krolik
Publication: Art the Science
Published: April 7, 2017
Article link: https://artthescience.com/blog/2017/04/07/creators-judith-modrak/

Which came first in your life, the science or the art?

Art and science were fairly intertwined in the sense of a curiosity about the natural world and a desire to record my experience in the form of artistic expression. Both tendencies appeared at a very young age and constitute my earliest, fondest memories. One early memory around the age of five summons both tendencies when I witnessed the birth of kittens and then later documented this miraculous event in the form of a crayon drawing.

When I’m Old, 2013 – 44”x10”x18”, plaster cast, oil, pigment and silver leaf on wood base.

Which sciences relate to your art practice?
Neuroscience, psychology, biology, botany, genetics, geology, and anthropology.

What materials do you use to create your artworks?

I use a number of different materials in my art practice, including plaster cast, resin, bronze, and most recently fibreglass cast resin. Regardless of the ultimate cast form, all sculptures follow a similar initial process from rough sketch to wire armature to clay model to rubber mold to the ultimate resin/bronze/plaster or fibreglass cast.

You’re Safe, 2011 – 26”x14”x14”, plaster casts, oil, pigment on wood base

I have a special affinity toward plaster as it has a tangible alive quality based in part on being quarried from minerals. Another core attribute of cast plaster is its ability to absorb oil and other patinas. Colour pigmentation is a critical element in my work and plaster’s ability to soak up paint allows for a painterly, sculptural skin.

My first interactive sculptural installation this past September, Our Memories, utilized fibreglass resin casts. Fibreglass allows for an ethereal, translucent quality and I can readily envision more pieces involving this evocative medium too.

Witness Figures Group

Artwork/Exhibition you are most proud of:

It’s very difficult to choose one particular piece or exhibition as my perceptions change over time. Scattered over the past two decades, there have been a number of critical break-throughs which stand out. Most recently, the two events I am extraordinarily excited about are Our Memories and Fundamental Filaments.

Our Memories, unveiled as part of the 9th Annual Governors Island Art Fair this fall, was an outdoor installation composed of three translucent sculptures involving the audience in unexpected ways. Recognizing the need to record one’s personal experience, these neuron-inspired sculptures contained cavities in which the participants placed a colour-coded acrylic stone “memory”. The idea was for a viewer to recall a powerful memory and then share the memory by depositing it in a sculpture. Memories were colour coded into six primary emotive categories: joy, anger, love, sadness, fear, and surprise. The sculptures took on the colours of the collective “memories” and transformed as the piece came to life and stored more “memories”.

Our Memories @ Governors Island Art Fair, part of the Vital Memories Series, 2016 54”x22”x24” and 60”x16”x24”, fiberglass resin cast on metal base

Our Memories was a first for me on a number of levels—my first outdoor sculptural realization, the first time I used fibreglass resin as a material and, most critically, the first time I actively involved the audience in the physical creation of the ultimate work. While this was a natural progression from earlier investigations into the origin of memory and emotion, in series such as Dendrites and Vital Memories, the idea of “creating” a shared memory is a radical departure from my more traditional mode of audience engagement. It was an amazing experience on all levels – emotional, personal, collective, and artistic!

Fundamental Filaments, a solo exhibition at the University of Rochester’s Hartnett Gallery for the month of October contained a selection of over 15 pieces, taken from four series, surveying the last five years of my practice. Sculptures from Dendrites and Vital Memorieselegantly and tenderly unraveled the mysteries of the mind in anthropomorphic form, while works from Ancestors and Standing rebuilt them in representational form. A solo show is a milestone in an artist’s life and also a welcome opportunity to observe and take note of the threads joining one’s work, as well as all of us together.

Fundamental Filaments at Hartnet Gallery

Which scientists and/or artists inspire and/or have influenced you?

I have been, and continue to be, influenced by many artists and scientists.

I gravitate toward artists who have an authentic vision and whose work embodies a larger emotional or societal truth. For example, Munch’s The Scream, Picasso’s Guernica, Kathe Kolwitz’s Mother with her Dead Son, Goya’s Black Paintings, Michelangelo’s La Pieta, Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, Rodin’s Gates of Hell, Klimt’s The Three Ages of Woman, Kahlo’s A Few Small Nips, Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, Bourgeois’ Spider, Monet’s Water Lilies, and so many other masterpieces, have been very instrumental.

My interest in Oliver Sacks predates Dendrites and my other brain inspired sculptures. I have eagerly read his ruminative and provocative books, though my favourite is still, not surprisingly, An Anthropologist on Mars. Several years ago I had the great honour of meeting Oliver Sacks and received his encouragement to continue my work and to read Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken.

Family of Memories, 2015 – 37”x36”x24”, plaster cast, pigment and oil on plaster base

Jung’s theories on the collective unconscious, archetypes and the eight psychological types, Turkle’s assessment of human-computer interaction and the consequences inherent within our digital dependency in such work as Alone Together, Ekman and Plutchik’s theories on emotion and human behaviour – these are a sampling of the topics which fuel my creative process.

Taking Off, 2014-16 – 48”x33”x17”, plaster cast, oil, pigment on wood base

Is there anything else you want to tell us?

I would love to see Our Memories spring to life around the country and world. The idea is to take the installation on the road and create a global, collective memorial piece. The original filled sculptures would exhibit alongside new, empty sculptures waiting to be transformed by the local audience.

After traveling the globe, the final installation comprised of hundreds of multi-coloured, memory sentinels would ultimately reside in a sculpture park – now that is something to look forward to!

Judith Modrak featured in The Seaside Times as part of Escape 2 Create, Jan. 2017

Author: Marsha Dowler
Publication: The Seaside Times
Published:  January 2017
Article PDF: Escape 2 Create
SeasideTimes_FrontPage_Web
“…Over the past decade, New York sculptor Judith Modrak has remained fascinated with scientific advances that increase our understanding of the mechanisms that trigger and regulate thought, memory and feelings. Her sculpted figurative forms, imbedded with messages of hope and despair, seek to decode inner psychological and emotive worlds as she tackles universal issues of 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 Chelsea Art Museum, the Trenton Art Museum, Point Park University, the Palm Beach Art Armory and the Woodstock Museum. 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 SciArt in America, Sculpture, and The Pittsburgh-Tribune. While in Seaside, she plans a series of figurative works in response to the diverse natural forms found in the 30A environment. Modrak will give an illustrated artist talk at The REP Theatre as part of a multi-disciplinary celebration of the arts and will contribute a master class for college level art students.”…

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.