Always interested in edges, margins, and connections, Dana Walrath weaves many distinct threads through her work. She spent 2012-2013 as a Fulbright Scholar in Armenia working on a project that builds on Aliceheimer’s (Harvest 2013), an award winning graphic memoir series about life with her mother, Alice, before and during Alzheimer’s disease. Her first novel, Like Water on Stone, set during the Armenian genocide, is forthcoming with Delacorte Press in the fall of 2014. She believes in the transformative power of art.
This drawing was made to talk about the biomedical location of sickness in individuals instead of families for “Alice in Armenia: Crossing Borders, Boundaries, and the Conventions of Medical Confidentiality” Paper presented at 4th International Conference on Comics and Medicine, Brighton Sussex Medical School, UK, July 2013.
I learned the word lacunae, or gaps, (a word so useful that it has been incorporated into specialized lexicons of disciplines ranging from geology to law) as a student of neurobiology. This piece explores the changes that appear in the aging brain that are accelerated in individuals with dementia. It incorporates the text of Julie Larios’s gorgeous poem, “Frontotemporal Dementia,” in which beauty and pain co-exist.
Like Lacunae this piece engages with the notion of finding beauty in the loss and pain of dementia. Of course, there are ugly messes and a biomedical discourse of zombies and loss, but this can become a time of freedom and connection as social boundaries and rules shift.
A Mad Tea Party was made in homage to Emily Martin’s brilliant paper “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles” Signs Vol. 16, No. 3 (Spring, 1991), pp. 485-501. I am Opening Up… uses random lines from Alice in Wonderland to create the bases C, G, T, A of the DNA molecule. Could there be a new poetry form that follows this same rule but each line must start with the one of those bases and then finish with the corresponding base: C with G, G with C, A with T and T with A? Poets, consider this a challenge! I’ve been playing with this myself.
This 5 codon section of DNA, was made with the help of Dave, Terry Jo, and Louie Bichele. Louie is missing the Ube3a gene, a situation that results in Angelman’s Syndrome. The Ube3a gene codes for Ubiquitin ligase a protein which activates or destroys other proteins depending upon sensory input. As Dave and I worked to connect the two strands of double helix, Terry Jo chose a section of the gene that is conserved in all mammals (TTC TTG GAG GGA TGA). The bases of DNA are represented by reproductive parts of plants or insect parasites: G=galls; C=Echinacea; A=Siberian iris; T=fern. The “ladder” portion of the DNA is made from two grape vines that grew spiraled around trees with their proximal/distal orientations switched. Though the nucleotides are traditionally drawn and depicted facing inside the DNA ladder, they are oriented on the outside here deliberately. I wonder that some facet of their order changes the surface of the molecule in a more organic fashion and that this will play a role in future breakthroughs in epi-genetics. Nature, as seen in all the plant life in this piece, uses somewhat identical repeating units that then become something organic and irregular. Bringing the two vines together, could happen only when they were free to occupy space fully and freely and irregularly instead of being depicted as the neat, utterly identical repeating ladder units of models in the laboratory. That is my view of epi-genetics. This piece was made for the show “Sc-eye-nce” at Studio Place Arts, Barre VT June 2012.
Borborygmi —one of those words that just sticks—is the onomatopoetic medical term for the gurgling sounds our guts make as stuff moves through them. The annotated CT scans are left over from my work on the evolution of human childbirth. According to the yogis, old relationships are stored in our hip joints. This piece was made for the show “Sc-eye-nce” at Studio Place Arts, Barre VT June 2012.
During my very first days in Yerevan, the capital city of a state with 99.6% literacy, I noticed banners and signs proclaiming its status as the World Book Capital 2012, so named by UNESCO. I realized this reverence for books posed a challenge for my method of using cut up books in my artwork. I soaked in experiences but kept my scissors away from the books over the next few months until I combined this dilemma with other issues that were crystallizing while there. Closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan for all Armenians, closed borders with Ngorno Karabakh and Iran for Fulbright Scholars, and the underlying history of contested and disputed borders had me thinking about how all borders are drawn by humans. Borders on maps have been drawn and redrawn and I could incorporate them into my drawings. What better book to cut up than colorful 1961 Soviet era atlas? I combined this with a classic book that reproduced the ornaments from Armenian illuminated manuscripts and began a series of drawings that turned these two books into dancing figures. These drawings along with my Aliceheimer’s series were featured in the final event of Yerevan’s year as World Book Capital: The Sunny Dragon International Graphic Humor Festival, where they received a silver medal. The Armenian audiences’ response to the references to Lewis Carroll and the new life given to maps and manuscripts freed me to continue my practice of cutting up texts.
Why dancing women? I am not the first to notice how the present boundaries of Armenia resemble the head of a woman with long flowing hair. But my purpose was not a reification of oppressive gender roles. Instead, I want to start a conversation about how nationalism can turn into an ugly fetishization and objectification of land and property much the way women have been objectified. To me the route to peace involves a shift so that the world is not organized on the basis of owning and defending resources and property, shutting others out, taking land and resources from others.
A trip to Western Armenia in 1984 to see the homeland of my grandparents inspired a series of paintings and drawings of prints over the next decade. This land of human migrations, the origins of agriculture, silk roads, bloody history, and fierce geological activity got under my skin. Returning to Eastern Armenia in 2012 gave me this same feeling.
Looking Back references the phenomenon that visual thinking and processing precede the ability to use language in our evolutionary history just as they do in each child’s neurological development.
The almost regular repeating shapes of plant cells under the microscope and the bright colors of histological dyes inspired a series of these.
This piece was one of many completed while in residence at the Vermont Studio Center, which was the first time I had been back in a print shop in over 20 years. It deals with the concepts of scale and counting and dehumanization. When my mother moved in with us, I went on to spend time at the Burlington City Arts community print shop as my caregiver respite.
-All individual drawings, prints, and paintings are for sale except for Avian Reptile and Borborygmi.
-The original Aliceheimer’s drawings are also available as a part or an entire limited edition of hand embroidered prints.
– The book, Aliceheimer’s: Alzheimer’s through the Looking Glass (Harvest 2013) can be ordered by calling Phoenix Books at 802-448-3350 or through their website.
Indiebound and Amazon listings to come!
Please contact me dana [dot] walrath [at] gmail [dot] com for artwork inquiries and pricing.
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