The Procreation and Preservation of Art

Northern Arizona University Art Museum, 2008

Materials: wooden closet, glass vitrine containing femur cast in beeswax, glass specimen jar with rock and water

 

The Procreation (November 6, 2007):

I walked into my classroom where I had taught Anatomy for Artists for over ten years, when I discovered that the human skeleton was missing from its storage closet.  I later learned that the new director for the School of Art had ordered it confiscated.  Unwilling to discuss why he had stolen the skeleton, he demanded that I never use bones of any type for teaching.

I pretty much knew why he had had it taken.  At the beginning of the next semester, I did what I had always done on the first day of class, and asked my Navajo students to stay and visit.  As I brought up the issue of having assignments where the student would be required to draw from life - human and animal bones - expressions of disbelief came across their faces.  They were appalled and graciously offended that I had even brought up the subject.  I saw clearly how my director's patronizing protectiveness was a form of intellectual manifest destiny. 

The Preservation (April 25, 2006):

I delivered forty, one gallon specimen jars, some of them filled with amphibians and reptiles indigenous to the Southwest, to the NAU Art Museum.  These specimens, on loan from the Natural History collection in the Biology Department, were part of an installation I had designed.  The "acting" museum director was aghast that such materials were going to be placed in an art museum as part of an installation.  Because of her ignorance, her reaction eventually precipitated into several disciplinary meetings and interrogations, which led to a letter being placed into my file. 

A femur cast in beeswax, placed on a sculpture pedestal, inside vitrine: the Latin word femur derives from the root fe-, meaning to create offspring, similar to fetus and fecund.  My art is my offspring, my creation.  My thought out, knee-jerk reaction.  A thigh birth from a mere mortal.  My Dionysus.

A rock in a specimen jar: no diamondback rattlesnakes, spade-footed toads, or horned lizards safely preserved here.  Just a stone.  Nothing to question.  Nothing to think about. 

A skeleton closet: two years before the skeleton was taken from my classroom, I built a storage container for it.  Now, with a closet, but with no skeleton to place in it, I decided to use it in the faculty exhibition.  I secured the door, not allowing the viewer to open it, knowledge unable to be accessed, locked away.