GENESIS is a series of eighteen collages created from exposed X-ray films. These images are wall mounted, illuminated on light boxes. They chronicle the beginning of life from the growth of individual cells in petri dishes to the development of a full-term fetus. DNA sequencing gels, animal and human X-rays, a mammogram, as well as fetal ultrasound radiographs are incorporated into this work. Apart from the broader social and bioethical content this artwork implies, these collages also explore the X-ray's relationship to photography, an art historical issue that, to my knowledge, has never been thoroughly examined.
As I looked across the treatment room at an X-ray on a light box in a veterinary hospital eighteen years ago, something clicked. The image of the animal produced by the X-ray was beautiful, in spite of its associations with illness. Its value contrasts, textures, and anatomical shapes made the X-ray visually compelling. Recollecting previous human X-rays that I had seen elicited ideas about the anatomical and behavioral similarities between animal and man. At the same time, the images conjured up thoughts about X-rays as metaphors for the inner-self.
I spent the next four years incorporating animal X-rays, other medical supplies, such as suturing materials, bandages, and medical tapes, with traditional art supplies such as canvas, paints, India inks, and oil sticks to create a Healing Figure Construction series. Although all my subsequent artwork from 1984 to the present time (Healing Figure Sculptures, Galapagos Fantasy Island: A Natural Selection Installation) has continued to investigate the relationship of art to science, I have been persistently haunted by the idea of illuminating X-rays to reveal their intrinsic beauty and enhance their metaphorical significance.
GENESIS is the result of a number of synchronous events that occurred this past spring. A Yale Medical School physician/researcher who had seen my Healing Figure Construction exhibition furnished me with films that had been exposed to radioactive DNA. The images were generated when the film was placed adjacent to petri dishes covered with bacteria. This researcher also supplied me with the linear images of DNA sequencing gels that I have used in this body of work. The images often retain the scientist's penned notations. These films are relatively rare because this method of record keeping, although used just a few years ago, is already obsolete. Furthermore, scientists who have used this method of documentation have either discarded their films, or are keeping them as records of earlier work. Human and animal X-rays films, a mammogram, and fetal ultrasound radiographs were donated by medical health care professionals only with the promise that no personal identifying labels would be left on the artwork.
Studying artworks which emphasized documentation, repetition, and serial progression in the Noncomposition: Fifteen Case Studies exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut to write a review for Art New England's April/ May 2002 issue gave me the impetus to present the DNA and petri dish images in a straightforward manner. Collages from The Synthetic Century-Collage from Cubism to Postmodernism exhibition the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, which I also wrote a review for in Art New England's next issue, reinforced the idea of using appropriated cultural detritus such as X-rays in my own work.
GENESIS is a distillation of ideas from all my artwork from the past eighteen years: the relationship between art, science, and the metaphysical. Simultaneously, this artwork reframes scientific advances in light of twentieth century research. Cloning, gene mapping and altering, organ transplants, and medical protocols give physicians the potential to control survival and death. Children can be planned, produced artificially, and checked for defects before birth. What are the ethical considerations inherent in having the ability to control or genetic destiny?
Intrinsic to the meaning of this series is the worry that radioactive materials might be used in weapons of mass destruction; that information from sequencing gels might provide terrorists with the knowledge enabling them to produce even more lethal forms of smallpox and anthrax. Consequently, this artwork evokes the good/evil conflict inherent in electromagnetic radiation and DNA sequencing.
GENESIS hovers between photography, scientific documentation, and the metaphysical. At the same time, these collages illuminate some of today's most critical issues.
The amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and
precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a
certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful.
We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby
affecting creation invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in
our very notion of art.
Bridging art and technology, Lois Goglia's re-appropriation of X-ray imagery celebrates the creation and sustenance of life. Goglia's very real preoccupation with genetic engineering, cloning, bioethical issues and bio-terrorism began almost twenty years ago. Her early ideas as a painter led to her incorporation of medical supplies in textured canvases and continued on to three-dimensional pieces of human abstractions. A random encounter with X-rays viewed in a veterinarian's office inspired the artist's vision, and led to further explorations of science and creativity.
As genetic research continues to dramatically alter our reality, artist like Goglia confront theses issues to transform contemporary levels of visual language. Along with Gary Schneider's Self-Portraits and Dennis Ashbaugh's DNA paintings, Goglia's GENESIS expands our understanding of these complex issues, while creating work that combines emotional impact with medical technology.
One of the great inventions of the nineteenth century, X-rays have always reflected an interior image of life beneath the surface. The eighteen collages of GENESIS, created from X-ray films and illuminated on wall-mounted light boxes, create a visual embodiment of this unseen world that is both effective and beautiful.
A swirl of individual DNA cells grown and irradiated in petri dishes introduce the viewer to the concept of life's origins. These celestial spheres, embroidered with scrawled scientific notations, echo the world's irregularity, from the human body to clouds to the galaxies. Counterpointing the calligraphy of teeming petri dishes covered with bacteria, actual DNA sequencing gels are used as a border. The pattern of these stripes, which represenet DNA formulae, at first echo the elegant minimalism of Agnes Martin's work. Then the arbitary arrangement of amorphous forms juxtaposed with the muted grids creates a subtle and mesmerizing dialogue.
Biotechnology has rarely been as arresting as the DNA bands reapperance in an otherworldly grid. This related trilogy's straightforward appeal of color washes the vertical DNA gels with vivid primary hues of crimson, sapphire and lemon. Like Barnett Newman's monolithic zip paintings, the repetitive DNA strips, now color infused, create an austere harmony. The suggestion of landscape is similiar to Seurat's elegant Post-Impressionistic pointillism, in that he based his work on repeated, systematic observations of the activity of color and light.
Another collage features the sensual curves of a full-term fetus ultrasound, obscured by a rib cages skeletal geometry. Goglia's own mammogram and an organic shape reminiscent of male genitalia present subtle value changes in the layered composition. Overlapping the ribs are the scrawled notes of a hospital researcher. The aureole of light and shadow, combined with a tangential cubism, presents a literal interpretation of Adam's rib, and suggests a lyrical coda to the series's examination of life within itself.
Especially prescient is an image of a shadowed horse hoof, parallel to symmetrical DNA strips. The hoof's elemental power, interplayed against the formal pattern of sequencing gels embodies the speed of light, the actual time in which X-rays are created, and the speed of science itself. The current cotroversy about therapeutic and reproductive cloning proves what was once deemed science fiction may at any time become a reality. Goglia challenges viewer's perceptions of nature, freely mixing the commonality of human and animal anatomy. There is an uncanny immediacy to this work, especially in light of the very recent reports linking mouse and human genomes.
While using a technology that is almost outdated, yet still powerful and mysterious, Goglia imbues a shamanistic power to these manipulated interior images. Viewing her work is a constant reminder of life beneath the surface, pulsing with growth and DNA, and our world itself as a living cell. GENESIS is a portraiture of the human condition that goes beyond the visible world. We are what we see in Goglia's illuminations.