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Karen Gunderman

Artist Statement

My work evolves from notations scientists have made to portray the inner workings of living things.
I have a sympathetic connection with these visual recordings as I attempt to resolve questions about the cycles of life, death and my relationship with the physical world.

Anatomical and botanical images rendered on the cusp of modern western history are of particular interest to me. Scientist/Illustrators such as Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694) and Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680) were among the first to use simple microscopes to explore below the surface of life forms. Their illustrations depicted the territory of the body, animal physiology and flora with insight unknown before their time.

Despite living in the 21st century where highly developed imaging technology abounds, I still feel a kinship with these early scientists’ attempts to understand the workings of nature invisible to the naked eye. Their visually poetic, if often erroneous, notations serve as metaphors for my own attempts to understand the margins of physical existence. In response, my work seeks a similar quality of speculation about the unseen. The pieces correlate botanical and anatomical forms to reference commonalities between life cycles of flora and the human body.

The practice of gardening encompasses many poignant qualities I find in such 17th century scientific records. Fundamentally the gardener attempts to manage nature, to nurture and cultivate in the presence of unseen and often uncontrollable forces. As a point of departure my recent work references the horticulture practice of espalier. Here the gardener trains and prunes woody structures in geometric patterns supported artificially against walls, fences and trellises. The resulting effect of ordered nature belies the ever-present impulses of growth, degeneration, and resistance to the gardener’s will. Like the gardener my work occupies a tenuous place between order and chaos, where life does its hidden dance and where species and specimens vigorously cohabit.

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