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Whitney Johnson

Visiting Artist Lecture: Laura Splan


10/7/15
Artist Laura Splan is negotiating a realm of distance between biologic anxiety and more
comforting, domestic ornamentation. To investigate this distance, Splan often manipulates
devices and imagery we use to help us understand our own bodies, such as stethoscopes, images
of microorganisms and diseases, and even a data-recording Arduino EMG device. She juxtaposes
these cold, clinical, and sometimes medical devices and visuals with materials and imagery that
carry concepts of comfort, such as doilies and wallpaper patterns. She ponders if, the more
distance-creating mechanisms you use, the more you understand your body. One of her goals is
to create something that has a warmth to it in the end.
Splan might tease ideals of warmth and comfort, but her work never fully elicits them.
Fear and repulsion are stronger than the warm and fuzzy feelings of comfort. Once a tiny dose of
apprehension or anxiety appears, it quickly infects any goals of comfort. Therefore, by layering
images of the HIV virus alongside crocheted doilies - which Splan notes are linked to southern
hospitality - the artist doesn't bring a welcoming understanding to this disease, but instead takes
sweetness out of craft by bringing fear to traditional ideals of comfort and ornament.
Splan is utilizing a variety of methods, which are all operating in the same family, to
retranslate and reassemble a distanced way of understanding our own biological functions. Her
system of operation makes us more aware of that distance. Consequently, Splan also reinforces,
or serves as a catalyst, to the fear-mongering and alienating concepts of disease and
misunderstood or abused medical methodologies. Some of Splan's work, such as earlier works
like Placebo and one involving an elongated stethoscope, are more specifically reinforcing that
distance. Exam Gown, a work by Splan which reinterprets an institutional, impersonal medical
garment through its modified material construction, gets closer to the warmth Splan wants to
elicit. However, it never fully realizes a comforting or more personal quality. If certain variables

Whitney Johnson
Visiting Artist Lecture: Laura Splan
10/7/15
about this work were changed, such as its color, mode of presentation, or even real-life
implementation, Exam Gown might feel warmer. Instead, this work and others like it project
alienation, since the majority of its variables linger on the clinical side of the fear-comfort
spectrum, if such a reductionist tool exists.
Conventional conceptions, or the belief that science affects art but not vice-versa, might
overpower Splan's intent of creating a sense of warmth. After viewing Splans work, my initial
perception was that Splan is introducing science into art, instead of bringing art into science.
Visually, she has borrowed motifs from both science and craft (for example, chemical structures
and wallpaper-like ornamental patterns), but my most common interpretation of Splan's works
usually results in art that's been influenced by science. I am aware that the relationship is much
more complex and can operate as a constant give-and-take, oscillating dialogue, but this wasnt
my immediate read. This might be a function of the work that Splan can control or manipulate,
but it might also be caused by the current, overwhelming hierarchical perspective involving
science and art. In other words, perhaps the line between art and science have not yet been fully
blurred, and art is still seen as secondary or "inspired by" science. If this is the case, the sterile
and isolating concept of biology overpowers any hopeful but futile attempts at comfort.