TAC Featured Artist: Janet Morrow: Ambiguous Belonging

TAC Featured Artist: Janet Morrow: Ambiguous Belonging

January 6, 2012 – March 29, 2012

In this space, sculptural polyester organza units, reminiscent of windsocks, inhabit an environment composed of photographs of industrial interiors printed on fabric and aluminum. The windsock objects were born of my earliest remembered encounter with the sublime. My family lived in rural Tennessee and we did not have an electric clothes dryer. My mother used to hang the laundry outside on old-fashioned clotheslines. The sheets made long, soft tunnels that moved softly in the wind and smelled of pine trees, lake water and detergent. My little sister and I spent hours running laughing back and forth in those tunnels or pretending they were houses or castles. Sometimes I would stand very still with my eyes closed and let the wind blow the soft fabric against my face and body. In Sunday School we used to sing, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” I thought to myself that this must be how it felt to be held in the hand of god.

One might ask how objects such as this belong in environments that consist of metal, wiring, plastic, and electronic circuitry. In this conjoining, I am exploring my existence as a cyborg, a creature that is a hybrid of organic and man-made parts. As a bi-lateral cochlear implant wearer, I receive much of my sensory experience through an electronic interface. Cyborgism raises questions about the essential nature of humanity. If one’s embodiment includes man-made parts, is one still fully human? What if the efficiency of the manufactured parts eventually exceeds that of god-given parts? Where does that place the cyborg in the human-machine continuum? In author Donna Haraway’s, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” she introduces the idea of cyborg individuals claiming technology as a parent:

Modern medicine is also full of cyborgs, of couplings between organism and machine, each conceived as coded devices, in an intimacy and with a power that was not generated in the history of sexuality.

At the very least, there are implications here of ambiguous states of belonging for those individuals harboring within their bodies both the organic and the technological.

Although people generally think of industrial environments as sterile, cold, unyielding, I find these interiors charming. It has caused me to question why I feel so at home in these spaces. Partly, I think it is simply that for people with disabilities, machines are often more kind and patient than other humans. But is there another element at play here? If cyborgs claim technology as a parent, if that is a portion of our birthright, could this constitute one of several natural environments in which we find belonging; the home of our “other” parent? Can the mechanical objects perhaps be construed as playfellows or cousins? When the industrial interiors are printed on fabric panels, I enjoy the aesthetic contrast of hard metal on soft fabric. When they are printed on aluminum, in comparatively small, jewel-like pieces, they remind me of metal tintypes of ancestors. - Janet Morrow, Winter 2011

* Haraway, Donna J., Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. (150)