Radiant Monster, 1996
Dimensions: 8’ x 8’ x 8’ (overall) Lumber, fabric, photograph on mylar, fetal ultrasound video loop with intrauterine audio, text slides, video projector, slide projectors, slide dissolve unit, a/v cart, speakers, lamp
Radiant Monster represents the ambivalent feelings I’ve experienced in response to real and imagined pregnancies and children. I wanted to express a continuum between the desire and the anxiety that the contemplation and experience of maternity evokes. Not surprisingly, reproductive technologies that offer new choices to infertile women, and increase the opportunity for interventions during pregnancy and birth, extend and exaggerate our relationship to our reproductive capacities.
Images of pregnancy rarely acknowledge the complexity of the lived experience of this state. Apart from the cataclysmic affect it has on your body, rarely is it simply a time of unalloyed joyful anticipation. Before my decision to have children in my early thirties the spectre of pregnancy brought nothing but anxiety and dread.
Radiant Monster was shown a number of times between 1996 and 1998. It represents a significant departure from my previous installation work, which had consisted almost entirely of large-scale drawings done directly on the walls of galleries and other exhibition spaces. This is the first time I incorporated video and slide projections, and the first time I created a three dimensional work that could be walked around.
Hands outstretched, holding, releasing or displaying something have been recurring images within my work. The hand stands for the body, without specificity of a face, representing an exchange with the world. In this case, the hand simultaneously grasps and relinquishes the image of a fetal ultrasound.
Most Western women routinely undergo ultrasounds during their preganancies. Within this circumstance attention moves away from the pregnant woman towards the monitor. We are shown the technological mapping of an interior landscape. What is inside is displayed as something that is outside — our relationship to pregnancy is simultaneously ruptured and repaired by technology. Ultrasounds and other prenatal tests create the possibility for decisions my mother never had to consider — we assume we can control the outcome of our pregnancies. Sometimes we can, often we cannot.
At the botton of the mylar image of the hand individual words are projected to create a series of seven phrases: INVISIBLE-STRANGER-MINE; THIS-RADIANT-MONSTER; HER-DREADED-BELOVED; THAT-ENCHANTING-TYRANT; OUR-DANGEROUS-ANGEL; THESE-DAZZLING-FICTIONS; ADORABLE-DEMON-YOU. I’m interested in using words to help locate the viewer within a territory, without constraining their interpretation.
When I designed the wooden armature for the installation I was thinking about a number of things. I wanted it to be seen as a construction in process, always incomplete an idea of a room than an actual room I thought about the room as a skeleton, a room where the body is surveyed (a prison, a hospital), a temple (a home for a goddess or god, riot actually present), a tomb, a womb, and a bed. The image of the hand and the projections are suspended in the doorway of the room, at the threshold–the liminal state between two places.
The sheer fabric that covers the room is a skin, a veil, a penetrable barrier between what is outside and what is inside. It evokes a domestic space traditionally associated with the feminine. I was influenced by the image of maternity represented in Piero della Francesca’s 15th century fresco, Madonna del Parto.
The sound that you’d hear as you stood near the installation was from a recording representing the sounds created by blood moving through the main arteries of a pregnant woman. This is what it’s supposed to sound like inside the body of a pregnant woman. This recording and others like it are sometimes used to soothe newborn babies. The interior workings of the body sound very much like the engine room of a steam ship.
Here’s a link to a 1997 review of this installation by Blair Brennan from C Magazine.