Jennifer D. Anderson
If your high school anatomy textbook wasn’t limited to being in a book, and it was designed by someone with a penchant for wooden circles, it might look something like Jennifer D. Anderson’s exhibit at Truckee Meadows Community College.
That’s not a coincidence.
Anderson, a 30-year-old drawing and printmaking instructor in Santa Monica, had been on a career path to become a medical illustrator. But she became more interested in exploring the mysteries of the body rather than creating exact images of it for scientific purposes.
Those images—some contemporary, others replicated from medical drawings hundreds of years old—were imprinted delicately onto wooden discs, which range in size from that of a coffee table to a piano stool to the size of your hand. They seem to drift around the gallery walls like moons and planets, or, rather, cells and platelets.
The wood came from the local hardware store.
The varnish came from the local butcher.
“I started off with a very general idea of making these circular forms that would fill the gallery in clusters and units, then I set out finding circular discs,” says Anderson by telephone from her home in California. “They were stained with several layers of blood …”
Did she say blood?
“A lot of my work is about the human body,” she explains. “We have such a taboo with blood, but it’s so beautiful. For many years, I was a vegetarian. I didn’t want to touch it. But I was drawn to the meat counter—the colors and tones of the meat. I thought, ‘If I’m so repulsed yet attracted by it, I should do something [artistically] with this.'”
Within this gallery-turned-cellular landscape are images of internal organs, gallbladders, intestines, corneas, nerve endings and aortas painted reservedly with light tints of mostly prisma color—red blood platelets, pink stomachs. This internal world looks largely plant- and marine-like, with branches of nerves, cauliflower-shaped blossoms of god knows what, flagella waving like seaweed, colorful tubes like coral reefs.
Anderson says her use of the wooden discs as canvas was an aesthetic choice, not a symbolic one. But it helped remind me of the connections of the body with the outside natural world. Those dry science textbooks—filled with our intricate, gooey, tubular insides—never made the body real to me. While “intimate” is an understatement for our connection to these internal goings-on, they still seemed otherworldly. We tend to associate reality with what we can see, so the wood served to say that these body parts have a history and a story.
In the gallery’s guest book, one visitor commented, “I don’t get it. It’s just circles with body parts.”
But Anderson says she’s trying to explore “the most basic similarities we all have as human beings.” That for all of our measuring, microscoping, probing and examining of the body, science still hasn’t figured it all out. The body is still a relatively baffling thing to own.
“Our senses, how we understand the world, how our own relationship with our own body in our culture is something we ignore, even,” says Anderson. “[I’m] wanting to say something about who we are and what we are and how we know ourselves. I find more and more that we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do.”