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  • Magic Bullet
  • Beverly Fishman (bio)

My art examines the relationship between color, form, and human identity while synthesizing subjective and mechanical processes. Throughout my career, I have been interested in exploring abstraction and juxtaposing formal and material investigations with questions about how science and technology transform human beings. I have always worked in multiple media and combined representation with abstraction. Painting, however, has been at the center of my practice; I have developed hybrid processes that integrate subjective color choices and gesture with mass reproduction and industrial fabrication. My overall subject is how science, technology, and medicine affect both the body and the mind: how they represent, idealize, and stereotype us—and how they change us.

In the 1980s I analyzed the sensorial body through sculptural form. Looking at anatomy books and everything under the skin, I was interested in the body as viscera. I created large, abject sculptures that showed human beings as internal, biological, and centered in the flesh. I was interested not in what we looked like externally but in what we were as material, chemical, and electrical organisms. As a feminist, I was also highly aware of how society tried to reduce women to physical and emotional characteristics. In part, my sculptures were a way to highlight and subvert those readings of women as (mere) bodies. [End Page 40]

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Figure 1.

L.Y.M. #1–151, photo-based collage, acrylic, resin on wood, 84.5 × 66 in., 1997–99. Private collection, Michigan

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In the late 1980s I started to use a black-and-white copying machine to create collage elements that I integrated into mixed-media paintings on wood. I began using a color copier a few years later. Appropriating and abstracting images of cells, I sought to link the reproduction of images to mutation and biological development. Living in New York during the AIDS crisis, I was aware of how a virus could define one’s identity. I wanted to represent the body while engaging with the [End Page 42] technologies through which our interiors were visualized and reproduced. As a result, my mixed-media paintings changed shape and began to mimic the forms of eyes, lenses, and petri dishes.

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Figure 2.

Dividose: N.S.P., enamel on polished stainless steel, 63 × 84 in. (three panels), 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Kavi Gupta Gallery

I incorporated representations of stars and nebulae into my imagery in the mid-1990s to suggest analogies between the body and space, micro-and macrocosm. These works culminated in large-scale installations of modular paintings that interconnected the human figure with the cosmos. For my Intervention at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1995, I paired my shaped reliefs with medieval armor to emphasize that our skins are permeable and that the self can be undermined from both within and without.

I also created installations of cell-like modules consisting of photo-collage, acrylic, and resin in the mid-to late 1990s. Exploring the shaped module as a mixture of appropriated and hand-painted elements, I used painting to create a dialogue between biological and technological modes of reproduction in my I.D. Series. As with my earlier works, I wanted to infect high modernism, adding social content related to questions of the body and disease to “pure” abstraction. Experiencing my parents and siblings struggle with grave illnesses, I chose to use painting to reveal the fragility and unpredictability of life.

Cluster paintings evolved out of the shaped cellular modules, but now multiple elements were combined into a “single” painting, which played between unity and diversity and suggested organic movement, instability, and change. I was interested in bringing images of cellular and cosmic life into dialogue with questions of installation, the shaped canvas, the mechanical and the handmade, and uniqueness and appropriation.

Around 2000 I turned from an image bank evoking disease to one that visualized [End Page 43]

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Figure 3.

Pill Spill, blown glass, more than one hundred unique elements, each installation varies, 2011. Toledo Museum of Art, Glass Pavilion, July 15–September 30, 2011...


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