Nancy Baker Cahill

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Virgil No. 1, 2013

Graphite on paper, 51" x 53"


My work represents the human body as a complicated abstraction, corporeally real, yet forever unknowable. I make drawings, videos, airbrush paintings, installations and collaborative projects that treat the body as a site of spatial and temporal violence. My often large-scale images include sinewy folds of fabric-like flesh, explosions of hair, internal landscapes that are microcosmic and macrocosmically extraterrestrial. My intention is to evoke powerful empathic experiences in viewers as they consider their own bodies as transitory– filled with vulnerability, comfort, discomfort, and the realization that they, too, are made of meat.

Medical technology’s approach to “knowing” the body became important to me when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, my daughter with a heart (and later, brain) condition, and when doctors discovered a benign, football-sized tumor in my abdomen. These experiences shape my understanding of the body as an unpredictable and unrepresentable place. For my “Fascinomas” series, I employed the visual language of ultrasounds to produce a disruptive moment in our expectations of “truths.” I created images by “scanning” sculptural objects with spray paint, capturing their absence on paper. I further developed this idea in “Virgil,” my drawings of disembodied viscera. The imagery is both abstract and anatomically specific, beautiful and abject, erotic and a-sexual. Each drawing explores the dynamic tension between extremes, flipping from stasis to motion, decay to regeneration, void to form. I want to dissect the meanings we bring to our own bodies, while suturing a formally generative wound that never heals.

Artworks by Nancy Baker Cahill

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