Naoe Suzuki—Dreamcatchers

 
We Shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.[1]
T. S. Eliot, The Little Gidding, 1942
 
 
It is…assumed that there are basic differences between science and art, between scientists and artists; it is assumed that scientists are rational, objective, abstract, concerned with the intellect and with reducing everything to a formula and that artists, on the other hand, are temperamental, subjective, irrational, and concerned with the expression of the emotions[2]…One of the most unfortunate results of this misunderstanding of the nature of the intellect is that the practice of the arts and the creative arts themselves are too often excluded from the regular curriculum of school and college or given such a minor role in the educational process that they are unable to make the intellectual contribution of which they are supremely capable.[3]
Harold Taylor, Art and the Intellect, 1960
 
 
A conscious system in its own right, perceiving, thinking, remembering, reasoning, willing, and emoting, all at a characteristically human level, and . . . both the left and the right hemisphere may be conscious simultaneously in different, even in mutually conflicting, mental experiences that run along in parallel.[4]
Roger Sperry, 1974
 
 
Naoe Suzuki—Dreamcatchersis the second show in the Thompson Gallery’s 2017-18 exhibition series entitled With Eyes Open—a series of four exhibitions celebrating women artists. Dreamcatchers is also the third and final exhibition in connection with Suzuki’sartist-in-residency at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, in Cambridge, MA, which culminated with three exhibitions, at three separate venues in the Boston area including the Broad Institute (Stories Retold), Boston Arts Academy’s Sandra and Philip Gordon Gallery(Lost and Found), and, the Cambridge School of Weston’s Red Wall Gallery (Dreamcatchers). Fittingly, Suzuki chose two schools that value “the arts”—to the extent that they are considered integral and vital to academic edification—to exhibit her integrated studies at the Broad which is itself founded upon similar values. In general, Suzuki’s Broad Institute residency work can be described as “Weaving past and present together,” Suzuki’soverall project “contemplates data mining, knowledge, history, and our belief systems,” and “reflects her fascination with, and observation of the scientific community where she has been immersed since April of 2016.”[5] Dreamcatchers, is a series of drawings about cutting-edge medical science in the process of being created. Dreamcatchersequally celebrates disciplined research and creative inquiry, wonder and experimentation, which, when combined, can often yield leaps of the imagination and art.
 
Naoe Suzuki works primarily in drawing, works on paper, and installation. Born in Tokyo, Japan Suzuki currently lives in Waltham, Massachusetts. She is a recipient of many grants including the Pollock-Krasner Foundation (2015), Massachusetts Cultural Council (Drawing/Printmaking/Artist’s Books in 2006, and Sculpture and Installation in 2001), and Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation (2013 & 2004). Her residency fellowships include MacDowell Colony, NH; Blue Mountain Center, NY; Millay Colony for the Arts, NY; Jentel, WY; Centrum, WA; and Tokyo Wonder Site, Tokyo, Japan.
 
Dreamcatchers is an installation of archival digital prints on vellum and Tyvek, titled after a Broad Institute's computer scientist remarked, without knowing where the sources for the images came from, saying "the images look like a dream catcher." Suzuki was interested in the observation, “I thought it was very poeticbut his comment also resonated with the concept of scientific ideas as a magical web.[6]
 
The Broad Institute was founded to seize the opportunity that arose from the Human Genome Project (HGP). Launched in 2004, the Broad Institute formed as an “experiment” in biomedicine exploring a “unique model of collaborative, inter-institutional research,” which values “promoting inclusion, sharing data and knowledge, building partnerships, empowering scientists, reaching globally, collaborating deeply, and propelling the understanding and treatment of disease.”[7] In addition to espousing these values within the global scientific community, the Broad Institute also builds partnerships in the visual arts. As described on their website:
 
The Broad's artist-in-residence program lies at the intersection of science and art. The program allows revolutionary scientists and forward-thinking artists to work, communicate, and learn together to benefit both science and art, spurring the creative thinking that drives innovation.[8]
 
Deeply appreciative of the creative and collaborative atmosphere, Suzuki adds, “The whole place is an experiment, and people encourage you to take risks. It really fosters creativity, innovation.[9]” Similar to science, which always begins with curiosity as it combines systematic observation, measurement, experimentation, and the formulation, testing, and the modification of hypotheses, Suzuki too began her work at the Broad with a period of deep observation, collection, inquiry, and play. Specifically, the Broad Institute’s culture of sharing knowledge and collaborating deeply prompted Suzuki’s interests. Suzuki points out, she felt "encouraged to wander and to take time to come up with ideas by observing and wondering," and she "sometimes just stared at the walls,[10] imagining possible projects. As pointed out on Broad Institute’s artist-in-residence webpage: 
 
Naoe Suzuki is Broad’s fifth artist-in-residence. Although she is not a scientist, Suzuki’s approach to art is scientific in that it incorporates periods of deep observation, data gathering, research, and experimentation…[11]
 
During the first few months of her residency at the Broad Institute in 2016, Suzuki spent many hours walking inside the Institute, wondering, listening, observing and acquainting herself with the spaces and people. She was given tours of many labs, talked to scientists, and witnessed the latest scientific technology being used to unravel some of medicine’s most vexing problems. During her walks, Suzuki noticed the many writings scientists left on the whiteboards—writings that would get erased by the week’s end. Suzuki became fascinated by the whiteboards filled with markings and notations beyond her ability to understand them:
 
These writings presented as visual forms to me, and I began tracing the whiteboards, using transparent papers and markers to fuel my various drawing projects. In this indirect way of collaboration, I incorporated many of the ideas and thinking processes that were taking place inside the scientists’ minds.[12]
 
For the Dreamcatchers, Red Wall Gallery installation, Suzuki pointed on ten-foot long scrolls of vellum and Tyvek. The imagery of Dreamcatchers is comprised up of tracings from the Broad Institute’s whiteboard notations, which were combined and modified using digital imaging software, rendering them even more indecipherable, and in some cases by also layering several sheets of traced writings atop one another. The result is a complex web-like imagery made up of lines, marks, shapes, and diagrams. Although mostly illegible to the layman, the attentive onlooker may easily find terminology such as “X, Y” and certain key words from genomic science. Suzuki’s Dreamcatchers are unrolled and made fully available to see in total. Scrolls are typically unrolled bits at a time in order to experience the passing of time. Suzuki’sscroll drawings, by contrast, capture only snippets of time, obscured by cropped and combined portions of the materials she originally traced, as if to suggest how ideas can be caught within a network of thoughts, repeating and mirroring until understanding through wider connection is procured.
 
Dream catchers, though widely adopted by many First Nation Peoples are an invention of the Ojibwa people. Made for children out of willow and sinew, are not meant to last—eventually, the willow dries out and the tension of the sinew collapses the dream catcher—belaying the temporary-ness of youth.[13]Made to “filter out all the bad dreams (bawedjigewin)[14] dream catchers are webs that catch the unwanted. Considering the Broad Institute’s mission—to improve human health by using genomics to advance our understanding of the biology and treatment of human disease, and to help lay the groundwork for a new generation of therapies[15]Suzuki’s Dreamcatchers are netted, Broad Institute visualizations, caught in-progress, while in the process of designing the medicine of tomorrow. Made of transient and biodegradable materials that collapse over time due to changes in humidity, Dreamcatchers are drawings that are aiming to catch unwanted disease.
 
Adopting a pseudo-scientific method, Suzuki developed a style of notation to title the works:
 
As I worked on each image file, I set up a system to use the same file for a number of different ways by manipulating the contrast, and composing and layering in different ways. Each file was then numbered with several versions. For example, 01a, 01b, and 01c, and so forth.[16]
 
Todd Golub, Chief Scientific Officer at the Broad Institute and founder of its artist-in-residence program points out:
 
Naoe has a real curiosity and interest in probing into how people are thinking at a level of depth that is really quite uncommon…she likes to experiment. She likes starting to go down a path with her work, not really knowing where it is going to end up.[17]
 
We should be questioning our science and we should be pressing boundaries. The artist-in-residence program is just another way of being adventurous, doing experiments and trying to look at important problems—especially old problems seen through a new lens.[18]
 
I think the whole exhibit captured the concept of scientific discovery being a process of slowly revealing layers of understanding, rather than the great reveal of the clear truth. Science is messy and fuzzy and usually perplexing and subject to interpretation. It is often frustrating.[19]
 
Albert Einstein described the processes of creativity this way: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. [Those] to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead—[their] eyes are closed.[20]
 
Seeing with the mind’s eye is a mental process of collection, wondering, organizing and playing. Suzuki observed that there is a sense at Broad that “referring to pre-gnome science [completed in 2003] is ancient time,“ but further, "at the Broad Institute, scientists can't imagine doing science today without the human genome science.[21] Moving forward in art and science requires a process of the opening up of the eyes in order to catch not only the imagined but also the unexpected.
 
Suzuki’s Broad Residency work engenders a contemporary artistic attitude: “we need to recreate new or reinventing with fresh eyes for our time.[22]
 
Human Beings are seekers—seeking new knowledge, discovery, and truth…We are always seeking. And for physicians, and researchers and scientists, they are always looking for the best treatment at that time. So, we are only going to go forward, but at the same time, taking time to even look back or look around, or going back to the starting point to see things differently is really important.[23]
 
Naoe’s work reminds us, as she has pointed out:
 
There is an uncanny relationship between artists and scientists because we are both explorers. Without this work, we are no longer moving forward[24]
 
Todd Bartel
Gallery Director, Thompson Gallery
 


[1] T. S. Eliot, The Little Gidding, in Four Quartets, 1942, http://www.columbia.edu/itc/history/winter/w3206/edit/tseliotlittlegidding.html, retrieved 11/5/17
[2] Harold Taylor, Art and the Intellect, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1960, p. 9
[3] Harold Taylor, p. 11
[4] Roger Sperry, quoted by, Norman H. Horowitz, The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1981 (Roger W. Sperry, David H. Hubel, Torsten N. Wiesel)https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1981/sperry-article.html, retrieved 11/5/17
[5] Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, press release, Naoe Suzuki—Stories Retold, April 18, 2017
[6] Naoe Suzuki, email, October 23, 2017
[7] The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard website, About Us, https://www.broadinstitute.org/about-us, retrieved 11/5/17
[8] The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard website, Artist-In-Residence Program description, https://www.broadinstitute.org/artist-residence-program, retrieved 11/5/17
[9] Naoe Suzuki, Broad Institute Artist-In-Residence—Naoe Suzuki, video transcript, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvvP8ThTsQI, retrieved April 12, 2017
[10] Naoe Suzuki, quoted by Todd Bartel, iPhone, at the exhibition, Lost and Found, Philip Sandra Gordon Gallery, Boston Arts Academy, Boston, MA, November 4, 2017
[11] The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard website, https://www.broadinstitute.org/bios/naoe-suzuki, retrieved 11/5/17
[12] Naoe Suzuki, email, October 23, 2017
[13] Dream-Catchers.org, http://www.dream-catchers.org/ojibwe-dream-catcher-history/, retrieved November 13, 2017
[14] Ibid, Dream-Catchers.org
[15] Broad Institute, About Ushttps://www.broadinstitute.org/about-us, retrieved November 12, 2017
[16] Naoe Suzuki, email, October 23, 2017
[17] Todd Golub, Broad Institute Artist-In-Residence—Naoe Suzuki, video transcript, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvvP8ThTsQI, retrieved April 12, 2017
[18] Todd Golub, video transcript, (revised by Todd Golub November 12, 2017, [via Naoe Suzuki email, November 12, 2017])
[19] Todd Golub, quoted by Naoe Suzuki, email, November 5, 2017
[20] Albert Einstein, quoted in, Living Philosophies, Henry Goddard Leach, Ed., Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 1930, p. 5, online pdf, http://libarch.nmu.org.ua/bitstream/handle/GenofondUA/6517/3a2baca1f171332ad238b086418b9af1.pdf?sequence=1, retrieved November 11, 2017
[21] Naoe Suzuki, quoted by Todd Bartel, November 4, 2017
[22] Naoe Suzuki, quoted by Todd Bartel, November 4, 2017, at the Boston Arts Academy, “Lost and Found” exhibition; Note: this particular comment is taken out of context for its conceptual impact, and originally refers to “our lost beliefs—magic spells from ancient times. The way I’m suggesting in my work is to think about these lost beliefs or ideas to recreate something new for our [present] time.
[23] Naoe Suzuki, video transcript
[24] Naoe Suzuki, quoted by Todd Bartel, November 4, 2017


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Artist’s Statement
 
My primary medium is drawing, though my practice often goes beyond drawing. Deeply engaged with ideas and concepts, my drawing is a tool to explore certain ideas and a way to dig into a subject that I am interested. For over the past five years, my interest has been water and its crisis. Water is the connective tissue of our planet much as it serves in my work to connect visual elements and ideas. Utilizing the core qualities of water—flow, adaptability, and resiliency—in both methodologies and content, my work presents the viewers a chance to meditate upon our relationships with one of our world’s most precious resources—water.
 
My recent interest shifted from water to science as I became the artist-in-residence at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in 2016. Broad Institute is a world-renowned biomedical research institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was founded at the time of the Human Genome Project which deciphered the entire human genetic code. Broad Institute is an “experiment” in doing science in a new way that combines biology, chemistry, medical science, computation, mathematics, engineering, and clinical research.
 
The concept of the passage of time as a subject for inquiry is at the core of my exploration in all of my projects at the Broad Institute. Weaving past and present together, I contemplate data mining, knowledge, history, and our belief systems. I was particularly drawn to the ancient history of medical science in regards to the passage of time. I incorporated the magic spells used as a medical treatment in Ancient Egypt—found in Edwin Smith Papyrus, the oldest known medical textbook to include prognosis.
 
In all of my projects at the Broad Institute, the gesture of tracing is meant to honor the original manuscripts or writings. The deliberately slow process of transferring these writings is a meditation on our progress—whether scientists’ writings on the whiteboard or copy of ancient medical papyrus. Scholars believe that in ancient Egypt when the Edwin Smith Papyrus was written, the same content was copied over many times, over the span of 200 or 300 years. This means that the methods of diagnosing and treating patients did not change significantly for a few hundred years. Compare that to what’s happening now. The sequencing of the human genome was completed a little over fifteen years ago in 2003, and we’re now talking about precision medicine. Things have been moving at an exponential speed in science, medicine, and technology in the last few decades.
 
My artistic practice seems to evoke a pause for the moment, in the world where everything seems to be moving fast.

Naoe Suzuki 2017
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