Madonna Series, multi-media installation by Chris Twomey
In an age in which liberal churches and synagogues see membership declining and fundamentalist ones grow as they fan hostility to science, it is refreshing to find an artist who uses historical genetics as the basis for a new concept of holiness. Chris Twomey combines her skills as painter and photographer to reinvent and democratize the Madonna ideal by combining joyous photographs of very particular mothers with their naked babies on one hand with graphic evocations of cell structure and mapped intercontinental migrations of mitochondrial DNA on the other. Each 30x40" multi-media canvas places a grand-scale photograph of mother and baby, haloed (of course) against a segment of a drawn diagram of a phylogenetic network, featuring the child's imagined haplogroup. These amount to radiating webs of lighter colored canals against darker saturations of the same shade, reminiscent of actual medieval icons. Each main photograph is cut into four quadrants, whose sections are separated to form a cross.
Inside the wide margins on all four sides of each canvas Twomey has drawn 14 miniature world maps in a paler version of the main background color, that outline the journey of each pair's ancestral DNA. On either side of the canvas smaller light colored photos of the same pair in six poses overlay the maps. The effect is striking. Twomey has elevated a compelling series of literal photographs to the level of high concept, whose main theme is that the spiritual dignity of every one of us ultimately derives from the wanderings of our ancestors across the globe—as traceable in our DNA. While not refuting any pious tenets, Twomey has given religious concepts a new gloss, and she has been recognized by Art and Science Collaborations, Inc., who have included one of these works in their current show at the New York Hall of Science, through January 15, 2007.
The other works in the show consist of superimposed images of mother-and-child pairs, each monochromatic image colorized a different tint, and all against a solid color background. Her video is a series of these images moving and mixing with each other. These are pleasing works, offering their share of visual stimulation, but are lighter fare compared to the power of Twomeys' multi-media canvases.
by Joel Simpson