JUST BREATHE

Fifty Questions: Linda Alterwitz

What do you suspect is your most powerful artistic blessing? Or blessing in general?

I have no fear when it comes to creating art. Not even a fear of failure, because I don’t believe that failure exists in art. If something doesn’t work the way I had envisioned, I see it as an opportunity to take a different direction. It mimics the way our lives play out; one event leads to the next, leads to the next.

Can you recall your first memory of bliss in self-expression?

I was about 6 or 7 years old and I had an obsession with glow paint. When I was supposed to be sleeping, I often had a jar of glow paint hidden under my covers. I would open it up and finger paint all over the wall in my bedroom. I had a bunk bed, and always elected to sleep on the bottom bunk, so my mother never saw the textured wall of invisible paint. But I saw it, every night after the lights went out, and was able to continue to express myself without inhibition. It didn’t matter what it looked like, this conglomerate of shapes and scrapes. Yet, it was so satisfying to me because at the time, it was magic.

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Have you ever had a physical illness, event, or impediment that has changed how you make or approach artmaking? And how?

Over 20 years ago I had brain tumor. It was benign, and things could have been a lot worse. Nevertheless, it was causing problems for me and I had to get it surgically removed. It was during this period of being ill that I made a complete change in my artistic practice. Previously, I had been a painter. I earned an MFA in painting and drawing from the University of Denver. I painted large, colorful, non-representational pieces, influenced by Abstract Expressionism. But all of that came to a sudden halt when I was ill. Not only could I not use chemicals (like oil paint solvents, etc.) without getting a massive headache, but I was also ready for a pivotal change in my artistic practice.

That change was initiated by one visit to my skull base doctor many years ago. He looked at my MRI film of my brain and noticed that something was amiss. The data derived from my blood work verses the size of the tumor recorded from the MRI didn’t made sense. He asked me if I had gone to the same diagnostic center to the get MRI done and I told him that I had not- I had been scheduled at a different center. I was asked to retake the MRI and dispose of the inaccurate films in order to get them out of my file to avoid further confusion. The film came home with me and eventually, I had the courage to look inside of my own head. I found it so intriguing; I knew at that point that I wanted to use this imagery somehow in my creative practice.

I knew that digital photography incorporated multiple layers and that this medium would be a good starting point to be able to use the MRI data in my work. For the next year I went to our community college and took every digital photography class I could take until I could use the computer as easily as I used a paintbrush.

From that point on, I have been pursuing an ongoing investigation to reveal hidden visual phenomena, incorporating scientific images that are derived from cutting-edge technology within my photographs. Inspired by experimentation with diverse materials and processes, I incorporate both traditional and new media techniques. Guided by current technology, my creative process often incorporates images derived from X-rays, CT, PET, sonogram, MRI or fMRI diagnostic imaging, informational grids sourced from the data of medical tests or thermal imaging. By combining both creative and scientific elements, I explore visual perception to engage feelings of curiosity, wonderment, human frailty and resilience.

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If you could be anything besides an artist in human form, what would you like to be?

I knew I always wanted to be an artist. Yet, as I was required to fill out two options on my high school vocation list, I added “astronaut” to my list. My reasons weren’t compelling- I loved to stare out at the night sky so much and wanted to space travel.

Yet, it didn’t stop me from engaging with the night sky, but in the form of an ongoing participatory project called JUST BREATHE http://www.lindaalterwitz.com/just_breathe.html. In this mindful and meditative project, I document human life on a scientific and emotional level.  Represented within a wall installation of what appears to be a large star field in a night sky, are actually unique individual human portraits. Through this process, I document the movement of each person’s breath as it effects the visual oscillation of the stars above. Each portrait is captured by resting my digital camera on the participant’s chest and pointing the camera up to the sky for a 30 second exposure.  Like a fingerprint, each portrait possesses unique properties that are reflected by varying factors such as weather, ambient light, GPS coordinates, and each person’s inhalation and exhalation of breath, giving reference to a microcosm of human life on earth. My goal is for each participant to reach beyond any struggles and fears, and experience just that moment in time.

Here’s a video about JUST BREATHE. https://player.vimeo.com/video/165585757.

What project of yours do you personally consider your most satisfying and why- regardless of external support or accolades?

I started working with a non-profit organization last year called Project Imagine. It’s an Arts in Medicine Program designed to help children who are hospitalized deal with the pain, anxiety, and feelings of isolation that can often accompany prolonged illness. What they do is coordinate artists to provide one-on-one art sessions with each child.

I was asked to participate last year and accepted, deciding to do a thermal photography project with the children. The series of photographs I took of the children is called SUPER POWERS. http://www.lindaalterwitz.com/thermal_super_powers.html

I chose the title SUPER POWERS because it was my way of engaging the children to use the camera, being able to see what no one else can, like Superman.

The kids were able to take thermal photographs of the people and things within their hospital room and afterward I would take their portrait. I felt that I was helping them in the only way I knew how- through a visual art experience. I feel that having an opportunity for the children to step outside their circumstances and explore their creativity can only help improve their mental and physiological being.

When does joy tend to visit you?

Recognizing that I am able to give and receive unconditional love to and from those I most cherish in this life is the highest expression and feeling of joy that I live with every day.

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Alterwitz in her studio

LINDA ALTERWITZ  |  BIO

Linda Alterwitz is an interdisciplinary artist with diverse interests in the fields of medical research and the natural environment. As part of her investigations that focus on the boundaries between art and science, she incorporates scientific images within her photographs (derived from cutting edge technology) with photographs of the landscape. By combining elements of both creative and scientific elements within each frame, her work provokes a feeling of curiosity and wonderment.

Inspired by experimentation with diverse materials and processes, Alterwitz incorporates both traditional and new media techniques. Guided by current technology, her creative process often incorporates images derived from X-rays, CT, PET, sonogram, fMRI diagnostic imaging, thermal imagine, or informational grids sourced from the results of medical testing.

Alterwitz was the recipient of the Nevada Arts Council Visual Artist Fellowship. Her work has been published in Smithsonian Magazine, Orion Magazine, The New Statesman, among others.

She has exhibited her work in both traditional exhibition and site-specific installations in the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, China, Spain, Israel and Poland.

Alterwitz lives and works in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Publication: https://mkt.com/redstart-studio/exhibition-catalog

Website: http://www.lindaalterwitz.com/