Kristina Fiedrich’s exhibition Under My Skin: A Splendour of Organs is a unique display of pencil and watercolour artwork that opened as part of The Body Eclectic, a colloquium orchestrated by Fiedrich and TRU’s own Terryl Atkins, a faculty member of the visuals arts department who has avidly followed Fiedrich’s work since her graduation from TRU’s BFA program in 2005.
Atkins said that the inclusion of an art display is crucial to the colloquium’s effectiveness.
“Because it’s inter-disciplinary, what it allows is for a different kind of question to be asked,” she said, noting that when a discussion takes place within only one discipline “people skip over things.”
Fiedrich’s work is over five years in the making, and comes from a variety of inspirations, such as the idea of differently-abled bodies, and in particular the realm of prosthetics. In 2011, Fiedrich was given a grant to further investigate this display and create an artistic exhibition around it. In her formal address, Fiedrich said “The intention was to investigate the literal and figurative image of the prosthesis” which includes the replacement of any body part, from lost limbs to skin grafts.
Robert Romanyshyn, a keynote speaker for the colloquium and emeritus professor of Pacifica Graduate Institute, was also attending and assessed Fiedrich’s work.
“She is examining at the point in culture where the promise of technology really raises the question of what does it mean to be human,” he said.
Romanyshyn was particularly taken with a prosthetics-inspired watercolour entitled Passions of the Mechanical Heart, which displayed a heart that appears half-flesh and half-machine.
“This is what she puts together. She sees where the tension is between mechanization and human passion,” he said.
Prosthetics are only some of many things which influence the way we think about our bodies, and Fiedrich tries to encourage a positive, contemplative tone in her work, especially in regards to self-perception and different bodies.
“You don’t have to give in and say ‘my body is not what I want it to be’ or ‘I experienced this trauma and therefore my body has failed me,’” she said.
Using the medium of the human body – especially the body’s insides – makes for some disconcerting displays, but Fiedrich said she likes the uncomfortable element of her medium.
“I feel that way pretty much all the time,” she said. “I feel a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit awkward, a little bit uncertain, just about where I am in relationship to everything else and everyone else around me.
“I think that constant negotiation that happens there comes through in the work, where it’s a negotiation between ‘is this something that’s really grotesque or abject?’ or ‘is it something that’s actually quite beautiful and amazing?'”
Fiedrich said students, especially those who may struggle to resolve their embodied identities with their places in the world, can find a special connection with this kind of work. Even though the displays may be a bit off-putting, she hopes it makes people stop and think about their bodies.
“If that happens with my work, I’m happy, and if people are grossed out, that’s fine. I’m okay with that too, because that’s an effect and the artwork is interacting with their body in some way.”
Under My Skin, a Splendour of Organs runs until April 1 in TRU’s art gallery.