An Introduction to “Yew Tree Project”

Introductory Remarks presented by Laura Katzman for Carolyn Bernstein’s Artist Talk on Yew Tree Project

I am delighted to introduce our Visiting Artist, Carolyn Bernstein, whom I’ve known since 2002, when we shared an office here at the Washington DCJCC. She was a Program Director for art classes and I was a Guest Curator for the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery, organizing an exhibition on the graphic work of Ben Shahn.

Even though Carolyn and I overlapped for only a short time, I was able to see that she was a special, deep-thinking individual with a sharp mind and keen vision—an artist who would bring an intensity of focus and an analytical precision to whatever she undertook.

I was therefore not surprised to learn that she had created such a profound, thought-provoking, and enduring body of work with Yew Tree Project. Nor was I surprised that she went on to pursue art (and win awards) at the Corcoran School of Art and Design and to complete an MFA in 2008 at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago.

Yew Tree Project (initiated in 2006) quickly garnered accolades with two solo exhibitions at the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago and at the Museum at Aurora University in Aurora, Illinois.

The series addresses the cancer drug derived from the poisonous yew tree. It deals with what the artist calls “the contemporary visual culture of medical imaging technologies.”

The work documents the labyrinthian journey that diseased individuals (and their bodies) face when encountering the intersection of the corporate, pharmaceutical, medical, and existential worlds that are involved in the battling of cancer.

In the context of this universe, Yew Tree Project  is a brilliant and subtle investigation of relationships between:

–the human body and the natural world
–the individual and the collective
–the worlds of art and science

One of the most fascinating aspects of Carolyn’s work—for me—is the way it draws parallels between how artists and scientists visualize the body in an attempt to understand and make sense of the inevitable processes of aging and deterioration. But at the same time, the work reveals how both art and science record the beauty of the mortal human body—in all its complexities, intricacies, and mysteries.

Carolyn brings her impressive technical skills to Yew Tree Project, sandblasting on glass, and drawing and painting on a range of papers both opaque and transparent. Her images are multivalent and meticulously detailed. They require close looking and intense engagement in order to decode their dense layers of meaning. I encourage you all to give this rich body of work the visual and mental time that it deserves.

Professor Laura Katzman is Associate Professor of Art History at James Madison University. Dr. Katzman was Associate Professor of Art and Director of the Museum Studies Program at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (1995-2007). She has been a Senior Lecturer in Museum Studies at Smith College and a Guest Professor in the Institute of English and American Studies at the University of Hamburg in Germany. As a Visiting Curator at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, and the Maier Museum of Art, she has organized numerous exhibitions of American photography that have toured the United States.
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