In Geraldine Ondrizek’s office, a life-sized plaster hand and a hornet’s nest share the bookshelves with glass boxes displaying what look like ancient specimens from some macabre laboratory.
“I’m fascinated with the desire of science to categorize and document our physical existence,” she says. Those display cases hold rare orchids and other tropical flowers that Ondrizek collected from the University of Washington’s greenhouses (she was a graduate student there in the early 1990s). She marveled at their decay, then pinned the dead-brown blossoms inside 18 cases for her Collector’s Chamber (1994).
This installation joins others of hers which, she says, “take science into a metaphoric and poetic realm.” Her work explores the beauty of biological forms, and the notion of abstract, scientific data containing a tangible body of information that links us to others. “Those connections remain, for me, mystical,” she explains. Subsequent works have used other biological artifacts to capture our connection to our natural surroundings, as in Betula Pendula Silver Birch (1997), in which she transferred impressions of birch trees onto thin rice paper (the work currently hangs in Reed’s Gray Campus Center and was a gift of John and Betty Gray to the college). Ondrizek’s most recent work incorporates genetics, addressing the ties between family members, and our ties to each other as human beings across cultures and time.
The medical-research aesthetic exhibited in her spare, almost clinical use of metal contrasts sharply with the flowing fabrics and hand-stitched embroidery of much of her other artwork. “I grew up surrounded by embroiderers,” says Ondrizek, who is interested in her and her husband’s Semitic heritage. “Historically, in Semitic culture, embroidery functions to record the history and lineage of a family, a tribe, and an entire people.”
Take Torah binders. After seeing an exhibit of elaborately embroidered binders dating from the first millennium through the mid-1930s, she researched the tradition and made her own series. For Torah Binder, A Boy’s Chromosomes (2004), she printed her son’s post-amniocentesis chromosome test results onto Irish linen and hand-stitched over it.
Photo by Orin Bassoff ’04