reed magazine logowinter2007

The art of teaching the teachin of art


Geraldine Ondrizek’s M168: Tracing the Y Chromosome


The anonymous RNA test of a mother and her unborn child (it shows diseases the child will inherit) appears in Repairing RNA (2004). Images of the test results were dye-sublimation-printed onto silk-like fabric that Ondrizek stretched into a 16-foot metal embroidery loom with matching benches. From spools above, threads dangle down, ready for nimble-fingered gallery visitors to stitch with. Fingerprint DNA: A Portrait of an Arab American Family (2006) uses images from paternity genetic tests of members of her husband’s extended family. Here, five six-by-seven-foot panels hang vertically one behind the other on a metal structure resembling a rug loom, with threads running horizontally through the layers, connecting each family member.

Ondrizek’s students play a big part in her work, as metal fabricators, seamstresses, bookbinders, and printers. “And collaborators,” she adds, “especially science students, who bring some great ideas to class.” And even DNA test results. Those results, plus geneticist Spencer Wells’ recent discovery of the Y chromosome’s M168 marker tracing back 50,000 years to the bush people of Africa—“and, most significantly, the death of my brother-in-law,” she says, “and my desire to believe none of us really die because we pass on our genetic code”—inspired her current work.

In M168: Tracing the Y Chromosome (2006), eight 10-by-10-foot parallel linen panels hang horizontally from the ceiling, progressively smaller holes in each creating a funnel to stand inside (“a space for contemplation,” says Ondrizek). A similarly funneled hole cuts through the pages of 16 3-by-3-inch, hand-bound letterpress-embossed books, each one printed on different paper with different genetic codes (“our new belief system,” she says). Prayer-book-sized and meant to be held, the books line the gallery’s “Wailing Wall.” Says Ondrizek: “This work is about humanity repeating itself, and the genetic map inside ourselves as to whom we’re connected to, breaking the boundaries of blood and family.”

Geraldine Ondrizek’s hand-bound book


Ondrizek devotes several hours a week to making art during the school year and launches “head first” in summer. For her, “teaching is a whole creative process in itself. My work with letterpress, printmaking, and book construction came from designing classes on the subject. And students and I often compare contemporary research and the shifting ideas in our society, and with the scientific community. Teaching provides the laboratory for students and me to explore new territory, both conceptually and physically.”

M168: Tracing the Y Chromosome photo by Orin Bassoff ’04. Additional artwork may be found on Ondrizek's website.