Caroline Lathan-Stiefel

Artist’s Statement

In 2014, Lathan-Stiefel created a suspended, monumental installation entitled Wider Than The Sky, based on the rhizomatic networks of the brain for the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville’s Project Atrium space. After her father suffered an episode of encephalitis in 2012, which caused mainly temporary damage to the speech and language area of his brain, she began to think about how the circuitry of the brain can be scarred and damaged and then “re-grow” itself, like a plant. Lathan-Stiefel began to research brain cell imagery, including the drawings of Spanish neuroscientist, Ramon y Cajal, and made a series of drawings that she eventually translated into sculptural textile pieces for the installation.   In Wider Than The Sky, she also included a series of embroidered words on fabric (like “rice”, “mother”, “article”), which were the handful of words her father said immediately after his encephalitis began. (At the time, these words contained multiple meanings for him). The installation which was suspended from the forty feet high ceiling of the atrium space, consisted of various layers of cells, words and fragmentary parts, which were made of fabric, wire, pipe cleaners, plastic, thread, string, and fishing weights.

In 2016, Lathan-Stiefel then created a new installation for a vitrine at the Philadelphia International Airport entitled Ennead that also focused on intricate cell imagery and text. Once again she began the process by intensely researching scientific brain cell imagery, and ended up creating nine new, non-scientific “brain cells” and nine text fragments. The calligraphic text fragments made of pipe cleaners, fabric and thread, were not based on particular words, but awere rather asemic (representing language without specific content) in nature. In the vitrine installation, they were interspersed among the suspended cells, suggesting a brain or mind in flux.

Photo by Ryan Collerd, Courtesy of The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage