. . . field reports from a creative catalyst in the Pacific NW

chromosome painting: ondrizek’s genetic literacy primer

Geraldine Ondrizek is a research-based artist and professor at Reed College who works at the intersection of art and medical science. After the tragic loss of her first child to a genetic anomaly fifteen years ago, she dove into her family’s genetic history and shifted her gaze to a nanoscopic one. For the last 15 years, she has worked closely with genetic scientists to trace ethnic identities, portray life spans, and depict genetically inherited conditions. Her work ignites interest and inquiry about the influence of cancer and other diseases on both individuals and entire families. Robin Bennett, UW Medicine senior genetic counselor and co-director of the UW Genetic Medicine Clinic, works closely with patients and families who are concerned about inherited diseases or conditions.

In 2009, I initiated and facilitated a unique collaboration between Geraldine Ondrizek, and Robin Bennett, a pioneering genetic counselor and her team of groundbreaking research scientists at the University of Washington’s Medical Genetics Center. It is a pivotal time in medical genetics…a field that is exploding with discoveries, breakthroughs as well as misunderstandings and controversies over how we use and interpret genetic data.

3. wall

This interdisciplinary partnership took the shape of a public art commission commemorating the 50 years of Medical Genetics at the University of Washington Medical Center and and exhibition at Kirkland Arts Center. CHROMOSOME PAINTING that showcased three bodies of work generated from Geraldine Ondrizek’s two-year collaboration with the department of Medical Genetics at the University of Washington. (See UW Today article: Chromosome Painting: Discovering Beauty in DNA, by Clare LaFond)

One of our goals with this curatorial and public scholarship effort was to make genetics visible, accessible and better understood. As curator, I have taken many people through the exhibit…explaining the art work, Gerri’s process, the collaboration with UW and our intention as a team to reach a broader audience with this work. What I have discovered, in listening to people’s questions about the work, is that everyone has a unique genetic story to tell…and that we can also learn so much from each other’s stories.

“Genetics touches all of us,” …“This collaboration shows the beauty in our DNA and brings this art and genetic science to the public, so we can have a dialogue to help allay fears and misconceptions related to genetics.”

– Robin Bennett, UW Medicine senior genetic counselor and co-director of the UW Genetic Medicine Clinic


Jane Chin Davidson, exhibition curator UHCL, art history professor, curated a multi-site installation, INNER SPACE, GLOBAL MATTER, at the University of Houston Gallery of Art, Johnson Space Center  and Florida International University November of 2012. In addition, she hosted and moderated a cross disciplinary panel discussion, Intersections of Art, Science and Technology. Panelists included: Geraldine Ondrizek, Reed College art professor; Darrin Leleux, engineer, NASA Johnson Space Center; Lory Z. Santiago-Vázquez, UHCL biology professor; and Amy Lampazzi, UHCL mathematics lecturer.

The exhibition at Kirkland Art Center was funded in part by  the Oregon Arts Commission, The Ford Foundation and the Stillman Drake Fund, Reed College. View Geraldine Ondrizek’s work, visit the UW Genetic Medicine Clinic and learn more about the Chromosome Painting scarves fundraiser. My visiting artist lecture to the Univeristy of Washington Advanced Photomedia students as well as my involvement with the  Intersections of Art, Science and Technology panel at UHCL were supported through my 4Culture Independent Artist grant.


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This entry was posted on June 21, 2013 by in cultural entrepreneurship, public scholarship.
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