Margaret Whiting’s Premise

Margaret Whiting’s Premise

A Former Healthcare Professional‘s Artistic Nudge

Margaret Whiting, US Geological Survey - Pennsylvania (Detail), Survey Map, human anatomy Illustration of eyeball

Margaret Whiting, U.S.Geological Survey – Pennsylvania (detail), Geological Survey Map, human anatomy illustration of the eyeball.  Whiting’s combination of anatomy and topographic illustration demonstrates visual similarities between the environment and ourselves, a metaphor for our oneness with the earth, even as we still live.

Once when I was a child out with a friend, we walked past a tall fence. We were curious about what was on the other side. I lifted my friend up, and he described a swimming pool, a garden, some tables, and sliding glass doors that reflected so that he couldn’t see inside. Based on that description, I had a pretty good idea of what was on the other side of the fence without seeing it myself.

Margaret Whiting, our current artist at Art Space Vincennes, worked for ten years as a Medical Lab Technician.  We all rely on this profession and its use of science to maintain our health and well-being.  Whiting’s education in that field developed critical disciplines of observation required of scientists and medical technicians.  For example, she described to us the counting of certain kinds of cells in a biopsied specimen using a microscope, to determine the presence of disease.  Counting cells may sound easy. Whiting explained how difficult it is, though, to notice the sometimes minute differences between good cells and bad cells. It became evident that lack of critical observation could have catastrophic consequences on a patient relying on careful analysis.

Whiting carried her disciplines of observing and analysis from science to her art making. A predominant theme in her art is the connections between human, plant and animal health and the health of the land we share, the planet, and our laws.

Whiting’s scientific background enables her to accept what other scientists are seeing because she is familiar with scientific principles and methods through her education.  She trusts their discipline in observation, their instruments, their replication of experiments to determine facts, not opinions.  She continues to use her tools to study environmental issues. Notably, in the case of this show, she has studied environmental laws dating back to the 19th century and has discovered that those laws related to land use and ownership have largely remained intact for a century and a half!  Whiting, as both scientist and artist, provides yet another set of eyes above the fence.  She gently and beautifully nudges us toward seeking better health for our bodies and the land we share.

Why should we change them?  Over the last century and a half, the world became industrialized.  Humans invented motors using fossil fuels. The invention of electricity and gadgets required power plants to produce massive amounts of electricity for us to use them.  Our use of plastics also relies on hydrocarbons.  We also discovered atomic energy which requires polluting uranium mining and the disposal of radioactive waste material. New atoms have been added to the atomic chart since I went to school, and there has been an explosion in the massive use of chemicals for specialized purposes. Some of the worse polluters are pesticides, which have contributed to the extinction of species that might have been the key to creating future medicines.   The many different kinds of metals we use must be mined and smelted, which are two of the worse polluting processes. The inadequately regulated industrial scale of GMO products, such as corn, eliminates other varieties of corn.  Diversity in corn and other foods would assure the world of more tools for fighting diseased crops.  Some unanticipated crop failure of the future could wipe out whole populations.  The least efficient form of transportation, air travel, is yet another major polluter of air.

All these industries did not exist when many of the laws were written, and those that existed then did not exploit the environment on the scale we do today.  While these industries have benefited our societies, these benefits have come at a cost, that only in recent decades have we begun to recognize. We produce things to use briefly and discard, rather than produce them well enough to use for many years throughout one’s life time. This has overtaxed our land fills. We ship trash around the world to discard it.

Consequently, some policy makers are trying to get a handle on 21st-century problems, such as pollution and waste with only outdated 19th-century laws!  Some of these largest industries have become so powerful that they can resist regulations by paying fines that don’t significantly affect their profit margins.  They are also powerful enough to financially pay politicians to favor their business while continuing to deny the effects of their activities on the health of our planet and therefore the health of humans, plants, and animals.

Screen shots of four frames from a gif file from (which displays a video) of stormy sun flares as they erupt from the sun’s surface July 7. The black disc in the center blocks the sun’s disk to show the flares. The sun’s diameter is 864,575.9 mi.  The explosion covered more than about 5 times that distance in only 5.5 hours and caused the northern lights in Maine 2 days later as scientists predicted.

During the age of Lincoln, the US seemed vast and our resources endless.   Though long train rides began to shrink the continent down to a manageable size, the country still seemed beyond our ability to destroy.  Fast forward to our present moment, when astronauts can circle the earth in the International Space Station in 92 minutes.  From space, the earth is very small, indeed, and very solitary in an immense cosmos.  Scientists can quickly sum up the availability and condition of our natural resources. They follow the shrinking snow caps at the poles. They observe and measure signs of pollution.  Scientists on the ground confirm what others saw from space.  Like the friend that I lifted to look over the fence, these scientists can see what they have been lifted up to observe.  They have not only eyes but also extensions of eyes:  filters, spectrometers, microscopes and telescopes and ways of seeing most of us can not fathom.  They have expertise from many different specialized fields to create a picture for all of us to understand.  So many businesses and politicians fail to be alarmed by what the scientific community is telling us.   Whiting as a scientist and now an artist suggests updating our laws and culture to make to upgrade the health of the earth and ourselves.

Margaret Whiting shared the following readings suggested by author Eric T. Freyfogle, Swanlund Chair and Professor of Law Emeritus, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Illinois:

  • Freyfogle, Eric T., A Good that Transcends: How US Culture Undermines Environmental Reform (U. Chi. Press). Includes “probing looks at the writings of Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry, David Orr, and Pope Francis (his encyclical Laudate Si’), and some chapters exploring the cultural roots of our misuses of nature.”
  • Ilgunas, Ken, Trespassing Across America (Coming in April of 2018)
  • Ilgunas, Ken, This Land is Our Land, a study regarding “rights to roam and the rights to responsible access” in certain other countries.

Speaking of books, the ASV book Land We Share: Installation by Margaret Whiting is for sale at ASV for $27, our cost of publishing and shipping. ASV has displayed other books about the environment for your inspection on a paper cabinet in Gallery 1 (the office).

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