Darian Stahl, “Field Notes: How to Be With”

Darian Stahl
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Field Notes: How to Be With
encaustic transfer, monoprint, embroidery, and silkscreen on silk and handmade paper
8″ round x .25″

Artist Statement

Field Notes: How to Be With explores the collapsing dichotomies between art and science, objectivity and subjectivity, and human and nonhuman bodies. It is the result of my yearlong PhD field research: first as a Visiting Scholar in the University of Kent Medical Humanities Program, and then as the Artist in Residence at the McGill University Fertility Research Laboratory. Within these roles, I interviewed over 20 medical humanities scholars. I then transcribed and rearranged their voices within Field Notes, as if these researchers were sharing in a discourse with one another. In the creation of an artist’s book, I aim to show how the merging of text, image, and object allows the senses to communicate encounters with medicine.

The images in Field Notes were made in collaboration with the scientists I shadowed at McGill University. Together, we gathered the daily ephemera of their research, like colorful syringes, nitril gloves, and biohazard bags, and created assemblages within embroidery hoops on the bed of a scanner. Although I was unable to photograph the mice whose bodies enable the scientists’ research, I honored them as golden embroidered visages within this book. To further bridge digital imaging and the handmade, I invented a new kind of photographic printmaking process that layers toner between incredibly thin sheets of encaustic pigment and silk. The results portray richly saturated, illusionistic depth on an utterly flat surface. As well, this technique allows the pages to be viewed from the front and the back in equal translucency—a feature ideally suited for artists’ books.

I seek to reveal the entangled networks of human, animal, and synthetic materials that enable scientific innovation by utilizing the layering of pages. Additionally, the transparency of the materials allows the reader’s hands to also become a part of this entanglement. By creating collaborative artwork that pulls back the microscope’s frame of reference to include hands and narrative, I explore how the sensory engagement of an artist’s book can construct a space of exchange between healthcare workers and those who seek healing.

In light of how our world has so rapidly changed, this artist’s book also takes on a new urgency. The struggles we face are not solely scientific, but also humanistic in how we can best communicate with others in a world filled with misinformation, and, primarily, how best to take care. As we grapple with when and how to come together in a post-Covid-19 society, Field Notes: How to Be With also exemplifies the role of art-making as a discourse between scientific progress and what it is like to live with illness. This multitude of voices and bodies bound together in a shareable book ultimately communicates imaginative ways of being-with at a distance.