The Skeleton and The Skin: Annet Couwenberg

The Skeleton and The Skin

Annet Couwenberg is a fiber artist whose art work is based on the concept of clothing as a metaphor for examining the precarious balance between the body/skeleton and the outer membrane/skin.

Dr. Lynne Parenti studies the comparative anatomy and distribution of tropical freshwater and coastal marine fishes mainly from Southeast Asia.

Annet and Lynne worked together during the summer of 2014 for a unique Fellowship experience studying the Division of Fishes’ collections through the lenses of both art and science.

Annet Couwenberg's Puff #2, made of laser cut buckram and wood

Annet Couwenberg’s Puff #2, made of laser cut buckram and wood

Last week I got an email with this description from my fiber arts guild email list. Gosh, it was right up my alley. I had to go. So, I traipsed into DC, ice and puddles notwithstanding, and listened to what they had to say.

Couwenberg has no formal science education (beyond your usual secondary ed, I assume). She’s got two degrees in fiber and a background in fashion design, but has long been interested in the relationship between the skeleton and the skin. We saw corset inspired art, for instance. But listening to her talk about her fellowship at the Smithsonian was great.

She really dove into the rich source material on so many levels. Not only was she inspired by how the fish looked, but she was looking at histograms (slides of tissue) and manipulating those and then creating art based on those.

Couwenberg works with a variety of materials. I was particularly taken with her laser cut pieces. Some pieces are lacey, others are stacked (layers and layers (HEY NEURO PEEPS, think about this for those stacked images you guys get — juicy stuff, am I right?)).

Origami is a rich source of inspiration for her too. She had all this folded buckram which was pretty neat (laser cut dots to help with the folds!). And yet, she holds she’s not a sculptor but a fiber artist.

I was struck by a couple thing she talked about. At least twice she talked about how it’s about the process for her. This is how she learns. Finally, someone else like me! I asked her if she could have learned science in this way, might she have been a scientist? She agreed it might have happened.

Someone asked if the technology allowed her to do things she wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. Her answer was interesting to me because she talked about how it didn’t make things easier, but I also have to wonder, if like me, she’s drawn to trying new techniques to help create her art, seeing the possibilities in them.

Dr Lynn Parenti was her science partner and this woman studies fish. I asked at one point if the difference between a scientist and an artist was that the scientist takes things apart while the artist makes things. I think fundamentally, at least in the sciart community, a lot of us are asking the same questions, but approaching from a different viewpoint. The goal is still to learn and communicate and educate.

It seems what Parenti got out of the partnership was the idea to take slides of a coelacanth brain and 3D image it!! How cool is that?

Finally, someone else asked Couwenberg if she thought about working with exoskeletons and exploring that relationship. The answer? She was just starting to do that!

Very exciting work. I’m so glad I went. So, what do you think? Would love to chat about it.

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6 thoughts on “The Skeleton and The Skin: Annet Couwenberg

    • 😀 It was amazing. I don’t feel like I conveyed everything they talked about very well. I hope they recorded it! And I figured out you were Meander. Well, next time we will know more in advance and perhaps it will work out for both of us to go!

    • Also, the photos weren’t mine. I grabbed them from Couwenberg’s website. I wish I had taken pics of the samples she had there. I assumed I could find those online too so I didn’t. Pretty neat stuff.

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