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Red Deer artist examines the fragility, resilience of the human body in Edmonton exhibit

Marnie Blair’s Nervous Systems exhibit is on at the U of A Hospital’s gallery until Dec. 4
Red Deer artist Marnie Blair’s artwork ‘Gut Feeling: Mesentery Silver Linings’ is part of her Nervous Systems exhibit, on at the University of Alberta Hospital’s McMullen Gallery until Dec. 4. (Contributed photo).

Red Deer artist Marnie Blair is showing the fragility and intricacy of the human body in a multi-media exhibit in Edmonton.

Blair suffered a cardiac arrest when she was 19 and lives with an implanted defibrillator to keep her heartbeat regular.

Her show Nervous Systems, at the McMullen Gallery at the University of Alberta Hospital, explores some of the dichotomies of living as a human being — the fine line between fragility and resilience, our biological systems versus artificial interventions, and decay and resuscitation.

Blair depicts the human body as architecture in her woodcuts and prints.

Gut Feeling: Mesentery Silver Linings shows the stomach, liver and intestines spilling out of a torso in a display of complexity that will make viewers wonder how all that fits inside there.

Blair’s cut-out of Lungs is based on a 15th Century medical illustration. The hinged work opens up like a shuttered window. Blair used a patterned crib mattress from her child’s bed to give the hinged pieces texture, as well as fishing lures from her parents. The work that shows serpentine pulmonary pathways is reminiscent of a three-part religious alter piece.

Some of her art might make viewers wonder what it means to depend on a mechanical device for survival — or as Blair bluntly puts it: “to inhabit a cyborg-like existence as part human/part machine.”

The Ontario native, who teaches visual art at Red Deer Polytechnic, believes this question is “not only personally relevant but can also be applied to the current transformation of human existence due to our increasing reliance upon many different types of technologies.”

Blair, who has studied in the U.K., the U.S. and Italy and has a Masters degree in Fine Art from the University of Calgary, uses computerized carving machines to create her woodcuts, which are then hand-printed or painted.

This reliance on computer processes references “our own increasing dependence on technology and its impact on our daily life,” said Blair, who feels a person’s identity is impacted — whether “enhanced or infringed upon.”

Her own reliance on an implanted cardiac defibrillator to keep her heart beating steadily is a case in point, exemplifying the interdependent physical relationship between the artificial and the organic.

Blair said she hopes her work provides a meaningful distraction for hospital patients, “while also challenging the viewer to be perceptually and emotionally involved.”

“As a patient, I am acutely aware of the need for arts and humanities in health and medicare,” she added.

The show continues until Dec. 4.