Invasive Fertility

Now that I’m back in my studio after years of science-based residency work, I’m revisiting a series about invasive species and female human fertility. The two topics have often weighed on me as a mother and contributor to the decline of our ailing environment.

I started this series (titled Invasive Fertility) between having my first child and a miscarriage, and before having my second child. In the midst of the powerful experience of creating life, I was learning in detail how our booming human population is devastating ecosystems and threatening a global mass extinction. The list of ways humans facilitate environmental degradation is hard to keep track of. One way that has become visually glaring to me in my own city is human introduction of non-native plant and insect species. Invasive vines are blanketing urban forests of enormous mature trees surrounding my neighborhood. The emerald ash borer is worsening the problem by targeting Ash trees. The threats go on and on.

As the situation unfolded in front of me, I did what living things do – make more of themselves. Being pregnant three times was, dare I say, a cosmic experience. I later wrote: “This cup cradled a human-scale big bang that set in motion an expansion of life, stardust encoded to make toes and eyelashes, memories and consciousness.” Nothing I’ve ever experienced has been more powerful. Unfortunately it turns out, that power uninhibited can be destructive.

And so I’m putting the two thoughts on paper (both the painted and written variety), to sit together uncomfortably. Like good therapy, there’s some reprieve in getting these thoughts out of my head and into a physical form, even if the problem still exists. Stay tuned to see the finished works, and keep reading to get to some prose…

One of Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil's pelvic paintings in progress   Four of Pittsburgh artist Ashley Cecil's pelvic paintings in progress

Just Bones
The young studio visitor asked, “Why are you painting bones?” The artist comes down to eye level and leans in. “Because they’re magic. This one here. This is a female pelvic bone. Every human being who ever existed and every one that ever will is cradled in this vessel. It’s life’s first home. And see this part? This opening? That’s the doorway to life on this side. This bone is an unimaginably powerful thing, and you have one. That must make you unimaginably powerful.”

Courier of Foreign Objects
How did this once complete set of legos scatter from a box in the basement to under the beds, the silverware drawer, inside my shoe, the fireplace, the vegetable garden? The courier is a kindergartener busy making make-believe wherever his whim takes him. These plastic building blocks give mobility to his creations and taint surroundings with hazardous foreign objects.

How did this once balanced ecosystem scatter from its native home oceans away to foreign old-growth forests, fields of food, city parks, garden centers, our backyards? The couriers are grown ups sailing shipping vessels, checking international luggage, hiding stowaways on the soles of shoes. These fungi, beetles, serpents and diseases hitchhike on building materials of prosperity and personal effects that facilitate wanderlust. Upon arrival they mount an aggressive coup to overthrow the hand that feeds us.

No more is the intact lego fire truck or the native forest. Their original forms have disappeared in the dilution. Foreign parts have dispersed and disrupted the native landscape leaving only shapeless monotony everywhere.

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