Dependents

Late in 2021, Carrie Scanga and I submitted a proposal to the Southern Graphics Council International to organize a portfolio featuring the future visions of “printmaking caregivers.” Ever since the pandemic began, I’ve been stewing on the role of caregiving in our society: how we talk about it, who does it, what it costs/pays, what it actually involves, and on. With this portfolio we invited artists, specifically “printmaking caregivers”, to share with us their visions for the future. In our prospectus, we wrote that with this work we sought,

to offer solace, beauty, comfort, and radical alternative visions
from one caregiver to another. 

As I considered my vision of a better caregiving future, I struggled to think of much beyond feeling exhausted and resentful. All I could think of was how hard caregiving is and how little structural support there is. I made dozens of thumbnail sketches exploring my ideas. I drew towards things like how caregiving takes place in and through bodies, how the physical structure of cities (or infrastructure more broadly) can impact the labor of care, and the parallels between how we value and discuss care and how we value and discuss land. Through this drawing-thinking, I realized the future of caregiving I want is one of interconnection and support.

Thumbnail sketches of ideas for the print

Around this time, Brooke Gillon, whose work I greatly admire, shared online a picture of two carrots intertwined. I’ve long been drawn to anthropomorphic root vegetables and asked them if I might make a painting based on that image. Sure, they said. I printed out a copy of the image and did nothing with it for weeks.

Towards the end of my sketching and thinking about the caregiving print, I realized the future I wanted was one of interconnection and support. How to illustrate that? I remembered mycelium, the networked strands of fungi that transmit nutrients and information, and recognized that as a structure that could illustrate the type of relationship I was imagining. In my reading, I learned specifically about mycorrhiza, the mutually-beneficial relationship established between some vascular plants and fungi. This is my understanding of that process (with apologies to those who study this and know the actual terms here). The fungi in the soil interface with the roots of the plant, in some cases even penetrating the root cells of the plant. The thin mycelial threads (hyphae) of the fungi help the plant reach water and smaller mineral nutrients than it could not access with its roots alone. Similarly, the mycorrhizal network lets the plants share with other plants information as well as some of the sugars it generates via photosynthesis. In exchange for serving as the conduit for these passages, the fungus “taxes” the plant and takes a portion of the sugars, which it cannot produce, for itself.

This idea of a network that connects species and helps distribute information and resources was an apt one for me. I returned to the carrot image and worked it up into a multi-color screenprint. The final layer was a semi-translucent semi-glossy networked of hyphae, encircling the two carrots and interfacing with the dense richness of the soil surrounding them.

Layers of drawing film with opaque ink. Each film is used to print a separate color layer in the final print.

As I was finishing this print, I learned that Tallu Schuyler Quinn had died. She was and remains for me an inspiring and life-giving figure. Her non-profit The Nashville Food Project was an early partner with and host site for the Land Scouts day camps and her writings, both the NFP newsletters and later on CaringBridge as she grappled with her imminent death, have been a source of revelation and wisdom. In the same way that a song you listened to at a certain time can take you right back to that moment, the image of this print is now entertwined with the grief and gratitude I feel towards Tallu. Fittingly, Brooke Gillon, whose carrot image sparked this process, was someone I met through Tullu and the NFP when we did Land Scout camps.

Dependents, Screenprint on paper, 11″ x 14″, 2022

Like the mycorrhysal network, Tallu’s labor and care noursished and strengthened those around her. It continues to radiate outward. In this weird time of cold spring and end-of-semester-student-anxieties, I am holding on to the metaphor of interconnected species and how we grow stronger together.

Author: Katie

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