From Serendip

Measure for Measure:
An Artistic Exploration of Eating Disorders, Body Image, and the Self

The Origins and Evolution of a Web Exhibit

GETTING STARTED, SERENDIPITOUSLY

From: "Janna Stern"
To: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject: An Article I found connected to your site
Date: Mon, 29 May 2000 20:18:50 -0700

I found an article by Jeremy Hirst on Anorexia and it led me to your site. I wondered if a recent series of paintings that I have done would warrant an exhibition at Bryn Mawr or another academic institution that works with Serendip. It is called "Measure for Measure, an artistic exploration of the mythology of eating disorders". I would be happy to mail a copy of the brochure and a few slides of the paintings for your review if you would be interested. It is my hope that this work can be displayed in an university gallery with lectures from experts on the treatment and prevention of eating disorders. This could serve to increase public awareness of this plague which is almost epidemic in proportion in our present society. I graduated from Stanford in 1963 with a B.S. in Physiology and went on to UCLA Medical School. I became a psychiatrist but became consumed by my family of 6 daughters and painting and left active practice. If you are interested in this topic please forward an address where I can send the brochure and slides.

To: "Janna Stern"
From: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Re: An Article I found connected to your site
Date: Thurs, 1 June 2000 16:13:47 -0400

Thanks for your note, and glad you found us. I'm not sure I'm in a position to be of much direct in connection with a physical gallery show, but I'd be happ to look over your materials and talk more if you were interested in the possibility of dong some kind of virtual exhibit on Serendip. Serendip is visited by about 1000 computers a day, with the majority of visitors interested in one or anoter aspect of brain/behavior (broadly conceived), so there's a serious audience on line, and one which might well include people in a position to work with you on physical gallery shows. We have some art exhibits on line (cf the new The Third Age in Paris), and are particularly interested in things at the art/science interface. Finally, as you now, we already have some materials on anorexia, and would certainly be interested in expanding that theme. "lectures from experts on the treatment and prevention of eating disorders" we don't have, but we do have some general relevant expertise/resources (Neurobiology and Behavior), and, if you had a little time/inclination, we could probably work together to turn up some interesting additional materials.

June 9, 2000

Paul Grobstein
Professor
Department of Biology
Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Re: Project Proposal

Dear Paul

Thanks for your response to my e-mail. I think your idea of constructing a virtual exhibit on Serendip is a great idea. Per your request, I am sending you a few proofs and a brochure on my eating disorder series.

Before we continue however, I want to make it perfectly clear that I have not done a scholarly treatise on this subject. The art and the stimulus for this series is more anecdotal in nature. I do, of course, have a cursory knowledge of possible causes and methods of treatment of eating disorders. I actually began creating this body of work after receiving feedback from young women who viewed the early pieces and related it to their own experience.

I am excited about the possibility of the two of us collaborating together on a virtual exhibit of my work. One of my main objectives in this series is to create a greater awareness of eating disorders in our society. It has been my experience that eating disorders are vastly underreported and often perpetuated by a media hungry to define beauty as the thinnest of the thin. Serendip's 1000 computer-a-day visits would be a welcome forum to further expose the series to the general public. It is my hope that this artistic exploration will spur debate and constructive discussion of the disease with the hope of positive solutions for those afflicted.

I look forward to your suggestions about where we could go with this on the web and any referrals to people who you think might be interested.

Sincerely,

Janna Stern

Date: Sun, 18 Jun 2000 10:12:50 -0400
To: jsiqp@hotmail.com
From: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject: project proposal

Janna -

Many thanks for your letter, with the enclosed proofs/brochure. Your images are very intriguing and powerful (my own judgement, and that of several colleagues with whom I've shared them, including my sixteen year old daughter, an older student (herself with a graphic arts background) who is working with me this summer, and the director of the Feminist and Gender Studies program here at Bryn Mawr). I'm excited about working together on a Serendip exhibit and, if you are as well, more than ready to get rolling on it.

............

I understand, accept, and am not concerned about you not having "done a scholarly treatise" on eating disorders. It is very much in the spirit of Serendip to have exhibits which are explicity NOT intended to be the final or authoritative word on a subject, but rather to provide materials which help to encourage thoughtful thinking and rethinking about it. Your images can without question provide the core of such an exhibit with regard to eating disorders. I have some thoughts about how we might valuably add materials around those images, as I'm sure you do, and am pretty confident that together we can get some help from others in generating those materials. My own feeling is what we want for additional materials is more along the line of things which, like the images, encourage further thinking, rather than something along the "scholarly treatise" lines. I'm pretty convinced that the need at the moment is more for bringing together experiences and perspectives than for attempting a definitive synthesis of what seems to me a quite complex and still quite poorly defined (to say nothing of understood) set of phenomena.

Maybe the next step should be to have a phone conversation, to talk through some possibilities for general layout of the exhibit, and do some logistical planning aimed at getting the whole project actually in gear? If that's agreeable with you, what would be a good time for me to phone you?

BEGINNING A MUTUAL EVOLVEMENT

From: "Janna Stern"
To: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Re: project proposal
Date: Sun, 18 Jun 2000 08:59:36 PDT

Paul,

I am very excited about the possibility of getting some sort of emotional and visceral feedback from people about the subject and the images. I am struck by how differently people with the same eating disorder react to the images and personalize them. If something like that can be built into the exhibit it would be most satisfying to me. I would even like to see if people would give me permission to overlay text of some of these thoughts on images in the future.

Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2000 15:31:32 -0400
To: "Janna Stern"
From: Paul Grobstein
Subject: Re: New image files

Janna -

So, with all that ... what seemed wonderful to me as I was playing was to, as a reader, see the images first without comments, so I could feel them as myself, and then subsequently to be able to see the comments with the image, gaining a sense of how they looked to women with eating disorders. Would you object if we tried to incorporate that experience into the actual exhibit format: see images first, and then see images with comments?

..........

Yes, of course we will want to include additionally (among other things) some bio on you and explanation of the project. I've had some initial thoughts about how to do that; maybe we could have a phone conversation early next week about it? I had already, for other reasons, had some inclinations to perhaps use a different title for the web exhibit (describing it as deriving from the existing "Measure for Measure: An Exploration of the Mythology ... ") and, as it happens, just today also had someone express concerns about "mythology" along the lines you mentioned. Maybe we could consider something like "An Exploration of Eating Disorders and the Self"?

Part of the motivation for suggesting this particular retitling takes me back to the enjoyment I've had looking at the images/working with the exhibit myself. My sense is that the exhibit works on at least three different levels. First, there are the images themselves and a viewer's reaction to them ... inherent in that is an inquiry into both the self of the artist and the self of the viewer. Then there is a third "self", "woman with eating disorder", and then, my guess is as we get more comments, actually lots of "selfs", reflecting the distinctivenesses of women with eating disorders. In short, while the exhibit IS about "eating disorders", it is also about what a self with eating disorders is like inside itself (ie "looking at the individual and what is happening to them", and about selves trying to make sense of/understand other selves, AND onself.

All this may well already be on your mind but is reaction to working with the stuff in mine, and is suggesting further directions to explore in framing it for the web. I like the idea of Serendip posing an inquiry into a "clinical" problem from the "inside" (a la Oliver Sacks) rather than simply from the outside. And I like, as well, focusing less on the "problem" than on what can be learned from it, both by the people having it and by others (this too is in Sacks). All of this is to say that, in addition to creating conversation on eating disorders per se (which I agree is important), I'm increasingly feeling there is lots of other Serendip reasonant stuff in and around the exhibit we're working on.

From: "Janna Stern"
To: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Re: New image files
Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2000 13:18:55 PDT

It is so great to see this thing unfolding. I have some input for you about various things. One comment I received from a person looking at the site is that lots of people with the disease might find the word mythology offensive. If we do some sort of explanation of the project or bio on me or whatever we should include the statement that I specifically used the word mythology because people get so involved in the "old wives tales" aspect of the diseases and wrapped up in the purported causes that they do not look at the individual and what is happening to them and what contributes to their particular manifestation of the disease. It's very similar to the doctors going on rounds to see "the liver" in 212a. We are recognizing the manifestations of the disease more now, but we are still not focused on the person with the disease.

From: "Janna Stern"
To: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Your message
Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2000 15:55:33 PDT

I don't know whether I told you or not but in my original "art statements" and talks with people at my shows, I emphasized how serendipity was something that I relied on heavily in my work. The evolution of the project through the hands and heads of like minded people should produce something we can find very fulfilling.

I like the idea of separating the comments from the work because the comments lead rather than stimulate flow of thought and energy from "the self" who relates to it.

From: "Janna Stern"
To: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Your message
Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2000 9:27:26 PDT

If you have reservations about any image being on the site, please say so. I will not be offended. It is hard for me to know just what people will find too shocking or offensive in our society and the art world. Artists are given pretty wide lattitude now. I guess what I am trying to say is I don't want something to draw such controversy to the subject that it defeats the purpose of education and developing concern about these disorders. I primarily selected the images for this series in response to what feelings they provoke and sometimes an image which I did not think related to eating disorders at all brings out that kind of response.

From: "Janna Stern"
To: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2000 14:37:56 PDT

Paul,

The group of comments I remember were from several people with different forms and severity of the disease. I took the liberty of mixing the comments somewhat and was surprised to find that my memory is really scant on what has been said about the pieces. I think I was originally so shocked to find a more or less consistent response to these images as eating problem representations or whatever that I focused on the phenomenon rather than which individual said what. When I say shocked, I mean surprised that people reveal so much to me about what the image provokes (let down their guard) than patients did who were in therapy for a long time even in a good therapeutic relationship.

..........

If you will indulge my raving on for a moment, this series sort of made a cross over for me between my training and my therapeutic self and my rambling through the rest of my life self. I would be concerned and emphatic about and to our friends and my children's friends when I perceived problems but I made a point of emphasizing to them that we shrinks are not always working. I detached my analytic psychological self from what people were telling me in polite conversation. I felt this was important and essential because people are very uncomfortable around you when you are a shrink. All of a sudden, with this new series people were not just relating to my images at shows with, "it's powerful, I like it, etc" but were really opening up about it. I still try not to analyze it or engage in any therapy. I feel the most productive thing I can do is what we are doing, bring attention to the need for detection, education, tolerance, and funding for effective treatment.

Perhaps the images make me sort of a bartender where people perceive that I understand them because of the setting. Art and music encourage the expression of feelings and are a part of our culturally acceptable places to speak about things that touch us.

From: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu

To: "Janna Stern"
Subject: Re: Your message Date: Fri, 3 Jul 2000 16:21:23 -0400 and 16:27:28 -0400

No reservations whatsoever [about images in exhibit]. I did, at the outset, show images to sundry people to see whether THEY were shocked or offended. No problems (and certainly none on my part). Suspect when we go public we may get some expressions of concerns, but presume we both prepared to respond to that, and think some more open dialogue on the appropriateness of images of naked bodies in various contexts is part of what we're about here.

........

Yes, recognize VERY much the "bartender" phenomenon. Is part of my own experience with the images, sense of excitement about creating a web version of your exhibit. Agree that what we want to preserve is the sense of people being free to say what they think of, without the "analysis" editor being turned on.




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