ASHEVILLE, N.C.— Technically, Martha Skinner is an architect. She holds numerous degrees related to the field, has worked in the profession and has taught the subject at Clemson University. But if you were to ask what her professional title is, no single answer will suffice.
“People always try and give me a label, and, actually, a lot of people have called me an artist,” says the Asheville resident. But even this, she insists, is an oversimplification. You can try others: choreographer, filmmaker, teacher, scientist. But none will hold. “They are all interwoven,” she says.
Skinner refers to this overlap as a “living section” — the intersection of fields, interests and passions that go into the overall makeup of a person. This term and concept are explored in her upcoming show, Living Section: Retrospective of My Fertility. It opens Wednesday, Nov. 1, at Weizenblatt Gallery at Mars Hill University.
Not surprisingly, the exhibit adheres to no single medium. Film, two- and three-dimensional drawings and interactive projects will all be on display. But within these various works, a thread exists, placing the entirety of the collection under a single umbrella. “The work I am presenting expands the length of my fertility,” Skinner explains. From the discovery of her pregnancy 19 years ago to her recent experience with menopause, the exhibit is a celebration of this particular period of her life as a mother and the works that accompanied it.
Skinner notes that part of the goal throughout her career has been to push people’s understanding of space. Early on, while studying architecture, this fascination created all sorts of trouble for the then-student. “I was scolded by one of my professors when we were working on an urban analysis [because] my interest was a lot more on how people behave in this space, more so than the physical static building.”
This fixation led to unconventional projects, including video and audio recordings made to create collective maps of various areas. In one instance, Skinner spent days walking the length of Manhattan, via the Broadway thoroughfare. All the while, she filmed her journey to capture a multitude of things, including the trajectory of the city’s actual development (as Manhattan grew, Skinner notes, Broadway extended northward). At the same time, she wanted to show how the city’s skyline and landscape transformed depending on the time of day. “It’s an interdisciplinary way of thinking,” she says. “Sometimes people have said my work is scientific, other times poetic. … To me, it’s great that it’s both.”
Living Section: Retrospective of My Fertility comprises Skinner’s high-concept, multilayered designs. One of her more recent projects on display at the Weizenblatt Gallery will be a collection of letters written by a friend involved in the Green Movement, a political uprising that occurred after the 2009 Iranian presidential election. This friend, Skinner says, wrote her “beautiful, detailed letters [from Iran] … on a daily basis.” Each missive inspired Skinner to create a digital interpretation based on the information conveyed. “I’m going to put up both the letters and the images,” she says, as a way to capture these smaller moments of a much larger happening.
Again, Skinner says, part of her mission is to challenge viewers to think about how we define life. Is it possible to isolate individual elements? Can you separate the mother from the artist from the architect? Skinner, of course, doesn’t think so. “I feel like I have woven motherhood and my career simultaneously and parallel to each other all along,” she says.
Yet she recognizes that even things interwoven can, and often do, come undone. At 19, Skinner’s daughter is entering adulthood, which will redefine Skinner’s own role as mother. Add menopause, Skinner says, and she can’t help but recognize a new phase emerging. This change isn’t something she dreads. In fact, Skinner considers it a rebirth. But what exactly this rebirth will look like, she doesn’t yet know. Whatever it may turn out to be, though, it’s safe to assume Skinner won’t define it as any one thing.
WHAT: Living Section: Retrospective of My Fertility
WHERE: Weizenblatt Art Gallery in the Moore Fine Arts Building at Mars Hill University, 79 Cascade St., Mars Hill, mhu.edu
WHEN: Opening reception Wednesday, Nov. 1, 6-8p.m. The exhibit will remain on view through Friday, Dec. 15. Free