Clear, White.

by Melanie Jane Parker


Clear, White.

Artist’s Statement


“An artist’s words are always to be taken cautiously. The finished work is often a stranger to, and sometimes very much at odds with what the artist felt, or wished to express when he began. At best the artist does what he can rather than what he wants to do.”

— Louise Bourgeois, 1954.

II. This is a ceramic rendering of Rosemary Kennedy’s brain, postlobotomy. Here is where the surgical incision was made through the front of the skull; here is where slices of tissue were excised. Her anterior frontal lobe was chiseled away until she became incoherent—that is to say, until she was no longer able to sing.

III. The fulcrum of my work is an investigation of lack and excess. We never have enough (money, recognition, intelligence, sex appeal), and so we accumulate (materials, titles, degrees, lovers), and our excesses become problematic, sometimes dangerous, sometimes deadly (the radical multiplication of abnormal cells), and still we are gnawed upon by lack.

IV. Once considered a revolutionary technological advancement in psychiatric medicine, the lobotomy (leukotomy, leucotomy; leukos; clear, white) shows us what is at stake when we understand our body-mind-soul as being an incomplete work of science or art; that is to say, a modular, interchangeable, rough draft longing for the hands of an expert sculptor. In the early experimental stages of the procedure, neurosurgeons practiced on grapefruits and cadavers—both of which do not possess, to varying degrees, a kind of irreducible humanness.

V. The pineal gland, which produces melatonin and brings the body into dialogue with seasonal and circadian rhythms, is nestled deep within the brain, mere inches from the point at which Rosemary’s reputable neurosurgeon stopped cutting. It is believed that this is the seat of the third eye, the ajna chakra, the source of intuitive and psychic power. Descartes sensed the gland as the bridge between the intellectual body and the physical body. Bataille sensed it as an organ of hunger and craving, the source of our desire to see, know, and consume—everything, all.

VI. In this replica of Rosemary’s lobotomized brain, the pineal gland is concealed. At 23 years of age, her pineal gland would have been calcified. Rosemary was experiencing “mood swings” and “outbursts”—she could not be contained, which reflected poorly upon her prominent family (Rose and Joseph and John and Bobby and Ted). To spill over—sexually (obsessional), emotionally (delusional), psychologically (neurotic)—was to be guilty of unacceptable excess, unacceptable lack.

VII. Ceramic withstands high heat, elemental erosion, and the unrelenting passage of time. This particular ceramic that you see here is not clear, is not white. It is opaque, pink, thick, and glazed like the bricks of the Mesopotamian Ishtar Gate, erected as an homage to the goddess of love, sex, fertility, and war. It is parceled and compromised, with none of the whiz-bang-pop of an organic nervous system, and yet it will endure much longer than any living human brain.

VIII. This piece was made over a duration of several months within the window of time known as God’s Hour (the 96 minutes leading up to sunrise). I refrained from food or drink until after this period had elapsed. In the late morning, exhausted by my labor, I sat and contemplated the artificial organ while consuming cups of gunpowder tea and bits of baker’s chocolate.

IX. Our theories, methods, and tools have evolved, and still we hope to discover the faulty mechanism that, through tweaks and adjustments, will render us corrected. Equally as endemic, we become entangled in an unceasing search for an external transformative force (apparatus, operation, medication) that will deliver us to divine completion.

This is an ancient problem:

Pity! For my wretched body which is full of confusion and trouble. Pity! For my sickened heart which is full of tears and suffering. Pity! For my wretched intestines, confusion and trouble. Pity! For my af- flicted house which mourns bitterly.

Pity! For my feelings which are satiated with tears and suffering. O exalted Irnini, fierce lion, let thy heart be at rest. O angry wild ox, let thy spirit be appeased.

Babylonian prayer to Ishtar

X. Rosemary Kennedy was institutionalized after her botched lobotomy. Before the operation, Rosemary had wanted to become a schoolteacher; where she ended up a resident was the St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children in Wisconsin. Her father built her a private house near campus. She lived with two nuns and a dog, and was visited weekly by a woman who taught her ceramics.