2015 People’s Choice Award; Best in Painting/Drawing – Ashley Miller

Unobjective Research

My piece focuses on the personal moral compromises of scientific research. I wanted to illustrate what it feels like to be interested in a scientific principal/idea and to want to help make a difference within the scientific community by researching this idea, but to have to do this by means of something that doesn’t make one entirely comfortable. The use of animals in research is an arguably necessary but sometimes disturbing event. In my time doing research I have yet to meet a researcher who enjoys experimenting on animals, yet we all do it because we believe in something greater coming out of it. Every person involved in research deals with their experience in animal research in different ways, some become hardened to it and others never do. My artwork focuses on a girl, the black of her hair tells a story of troubled thoughts about her research, however her face is directed towards her cupped hands from which there comes a light. This light represents the good that she is working towards through her research and the hope that something helpful will come of her work. Her hair forms into multiple hands one of which surrounds her neck, representing the stifling feeling when one does something that makes them uncomfortable. Even though they know they are working towards an admirable goal, they still can’t shake their uneasiness. Her hair contains scenes of violence with the snake and crab attacking the fish and the spider trapping the butterfly. These represent the feeling of being like a predator to the animals we experiment on. Many of the animals portrayed are used in research. These images are intermixed with images that show a more reassuring side of research. These are more personal to my own experiences, but could be generalized to others. For example, her hair features a very faded photo of my grandmother who had Alzheimer’s disease, initially sparking my interest in research. It also features an open winged bird, because many of the mouse carcasses used in research are taken and fed to birds, giving the mice another slightly more natural purpose in addition to their contributions to research. The third category of objects making up her hair, are more classic scientific objects that placed an interest of science in my mind. The girl’s hair features peas and flowers to represent Mendelian genetics, which was one of my first scientific interests. Neurons are also featured as diseases of neurodegeneration are my current interest. My piece was painted entirely in acrylic with a variety of things appliqued onto it including beads, shells, string, feathers, rocks, a paper map, and money along with the clay objects I constructed. Overall, the piece contains a personal account of my experience in research, but also attempts to capture an overall feeling of internal struggle that others may experience doing their own research as well.