Well, step right up and take a good long look at Andi Olsen: Mistress of the Miracles of Postmodern Aesthetickal Medickal Science. Her mutant creations are Terrific. They're Sensational. And they're Educational, too.
And that first glance is always Free...
Born 39 years ago into the Abominable Land called Chicago, Illinois, spawn of a mother she'd never know, Ms. Olsen -- nee Hirsch, nee Baby Girl McCord -- was adopted before she saw her first fortnight by an upper-middle-class obstetrician/gynecologist & his happy horsewife who shunted her to the Bloodcurdling Polity of Des Moines (cornfield, cornfield, cornfield, farmhouse), Iowa, where she learned in an exceedingly up-close-and-personal way about the difference between Wally Cleaver and David Lynch.
Suburban childhood, that is to say, may appear to most all goofball comedy and white picket fences, but a Twin Peek through the kitchen window reveals severed ears and laughing-gas daymares aplenty -- metaphorikally speaking... or, in our Young Protagonist's case, an abusive thug for a sister, a guilt-mongering mother, and a not- completely-customary father obsessed with Dollars, Status, and Pink Cadillacs, who once brought home a tiny aborted fetus in a bottle of formaldehyde just for a little late-night forget-me-not.
Ms. Olsen assayed a year and a half of college in Boulder, skiing just way too often, if the Truth be known, and sampling upon more than a single occasion perhaps a wee bit too much Chemickal Kirsch in the Party Fondue, then dropped out and hitchhiked across the West, prompting her less-than-fully-comprehending parents to yank her closer to the Neighboredhood, to the University of Iowa, where she serendipitously took a course entitled The Idea of Comedy taught by the same pale, thin, bearded Lad of a Novelist & Critick of the above Subtitle who knew all too well that every such Farcickal plot must Conclude in Marriage.
Together at last, they moved to the former slave quarters on a farm outside Charlottesville, Virginia, where Ms. Olsen finished her B.A., took an M.A. in art history, and upon numerous hikes across said Rented Dominion became unhealthily enamored of Animal Bones; which she shortly thereafter began to incorporate with abandon into her own gruesome if hilarious-in-a-deeply-disturbed-way Assemblages.
Witness, for instance, that mirror in the corner. Look closely, my pretties, for you can just make out the scratch marks, can't you... the finger nails... the teeth and tongue and blond swirl of Alice trapped on the Other Side of the Looking Glass; forever unable to return. Beside her sits the full-sized chair blackened with the form of the Little Girl who spontaneously combusted within its confines. And, well, you don't even want to know about that Female Torso over there, do you, Desiccated Shark's Head exploding from the dark space the Human Face should occupy...
Since the mid-80's that Congress of Wonders has turned up around the country and in the grand Princedoms of Europe; most recently Los Angeles, Seattle, and London... which is to say nothing of her 11 years as an Avant-Educkator at universities in Virginia, Kentucky, and Idaho, where she now resides in a log cabin on 80 acres of Pastures and Woodlands... or of her Bizarre Computer-Generated Cyber-Collages that have appeared on myriad bookcovers and zines as Varied and Psyckotropic as Puck, Gargoyle, and Fiction International.
But enough prelude, my pretties. It's time to talk 2-Headed Turkey with the Weird Contessa, the Abyssinian Miracle Baby, the Great Professor Emeritus of Classickal Geeks: Ms. Andrea Lynn McCord Hirsch Olsen, B.A., M.A., and Fraulein Bet-Your-Ass Doktor of Lusus Naturae Herself...
Freaks permeate your work, from Siamese twins to bug-human teratoids. What's the attraction?
Andi: Our writer-friend Ed McClanahan probably said it best: Freaks are just like us, only more so. I've always felt kindred spirits with outcasts, aliens, and monsters. As a kid, my favorite doll was one that had pock marks and lesions all over its face and torso because my dog had gnawed on it. There's just something sadly and beautifully human about such imperfection. I'm fascinated by mutation; whether it's genetic, like the elephant man, or environmental, like those calves that started sprouting extra legs from their spines after Chernobyl, or medical, like those thalidomide babies. I keep a number of pathology texts on my shelf for inspiration.
In fact, you're currently working on a series of freaks.
Andi: I think the idea originally sparked when I was proofing the manuscript of your novel, Freak Nest, an SFer which centers on this group of feral kids in a near-future London with lots of nano-hardware in their heads. My heart really went out to them. You used them as a metaphor to explore enculturation, memory acquisition, even what it means to be human, and I saw all sorts of artistic possibilities there. Then the idea fully fell into place during Ed McClanahan's visit to Idaho last October; when he read from his novella about the same, A Congress of Wonders, and showed a film short that had been made from the title piece, which concerned a talking head in the circus. I'd also recently finished reading Katherine Dunn's Geek Love.
I remember you adoring that book.
Andi: It's about this circus family whose dad feeds mom all these chemicals so she'll give birth to malformed kids, because what kind of money is a normal kid going to generate under the bigtop? One of my favorite chapters describes the Chute, "a museum of nature's innovative art." It's a converted trailer that houses the chemico-genetic experiments that didn't quite work out -- double-headed Janus, for example, and Clifford who "looked like a lasagna pan full of exposed organs with a monkey head attached" -- who bob up and down in large glass jars according to the barometric pressure outside. I love the idea of having these beautiful, intimate-sized, containers that draw the viewer in -- only to reveal a monstrous surprise. Like Japanese gardens laid out by H. R. Giger. One of my sculptures, for instance, rests on burgundy velvet inside a Victorian polished mahogany box and consists of Siamese twins. They share a cyclopean head with a single glass eye and harelip from which sprout 2 bodies comprised of delicate bones. They're embracing each other. Now, in the novel you're just starting, you're going to create, among other things, stories that account for the freaks I'm building; which idea forms a great collaborative feedback loop.
Your assemblages are composed of all manner of cultural detritus: animal bones, shark fetuses, bolts, mannequin parts, computer innards, glass eyes, dentures, you name it. Why this impulse toward recycling?
Andi: As a second child, hand-me-down clothes and toys were the norm. My father the doctor used placenta pullers as tongs to grill chicken on the BBQ. I think I've always been comfortable scavenging for items that I could reprocess and recontextualize. My mind is a cluttered junk shop. So is my studio, which is dominated by a knee-high pile of animal bones but also includes shelves upon shelves of stuff I've accumulated over the years. The idea of bringing disparate objects together, whether in an assemblage or collage, reflects my desire to make order out of chaos. I enjoy the notion of finding treasures among the items someone else has rejected, and endowing those objects with a new history and special status.