christine betts

I value process as much as product and consider the act of creating a piece to be essential to its meaning. Much of my work explores memory, its unreliability, and translation across time and space. I like to sit at the intersection of that which is technical, logical, and utilitarian with that which is soft, feminine, and tactile.

This site is a compilation of art projects. See my portfolio for a larger collection of things I've made and my resume for most other information.

Exploration of digital vulnerability | Hands of my mother | Meditation on translation | Reverse projections (tenderly) | | Biography of Juana Kay | Visualizing maternal mortality | Semiotics of abuse

Exploration of digital vulnerability

Conductive thread, embroidery, fabric, arduino, wires, Beads1 audio library / 2018

Sometimes I feel compelled, given my inclination to share happy moments or adventures online, to also share things that are a bit more of a bummer. I fear, though, that the loss of nuance and question of the role of ego in one's presence on the internet make it difficult to articulate emotions that could convey a complexity to one's experiences beyond a gilded presentation of happiness.

This was, in many ways, a continuation of my meditation on Ventrakl2 and the loss of information across time and space. The still images that appear on the screen mean very little to a viewer without context, and the addition of a note or a chord or a word doesn't do much to shed light on why the images make me feel the way they do.

The notion that I could 'give someone my heart' or share vulnerable parts of my psyche with them online feels like something that's impossible to do genuinely & wholly. The best I can give is a shoddy imitation.

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Hands of my mother

Yarn / 1 x 2 feet / 2020

Last year I was listening to the Kacey Musgraves song "Mother" and found it touching. I read about how she'd come to write it in a striking instagram caption3...

"I got a text from my mom. It made me miss her. It made me think about her hands. Hands that carry out the vision her imagination brings to canvas with her beloved paints and brushes. Hands that find treasure in found junk. Hands dirtied by the East Texas soil. Hands that held me. And I found the thought of this cycle overwhelming, sad, and beautiful; me sitting there in Tennessee missing my mom in Texas who’s sitting there missing her mother who passed away several years ago. And it will go on and on."

I thought about my mom, who for the past several years has been far away from me. I thought about her hands; hands that throughout my childhood were used to build and fix and create things. She'd spend a month building something herself before paying someone else to do it. I thought about the way her hands were so warm when she held me, yet so strong and powerful. This dichotomy is one of my favorite things about my mom.

I've been thinking about all of this for more than a year now, and as in other thoughts I have about the tension between that which is technical and that which is soft and human, I thought about the long line of women who led to my mom, and her to me. I thought about the life they'd given me.

My family's lineage is tracked by paternal last names, something that feels an act of erasure. When I think about the non-symbolic aspects of following my family tree, I can't help but to feel the love of generations of women coursing through me.

I decided to create a textile celebrating these women as an act of gratitude, where each bolt is an ancestor but only the lineage of women in my family are expanded, traced by unique colors of yarn that culminate with me and my cousins (the children of my mom's sister).

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Meditation on translation

Yarn / 1 x 1 feet / 2018

I knew I wanted to use something from Christian Hawkey's Ventrakl2, a haunting exploration of translation and the holes that form across languages, time, and space. Loss is a central theme and something I think about often, both in terms of the grand scheme of life/love/loss, but recently also in the realm of computer networking. Different networking protocols offer different guarantees about the accuracy of data transmitted. In many cases, we don't get everything sent to us across a computer network, but it usually doesn't matter. There's something sort of deceptive about this, in a way, but it's led me to wonder how much it matters if a handful of random pixels don't appear as they were meant to.

One of the most striking parallels I encountered was between Hawkey's comments on automatic/sterile translation and the sending of bits from one place to another. We assume that photographs, videos, and all of the other ways we document our world suffice in communicating our experiences from one person or place or time to another. We assume that in taking videos of a concert we've preserved the joy we felt in the midst of it, but even if every bit recorded by our camera is saved for as long as we're around, there's so much lost in that translation.

I landed on encoding one of the poems in Ventrakl in binary to be woven. Choosing a poem proved trickier than expected because of limitations in terms of length, but I landed on Hawkey's translation of Trakl's "Amen" (originally in German). The translated poem is odd and dark and doesn't make a ton of sense outside of the context of the work as a whole, but that's something I appreciate about it. Hawkey uses a variety of translation techniques (including shooting a poem with a handgun), so it's not necessarily meant to make lots of sense. The binary encoding of it makes even less sense, but opens up a lot to explore in terms of the reliability of a very direct translation.

Most of my favorite works were written first in other languages (see Musil, Barthes, Bolaño others...). Hawkey amplifies the questions of attribution of beauty, thought and intention when reading translated works. At an even more essential level, he points out that even independent of translations across languages, our unique ways of understanding the world as individuals make it nearly impossible for the thoughts I communicate via language to ever be understood by another person in the same way I do.

Binary seems a logical, sterile means of sharing information, but when language itself is already unreliable, it doesn't really matter what form it comes in as holes will inevitably form.

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Reverse projections (tenderly)

Assorted yarns / 2 x 4 feet / 2020

Sometimes when I exchange stories with my friends I feel like they're able to look up memories as values from a hash map keyed by date while I find myself traversing a heap. It's as though I'm leaping between stories pulled from an incomplete picture of the past, where the happy memories are obscured as I stay away from the sad ones. I think, too, about the way some memories become cached, and when I share them they are void of the emotions they should carry, like I'm telling the stories of someone else.

We all reduce our personal histories to different descriptors. "I loved my time in Wyoming" or "those years in college were the best of my life." I think when I break them down linearly, my memories can be reduced in those ways too, but a sort of patriarchal tar coats the ones I avoid.

Concurrently, I was working through some memory issues at work (some server OOMs) and thought about this stuff when looking at a Java heap visualization. It reminded me of the weavings I'd done.

What came was a tender autobiography, a reverse projection (a sunny take on Baudrillard4) that allows me to acknowledge ~all of it~ with the softness of yarns I found in the craft store scrap bin.

Website, video of the Assateague Island seashore / 2020

While in quarantine, I found myself feeling unsettled in the places that are usually the most comforting. I started playing more video games and found relief in the sense that I, in the animated body of a character I controlled, had a world I could understand fully.

Video games reduce complex ideas and places and characters into memeified (by the broader Dawkins definition 5) universal and accessible ones (a la comics6). I can project myself onto the game's hero and so can you. In this sense, entities are overloaded. I started to think about overloaded entities in memories of places and what it would look like to create something with lots of overloaded entities-- tokens that each bring to mind several different memories.

Scenes of waterside stone walls and vintage tower views bring to mind vignettes from assateague island and clear lake, iowa and lugano, switzerland and new england beach towns and my favorite parks on runs along the east river.

Raccoons make me think of funny stories from the alleged raccoon capital (Toronto7) and my own funny stories from camping trips and beady-eyed creatures off the side of the road. If I were to aspire to be an animal, a raccoon would be a good choice. They're more disagreeable than I'll ever be, cunning, spunky, and deceptively cute.

What followed is a silly game where a little raccoon can traverse a patch of a path by the sea. Pressing the space bar while the raccoon is behind the tower view plays a video I took through a tower view on assateague island.

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Biography of Juana Kay

Assorted yarns / 2 x 4 feet / 2020

I've been staying with my grandma after she had a fall and broke her arm, and although she's recovering well and healthy, being with her has brought me to reflect on what it means to live meaningfully (also partially inspired by a recent read, Happiness is a Choice You Make8).

I was thinking about the pain she carries, about lost loves, about the lost "one that got away", her sister, her parents, her grandparents. Then I thought about the love she has for her daughters, her grandkids, her many friends, and even her great-grandson.

Based on what I've learned about the ways older adults are able to weave the past into the present, I wove a small biography of salient moments from her life.

In this piece are her, her sisters, her mother's anxious love trying to stuff away her father's anger, the lake she grew up next to and her love for rainstorms and crashing waves, coming into herself and falling in love, her daughters, losing her husband on a family ski trip (the soft snow must look much sweeter in retrospect, especially against the depths of sadness that followed).

I tried to capture factual information, like the births of her grandchildren and the birth of her first great-grandchild, but I also projected onto her life my own understanding, like her evolution following her husband's death and the emergence of her second swain.

My grandma has always had a brightness to her; she hates silences and is the most empathetic person I've ever met. She has more close friends than people I could name, and she is unflinching in the love she shows to everyone around her. I think it's only fitting that her story be told through what could be a blanket-- I don't think words would do it justice.

Visualizing maternal mortality

Yarn / 1 x 1 feet / 2018

While taking a class on epic literature, I realized that most epics sideline women, and in The Odyssey (probably the most famous epic) Odysseus' wife is relegated to weaving and unweaving his burial shroud while awaiting his return.

I think often about the ways those who express feminine attributes are encouraged to suppress those attributes to seem more assertive, like through tools to warn you when you're apologizing in an email. Sometimes I wonder if there actually is anything inherently better about being less polite or less friendly-- what if we instead encouraged those who don't ever apologize to start apologizing profusely?

Anyway, this brought me to think of Penelope's role and to wonder if her defiance might be a form of heroism. In line with this Hidden Brain episode and the evolution of feminism-- it's become more okay for women to take on masculine roles and attributes, but traditionally feminine roles and attributes remain undervalued.

Thinking more about the hero's journey, what about the heroism of those who have children, and even moreso those who (often preventably, at least in the US) die during childbirth?

According to the CDC (per this Vox piece following the death of Erica Garner) the chance of a black woman dying during or within a year of her pregnancy is 3-4x as high as that of a white woman, something that the piece also mentions persists across income brackets. Most reporting highlights that the maternal mortality rate is higher than any other "developed" country, but I wanted to visualize the women who make up these numbers, so I wove a visualization of the (approx) number of women who died during childbirth in the US in 2015.

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Semiotics of Abuse

Yarn / 1 x 1 feet / 2020

Meditating on the Three Body Problem9, my favorite José Vera Matos piece, memory, that which is lost when talking about trauma, and the way it feels when I casually mention experiencing childhood abuse and "what kind of abuse?" being the deeply personal question that follows.

I wove my answer to this question (hashed and encoded in binary) and thought about the meaning of words and the ways they fail us in encapsulating complex experiences.

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1The Beads Project

2Ventrakl, Christian hawkey (1968)

3Kacey Musgraves' instagram

4The System of Objects, Jean Baudrillard (1968)

5The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins (1976)

6Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud (1993)

7Raccoon Resistance, 99% Invisible

8Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old, John Leland (2018)

9The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin 刘慈欣, translated by Ken Liu (2014)