“Mitochondrial Eve”: Alternative process develops history of feminine evolution

Senior Annie Hodgkins uses mordançage in “Mitochondrial Eve,” which traces feminine identity throughout human evolution. Photo by Erin Edgerton.

Andrew Ringle, Spectrum Editor

Eight months ago in South Africa, VCU senior Annie Hodgkins investigated ancient pre-human species and the most common ancestor of all living humans, the Mitochondrial Eve. The link between humans and Mitochondrial Eve, she said, is in mitochondrial DNA, a substance inherited solely from the mother to the child that can be traced back across hundreds of thousands of years.

“I took that concept and expanded upon it, trying to think of maternal instincts and inheritance,” Hodgkins said. “I’m investigating what that means to me as someone who doesn’t have a mother and is figuring it out on her own.”

When Hodgkins was 13 years old, her mother passed away. That loss inspired her to explore maternity and what it means to a motherless and childless woman.

Hodgkins collects her thoughts on inheritance and identity in “Mitochondrial Eve,” which opened Friday at The Anderson.

“I’m very interested in the concept of motherhood because it’s something that is lacking in my life and development as a person,” Hodgkins said. “I didn’t have that role model to help me go through the world as a person that identifies as a woman.”

Photo by Erin Edgerton.

“Mitochondrial Eve” is mostly composed of mordançage, an alternative photographic process which involves darkroom development and a toxic chemical bath. The process results in a veiled version of the original image that seems to float under the surface of chemicals. Hodgkins said she chose the medium because of how it visually alludes to body chemistry and anatomy.

“When [the photo is] wet, it’s really gross and mucusy,” Hodgkins said. “It reminded me of how gross people are … It looks like menstrual blood.”

Hodgkins also included glass jars and 3D-printed artifacts in her show. She said she wanted to play off museum aesthetics by reimagining objects typically seen in a scientific gaze in a feminine one.

“I’m recontextualizing objects and photographs that were probably fabricated by men,” Hodgkins said. “It’s unfortunately true — most scientists and archaeologists are men and they’re mostly white.”

Photo by Erin Edgerton.

Hodgkins said that she wanted to contextualize motifs, objects and religious references into her own perception of female evolution. She hung a large printout of the fossilized remains of a 3.2-million-year-old female human ancestor, known as Lucy. And in one of the glass jars, there’s an image of the skull of Mrs. Ples, another fossil Hodgkins saw in South Africa.

“It struck me that these pre-human beings were females, and they probably gave birth to other beings that later turned into us,” Hodgkins said. “I’m really trying to imagine what that ancient biological destiny was like for them and what that means for us as modern people.”

The pelvic bone is a recurring symbol in “Mitochondrial Eve,” and Hodgkins said she’s obsessed with its feminine significance.

“When women are giving birth, their pelvic bone expands inches,” Hodgkins said. “The fact that the female body can sustain that much pain and distortion and then come back together as a whole person … it’s almost like a passage. It’s like the bringer of life.”

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