Tensile: A Sublime Love Story

Jessica Spring (artist) and Alyce DeMarais (scientist)

Jessica Spring, a Tacoma, Washington book artist and letterpress printer explains how she weaves together a 19th-century poem of seduction by Percy Bysshe Shelley, with current research on bisphenol contamination in our environment, food, water, and bodies in her artist book: Tensile: A Sublime Love Story. Her work was inspired by Dr. Alyce DeMarais’ research on the impact of the chemicals found in plastics on egg development invertebrates.

Alyce DeMarais, Professor Emeritus of Biology from the University of Puget Sound, explores the impact of the chemicals found in plastics on egg development invertebrates.  Her research inspired artist Jessica Spring to create Tensile: A Sublime Love Story.

Jessica Spring’s Artist Statement: Tensile: A sublime love story weaves together a 19th-century poem of seduction by Percy Bysshe Shelley, with current research on bisphenol contamination in our environment, food, water, and bodies. Used to manufacture plastics and resins for food and drink packaging, bisphenol A (BPA) impacts the endocrine system, impairing the development and reproductive health of animals and humans. BPA analogues, including BPE and BPS, are similar reproductive toxicants with transgenerational effects. 19th-century writers didn’t know synthetic plastic would emerge in 1907 to change the world. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818, foreshadows the cost and complexity of scientific progress and defying the natural order. In the midst of industrialization, Romantic era poets bore the responsibility of reinvigorating a spiritual connection to nature by portraying the Sublime. Both poets and scientists note the world is full of interconnectedness. Percy Shelley celebrates the mingling of rivers and oceans while scientists conclude that exposure to bisphenol contamination is ubiquitous. Tensile explores the irony of our sublime love affair with plastic, a monster of our own creation.

Size: 6 x 8 x 1 when closed, expands to 60 inches.

Materials: Rite in the Rain Paper (which repels water), and Neenah Plike (“plastic-like”) with Plexiglas boards.

Book Structure: Leporello

Production/Printing Method: Letterpress printed with plastic materials related to food consumption (straws, bottle caps, bag enclosures, produce netting, cling wrap) and metal type.

Edition: 25

Year Created: 2020-21

Jessica Spring began her interest in typesetting and printing as a phototypesetter in the 1980s. She has been a letterpress printer ever since, most recently inventing Daredevil Furniture to help other printers set type in circles, curves and angles. Her work at Springtide Press-artist books, broadsides, and ephemera where typography plays a central role-is included in collections around the country and abroad. She has collaborated on the Dead Feminists broadside series since 2008 and co-authored Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color. Spring has an MFA from Columbia College Chicago

Alyce DeMarais is Professor Emerita of Biology at the University of Puget Sound where she taught and conducted research. She and her students studied the effects of environmental chemicals on ovary function.

About her research related to Jessica Spring’s Artist Book, Dr. DeMarais writes, “Eggs are remarkable cells.  They provide the raw materials for growth and, once fertilized, support the development of a new individual.  My students and I are fascinated by how these wonderful eggs form in the ovary.  In particular, we are interested in how the environment affects these processes.  Specifically, we study the effects of chemicals that are important components of some types of plastics.

Members of the bisphenol family of chemicals are likely to affect egg production as they are hormone mimics.  These chemicals leach from some plastics into the environment, and subsequently are taken up by animals, including ourselves.  The structures of bisphenols are similar to the reproductive hormone estrogen—a key player in the production of eggs in the ovary.  As a result, bisphenols are endocrine-disrupting chemicals and can affect processes in the body that rely on hormonal signaling.  Egg development is one such process.

We use molecular biology techniques to study the effects of BPA, and its relative BPS, on genes that play important roles in egg development.  We found that BPA and BPS affect the expression of genes involved in cell division (catenin), cell death (caspase), and cell regulation (p53).  Their effects do mimic those produced by estrogens.

While our work, and the work of others, shows that bisphenols can affect key physiological processes, we are struck by the considerable benefits afforded to us by plastics.  How do we retain the benefits of plastics while eliminating the detrimental aspects of their production and use?​