Portfolio > How Proficient am I at Existence

This work is about illness and healthcare with furtive photographs taken in hospitals and abstract woven sculptures that present functional smoking pipes.

From 2008-2014 I was unable to receive adequate medical treatment due to lack of access to healthcare. My undiagnosed illness went untreated for many years, causing a great deal of pain and stress that penetrated every aspect of my life. Bedridden at times, I found myself unable to work with familiar tools and focus instead on what is lightweight and easy to manipulate. It felt as though my practice as an artist would then be permanently determined by these new physical limitations.

It is an unrelenting job to grapple with the labors of illness--of hospitalizations, biopsies, MRI’s and countless other tests, navigating the healthcare system, taking all the pills, going to all the physical therapy appointments and spending all those hours in one doctor’s office or another. In the hours spent waiting to be seen by doctors, I photograph the process to cope with the uncertainty of these moments. Due to HIPAA laws, it is illegal to photograph in medical facilities, but sometimes I am able to persuade hospital staff to help with photographic documentation during procedures. The photographs provide me with a quiet calming proof of my experience.

Like the photographs, these sculptures focus on my struggle and frustration to find comfort while in deep physical and emotional pain. With inadequate medical treatment, I turned to self-medicating with marijuana to alleviate pain, stress, and emotional trauma. It was then I began hand-forming ceramics to facilitate smoking weed. Working on a small scale, clay is tangible and lightweight, and physically relaxing to manipulate its pliable surface. Each pipe is unique and appears as innocent abstract sculpture, paraphernalia hiding in plain sight.

Lying in bed with limited mobility, I began stretching and wrapping fabric around rope, recalling a tradition of the rag rugs covering my grandmother’s floor and of the soft comfort it provides. I was initially drawn to this process as way to mark the time of my immobility, similarly meditative as when working with clay and photography. As my health begins to improve and I’m able to work with more difficult materials, I have begun to combine these processes, weaving the rope and ceramics into disorderly objects hanging and strewn across the ground. Combining them with found or fabricated metal objects, the works spill out of their vessels like living things spilling out of their bodies.

Though stylistically different, these photographs and sculptures inform each other by providing material evidence of my experiences of pain and illness. The photographs are presented in a direct, documentary fashion, while the objects operate with a confused sense of reality and muddled purpose, a marker of sick time, both with reluctant intimacy and a therapeutic relationship to self-care.

Since 2008 my art practice, previously rooted in a place of curiosity, took on the additional role of therapeutic exercise. Once my health began to stabilize after gaining access to healthcare in 2014, I started working as an activist for the Medicare for All campaign, speaking at events and helping people apply for healthcare benefits. I try to be an advocate and activist through direct action and sharing my experiences. Being a witness of my and others struggles is a way of continuing the conversation about the need for affordable and universal healthcare.

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