Karrie Ross is a Los Angeles visual artist who also regularly publishes books featuring the works of artists around the world, based on a specific concept or theme. She invited me to contribute to her latest, “A Moment in Time, 2018.” 2018 had been one hell of a year, and in the midst of the chaos of curating my first show at La Matadora Gallery, which was an exceptionally ambitious group show featuring the work of 25 artists, in addition to the holidays, the deadline came and went before I knew it. Luckily, she informed me that the deadline had been extended, and I quickly got to work on my contribution. An artwork with a story, based on an event in 2018, left no question for me what I would write about.
The book features the work and stories of 49 artists from across the globe. A few are people I’m familiar with, such as Cristina Paulos (who I have recently begun communication with and hope to meet in person next month) and Michael McCall, gallery director of the Yucca Valley Visual and Perfoming Arts Center, who is also visual artist himself. Many I am not familiar with, but the stories are fascinating, including that of (presumably) white public artist Alison Wright who discovered more layers of depth to her work when meeting with 2 non-white photographers who were there to document her installation process on a rooftop in Los Angeles, with the realization that getting written approval to be there was a slight nuisance for her, but could be a matter of life or death for them, and how that played into the historical symbolism of her work.
“Artists, ART, & Story: A Moment in Time, 2018 International” is available for a very reasonable price on Amazon, as well as Karrie Ross’ other books. Here is my contribution:
“Tree of Life”
Mixed media assemblage with medical waste
49″ x 21″
2 Clindamycin syringe tubes, 3 saline syringe tubes, 42 syringe caps, 26 rubber syringe stoppers, 31 syringe plungers, 14 shell casings, gauze, and 4 pieces of Medline ABD bandage packaging, treated as stained glass windows.
So…what happened in 2018? Sepsis happened. Twice. Not to me, but to my significant other, who is paraplegic and got an infected pressure wound that turned into a blood and bone infection. I’ve never seen as much blood in my life as I did in 2018. Different shades of blood. Different consistencies of blood and strange body fluids. Bandage after bandage, soaked through with red, while the color in his face and lips faded, growing whiter and whiter, ashen and pale. Liquid red life force running down the drain of the laundry room sink, while I pre-washed clothing, towels, and bedding, daily. The quietly startled look on the faces of the home nurses who watched this strange cascade of red fall out of the unveiled wound when they came to relieve me of my duties a couple times a week. Laughing, when the doctors said to change his bandage (singular) daily. I’m triple-bandaging and packing the wound up to 3 times a day. I’m buying diapers at thrift stores and cutting and taping them into bandages because we can’t keep up with the expense of “real” bandages. They work just as well, if not better.
Which leads us to the medical waste. Unfathomable amounts of it. First, in the hospital, where they throw away everything that has been in his room, including the food and utensils he did not ask for. And then at home, where we stack delivered styrofoam coolers filled with tubes of IV antibiotics and disposable chemical ice packs, and piles of saline syringes. I’m astounded that this is not talked about more. How much waste does the average hospital create on a daily basis? Where does it go? How much of it is necessary? Of course, much of it is, given what we have to work with. It saves lives. I’ve also witnessed carelessness that comes with the territory. So…what do we DO with all this…stuff? What am I doing? What should I be doing? I’m doing the important and fulfilling work of caring for my partner, but I’m still an artist. I must keep going, in spite of the challenges. Because it’s what I do.
I bring boxes of used syringes into my studio and wash them. I play with them, putting them together in different ways. I place them between 2 small silver candelabras, and I’m starting to get somewhere. It needs to be big. I frame it with a wooden cabinet door. Yes. It needs something to hold more space. Altar-like. That’s what I want. A wrought iron frame I bought at a local thrift store fits over the cabinet door perfectly. Clearly, it was meant to be. Color. White? Too much white. Hospital white. Touches of it, yes, set off by deep blood-reddish brown leather and black velvet. I drop the gold plate that sits at the top, during the process, and a few pieces break off. I glue them back together, but one piece is missing. I feverishly and obsessively search my entire studio floor, and any other surface that it may have landed on, and I cannot find it. Anywhere. It’s gone. I cut and glue cardboard bandage logos into pieces of metal hardware, and the white pops, like illuminated stained glass, against the darker background. There is now a perfect little nook in the gold plate, that empty space belonging to the missing piece, which cradles the metal hardware, with no further modification necessary. Clearly, it too, was meant to be. Glad I never found that piece. I treat the discarded plastic waste like precious objects, cutting and filing and setting them with beads and shell casings and filigreed metal. It comes to life. Life. That’s what these discarded items helped give my partner. I see the abstract form of a Tree of Life emerge, and it’s clear that that’s what this piece is. My Tree of Life. Our Tree of Life. Making this piece was a lifeline for me, a connection between that which had been consuming my time and energy, and my deep-rooted creative impulse. It’s big. It’s heavy. Scale doesn’t translate well in photos, but it stands (or hangs) over 4 feet tall.
I finish this piece in time for the Desert Icons show at the Yucca Valley Visual and Performing Arts Center. With a 2-month run, surely my boyfriend will be out of the hospital (once again) in time to see the show. I speak on the panel about my work, and about this piece in particular. I’m honored that it resonated with many, and amused at all the double-takes that people do after I talk about it, unaware at first glance of the materials that make up the bones of the piece. Three weeks later, we take down the show that my partner never got to see. But I feel his presence was there, through this Tree of Life. It is our connection. These objects touched him. Objects hold energy, and energy transforms objects. Alchemy. We keep going, but we capture moments along the way, creating tangible vignettes containing the abstract element of time. Because that’s what we do.
“Tree of Life”
Mixed Media Assemblage with Medical Waste
49″ x 21″
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