Monday, December 12, 2005

Pam Jennings

Russell Nesbit was perhaps the most well known muse for Washington area artists. This was true for students and teachers alike. He started modeling decades ago to help make ends meet when it was difficult, largely because of segregation, to get work as an acrobat, his life’s love.Russell’s last modeling job was sitting for this portrait in the fall of 2001. He was very ill with colon cancer but he insisted on working. He got so sick that he was too weak to take public transportation from his home in DC to my studio in Alexandria, Virginia. I would drive him to and from my studio. He was so proud of the idea that he was the model for three paintings in my first solo show which was at the Art League in Alexandria.As I painted Russell I knew that my work was about much more than a show preparation. I was recording the last days of a wonderful man whom had led a wonderful life. Russell was a very patient, generous and nurturant model. While we worked he educated me about jazz and told me fascinating stories about jazz artists. One of my favorite stories is about how much Russell loved Billy Eckstein and how he would follow the singer around the country as he performed. Russell also told me about his background as an acrobat and his experiences with discrimination which included exclusion from the Ringling Brothers Circus. He trained young black girls from poor neighborhoods in acrobatics. He told me that he and his students were once invited to do a private show for Ethel Kennedy. He studied photography at the same school as Jackie Kennedy and in the army he helped train parachuters how to jump.Sometimes I was at cross purposes while working with Russell. The painter in me wanted to paint but the Clinical Psychologist was interested in knowing more about his developmental history and how it shaped his character. For example, I was very interested in the fact that he was adopted and had never met his biological parents. He once told me that he had the fantasy that they saw him when he performed on shows like the Ed Sullivan show.The psychological dignity of this final pose was in direct contrast to the way that cancer was undermining Russell’s physical integrity. The merciless and ugly process of death was the opposite of the beauty that my eyes wanted to observe and that my hands wanted to render. The cancer was violent. Once, Russell threw up in my studio. It was painful to watch the disease eat away at him as his weight declined. Sometimes his feet and ankles were so swollen that he could not wear his shoes. I remember going to a shoe store to try to find some very wide but warm shoes. I wanted to surprise him! There were moments when Russell was so weak that I had to take him to the hospital where he was given blood transfusions. Apparently he was bleeding internally. Through all of this Russell wanted to work and he did so without complaint.I hope that this pose captures this quiet, dignified man’s fight with death, and more importantly, his love of life. Yes, cancer was killing him and he was physically fading away as evidenced by the largeness of his white shirt. However, his courage and his sense of responsibility to art were eternal traits that would never end.While this portrait was very much motivated by my need to produce work for my show, my own medical history was inseparable from Russell’s experience. At the age of 19 I had a malignant parotid gland tumor that was surgically removed. Although I survived cancer, this experience has been omnipresent in my life. So, my portrait of Russell is also a portrait of me. If this portrait gives comfort and hope to even one fellow patient both Russell and I will be very happy

Kay Chernush

During my surgeries for breast cancer and the chemotherapy that followed, I often found myself visualizing light -- light coming from darkness, light that was full of color and energy, playful light, healing light. I tried to imagine myself floating in light. Those images came back to me during early morning swims in the summer of 2003, as I tried to regain my strength. I was intrigued by how the light changed its shape and character as it danced on both surface and depth. As I cut through the water, the play of light gentled my body and buoyed me up. "WaterWorks: A Healing" is an attempt to capture that part of my journey.

Don Fear

“Healing Steps: Jamie’s Journey”

Excerpts from a Caretaker’s JournalPhoto-Assemblages and Writings by Don Fear
Signs, symbols, and objects—what do they mean to us?
Objects given and received, gifts. Gifts given from the heart, when illness hits, often take on a different meaning than what a simple object may be able to convey. A crystal with healing powers, a handmade angel for the Christmas tree, a figure of Yoda—all take on a different meaning, one of importance. They become more than just objects; they become symbols of hope and connections to another world, the spiritual world. These objects, minute as they may be, are gifts of hope and most of all love. Cards by the hundreds, best wishes for recovery and good health from loved ones and friends. Objects of paper, maybe, but they are much more. They become connections with loved ones who are near and far away. They hold us together when we are apart.The importance of these objects has become more evident since my wife’s diagnosis. A lot of things have become clearer. Jamie and I are realizing how deeply we are connected. Our spirits are together forever, the untouchable and the unseen.One day she said to me, “We need to document the many gifts that people have sent.” The connection was already there, made without being spoken. I had been doing exactly that. Over the previous days, I had been scanning the objects we had received. Objects often disappear and quite frequently get covered up by other important things. Jamie and I had been on the same wavelength. For some unknown reason during her three surgeries, I had been collecting bits and pieces of discarded medical items, packages from tubing, latex gloves, hospital ID bracelets, and any other items that I could scavenge. I don’t really know why I had collected these things. It was as if I were driven to collecting anything I could hold on to that had a connection to her. A friend of mine whose wife also has cancer revealed to me that he had also had the same urge but didn’t know why and had stolen a pair of examining gloves. I said to Jamie, “You are not going to believe this” and then walked down to my studio to get some of the images that I had made. When I showed them to her, a tear appeared in her eye. I reached out and we just held each other.This was the beginning of my documentation of our healing process—photo assemblages and writings of things, places, dreams, and memories that we have shared since her diagnosis of a rare cancer, mucinous cystadenocarcinoma. Some of the objects in the images live on the windowsill of our guestroom, overlooking an area of woods. It is a great window to study the change of seasons. Jamie looks out over these woods, accompanied by the many objects she has received; among them are her favorites, the butterflies, which have become her symbol of healing and a visualization tool. Her collection includes several pins, magnets, and a large wooden butterfly from Bali that dangles from the ceiling, a gift from her older sister.As she stands there looking and touching each one, I can’t help but think that at times, a lot of times, she might just want to become a butterfly and lightly and effortlessly take off and leave her body, if only for an afternoon of cruising the woods that she so loves. The image of the butterfly allows her the opportunity to leave her body and enter that place in her mind that says anything is possible. Producing this work allows me to clarify both my own existence and what Jamie means to me.

Philip Kohn

"The Looking Glass"
Interactive video art by Philip Kohn

Philip Kohn is a researcher studying brain function in the Section on Integrative Neuroimaging at the National Institute of Mental Health. During his eight years at the NIH, he has been involved in studies of memory, schizophrenia, Williams syndrome, aging, reward and story comprehension. His interests in artificial and natural intelligence, evolution, photography, psychology, interactive arts, mathematics and computer science have come together both in interdisciplinary study of the brain, and in the creation of new works of art using technology as a medium.In 2002 he had his first public showing of an interactive video installation called "Once Upon a Time." This piece allowed participants to add their own short video segment to the ends of a growing story tree. He was surprised by how easily people shed their inhibitions in the context of seeing themselves "on display" as part of an art work. He decided to further explore audience participation in interactive video art with the idea of creating media which would engage people in the creative process.Making art and designing experiments both involve playing with possibilities to best bring to light the effects of interest. In both the result is often not what was expected. Having an open mind to the unexpected is part of the creative process in both art and science.While making "The Looking Glass", there were many happy surprises that were part of the interplay between artist and medium, or between imagination and reality. For example, the method used to separate people from background had the side effect that standing still causes you to disappear like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland with the eyes and mouth disappearing last. At first this seemed like a problem, but then the realization came that this was a wonderful way to encourage people to move around. One of the goals from the start was to make something that would cause people to dance around and act strangely becoming their own exhibit for others to wonder at. The hope is that the playfulness that went into the creation of The Looking Glass will be echoed by the play induced in its audience.Just as we sound different to ourselves when we hear our voice played back, we also look different to ourselves when the bonds of immediate reality are broken. This installation breaks down the reality of the mirror in time, space and color. Every minute it changes the type of distortion. Some of these include: time delay, warping the image when you move your hand across it, drawing with your hand, time speed up and slow down, time forward and backward, time re-splicing, mirror flipping, rotation, coloring and zooming selected colors.Note that no video is saved for more than a minute, and that this exhibit is completely self contained without any connection to other computers or networks.

Tomihiro Hoshino

From an article by Katie Boswell.... "One of the exhibits currently on display is the artwork of Japanese artist and poet Tomihiro Hoshino. In 1972, Hoshino was working as a physical education teacher at a junior high school in Japan when he injured his neck in a gymnastic lesson and was left paralyzed from the neck down. During his nine years in the hospital, he learned to paint by holding a paintbrush between his teeth. It was this talent and his faith that gave Hoshino hope for the future. His beautiful watercolors of flowers are complemented by his accompanying poems, which give a glimpse into the challenges of his condition and his deep sense of joyful hope.
One watercolor's accompanying poem reads:

"They went through a dark long period under the ground.
They sprouted at great risk to life.
But blades of grass show us the most beautiful figure
of their lives without a single word of such part."

When Hoshino's work came to the Clinical Center for display, it was originally intended only as a temporary exhibit. However, when he read the endless comments NIH visitors, patients and staff had written in the exhibit's guest book [visit to read some of the comments], he was extremely moved. "He was so impressed by how Americans responded to his art that he donated the entire exhibit to the Clinical Center," says Lillian Fitzgerald who works in the CC office of facilities management.
Katrina Blair, the office manager for the lab of biochemical genetics at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is a poetry therapist trainee and graduate student who found special meaning in Hoshino's art. "His work speaks to all the senses," she explains. "Poetry therapy is about your personal life journey. And a poem or piece of artwork can talk about trials and tribulations, but in the end, for it to be healing, it has to come back to hope. Every piece I picked from Hoshino's exhibit spoke of hope. His work spoke very heavily of that."
The Hoshino exhibit is now permanently displayed on the fifth floor of the Hatfield Center."

Caroline Danforth

The temptation to disregard the symptoms was great, as long as they were quiet. Once they grew louder, and impossible to ignore, we had a diagnosis that required immediate attention: primary peritoneal carcinoma, stage four. From chemotherapy to major surgery, my mother Ute endured eight emotionally charged months, with more victories than we ever could have expected. I went to every treatment, absorbing everything, trying to be strong, as my mother continues to be. My mother is now in total remission and our joy and disbelief is indescribable.These small paintings are one outlet I have found to begin to process what my mother endured during chemotherapy. The plant I have depicted is called Tear Thumb, an invasive plant that grows prolifically in one of our beloved regional parks. It is invasive, fast growing, mysterious, and a symbol of my mother’s illness and her response, which has strengthened and inspired us all.

George Juliano

This work of art by George Juliano is on loan from Dr. Nelson, an NIH employee in honor of his mother, who was an artist and exhibited in the Clinical Center Galleries.

George Juliano's artist statement:

"I was given 3 months to live. My diagnosis was metastatic small cell carcinoma. It was during the final days of my chemotherapy when at 3 AM I went downstairs to my studio and made this piece. I placed tumors on the piece. This represented the elimination of the tumors from my body. Through the prayers of a great number of people from many faiths and excellent care from my doctor, I have been cancer free for six years."

Fleming Lunsford

As an artist, I know the necessity to create for my well-being. I have an anxious drive to get into my studio and into a mental framework to make my photographs. My work had been included in a wonderful program created by Susan Parochniak and Lillian Fitzgerald at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia to bring art into its new facility. It was fascinating to hear that the radiologist who previously had been reluctant to participate in the art project selected my children’s Icarus series to hang in the hall of his treatment area. As many of his patients were women, he wanted them to see the photographs of children playing to inspire courage and an even stronger drive to fight their illness. I was humbled by such a meaningful purpose that had been attached to my work.But recently, I experienced the patient side of Martha Jefferson Hospital’s endeavor. I was late in pregnancy with my second child when the doctor informed me that there was a problem; he could no longer find a heartbeat. We were sent to the hospital for an ultrasound, and since we were a last minute appointment, we had a significant wait. As I sat in the new waiting room which felt and looked more like a living room than a hospital reception area, I was drawn in by the varied and wonderful display of artwork. I wandered the halls and into other waiting areas marveling at the sculptures, the paintings, and collages. I returned to my waiting area to get my husband, and we both walked about, absorbed by certain pieces, intrigued by others; wondering how on earth some sculptures were pieced together. Our ultra sound brought great news, but my memory is not of how harrowing the hour and a half wait was. I remember with gratitude how the artwork took my mind off of our potential loss; it gave me a focus other than myself at a time when I desperately needed it.I have spoken to friends who have also had appointments or been patients at this new facility. They have talked effusively about the quality and variety of the artwork throughout the hospital. I am not alone in my enthusiasm and support of the art program there.To have been on both sides of Martha Jefferson Hospital’s art program was very powerful for me. As an artist, my work took on greater meaning and provided a direct audience that I could think about as I created my photographs. As a patient, I know of its potential power because I – and many others have experienced it first hand

Tim Tate

My work deals primarily with memory, healing, loss and history. I use this structure as a framework that holds the meanings of my pieces. While I spend a great amount of time building each work’s content long before it is actually produced, I also allow for further interpretation. Each viewer is encouraged to bring to these pieces his or her own experiences, attitudes, and culture. The melding of intended and unintended, expected and unexpected, the individual and unique interpretations of each piece and what it has to say to each viewer is what I hope occurs.
Many who are affected by my work have suffered losses of their own. This loss offers a window into my work and hopefully aid in healing that viewer. Producing them has aided in healing my losses. This is the motivator behind much of my work.