Still constrained by a sprained ankle, I’m unable to photograph at will, go on hikes, or even stand at a work table.
How does an artist cope with an overwhelming circumstance? I often create out of the situation I'm presented.
Through this pickle, I’m developing an ABC artists’ book using my ankle stretching exercises for the content. The images below are some of the elements that will be included in the pages. I have ideas for the cover by manipulating a stretch compression bandage. I’m not sure of the title, that will develop with the book.
My predicament compelled me to think of how artists continue with their work during an illness, malaise or unfortunate event. Let me introduce a narrative from Miriam Schaer, an artist, and educator based in Brooklyn, New York. Miriam began a teaching and research adventure in Telavi. A Fulbright Fellowship enabled her to live and work, outside Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.
Once in the Republic of Georgia, some 5,600 miles from home in the winter of 2017, a sore knee triggered a cascade of debilitating conditions.
My right leg from the knee down grew so swollen I could not bend it, stand on it, or fit into a shoe. Walking was out. The pain was excruciating, an arthritic discomfort had become frighteningly serious. I decided to head home on a midnight flight.
I came to grips with the extending length of my recovery and resigned a Senior Lectureship at Columbia College Chicago. I could see it would be a few semesters before I could return.
As an artist, however, I can’t avoid making things. Usually, I’m compulsively busy making artist books, book-related sculptures, prints, and multimedia projects.
My home studio is well-equipped, but in rehab, my iPhone was the only tool I had to document the unfamiliar rehab environment.
Back from the hospital, mobility became my top priority. Serious art making would have to wait. Fortunately, I had committed to several projects with long lead times. The commitments turned out to be gifts and, I adapted my limited energies to them. I reverted to a trick developed as a young artist by doing one small thing and hoped each step would lead to another, and so on.
I took breaks. Some short, some longer, like binge-watching episodes of the Great British Baking Show. I allowed myself to fail and make mistakes, to take things apart and put them back together, sometimes multiple times.
However, just as my walking improved enough to hobble around, carpal tunnel syndrome developed from months of struggling, first with a walker then a cane. My ability to make small tools and accomplish anything went out the window. Instead of producing books, I was soaking my wrists in ice baths.
I turned to related work — updated my website, helped a neighbor start her own website. A two-day artists’ book workshop conducted in my studio helped produce a simple ‘instant book.’
I pecked away at an essay for a book I’d been asked to contribute to, due later in 2018. During the summer, I started a piece, writing a little each day. I wanted to finish a draft by summer’s end knowing I would need time to go through at least three drafts. In the end, there were seven.
I felt overwhelmed by the growing list of new conditions. But once diagnosed and treated the symptoms slowly retreated. By this time, I started on an artwork for an exhibition. Feeling better but with low energy, I was still, not able to stand for prolonged periods. So, I needed to think about how I would approach the project.
I decided to try a garment; I have worked with garments in the past, usually manipulating the clothing items. This time I wanted to make something from scratch.
The decision was to make a shirt and tie with the neckwear extending, like Pinocchio’s nose to an indecent length inspired by media’s attention to the reign of Trump. I entitled the piece Liar’s Couture.
The project was challenging, therapeutic, even fun. It showed me I was ready to get back to work even though I measure my progress by achieving a milestone at a time.
Now, more than a year after that dangerous day in Georgia, my knee needs to be replaced and my fingers are still a bit numb. But I’m hopeful.
Artists take notice of all events or situations that arise. We create from everything that touches our souls, personalities and, environment. What have you created lately from a problematic situation, a tight spot, dilemma or a can of worms that just happen to disrupt your life on a beautiful day?