Two years ago I was standing in a grocery store line. It was my turn to check out and the cashier said something to me that I didn’t hear, so I politely replied, Pardon? and she responded,

“WHAT ARE ‘YA….DEAF OR SOMETHIN’?”

Surrounded  (detail from the installation- whispers to you from under the ear...Never Mind, What are 'ya...deaf or somethin'? Listen Up!)                                                                               

Leisa Rich                                                 

2015                       

84”x 64”x 84”

Installation: Plastic, thread, PLA, fabric, found object, antique lace, recorder: 3D printing, Free motion machine embroidery, stitching

Yes. Yes, I am. It took me half a lifetime to admit it and embrace it instead of hide it. I had been making artwork that featured ears for some years and had never shown those works. Then a conversation I had at an art exhibition (shortly after the check out experience) with Leah Owenby about artwork she had made that was comprised of her cast off diabetes test strips and needles became the impetus to do something concrete about the influence of invisible disabilities in creating art and the art created. I needed to bring the important topic of artists making art that is informed by their hidden challenges to light.

Invisible:visAble was born.

I began culling artists from a pool of artist friends, put a call out on social media, and contacted disability groups and the VSA Arts of Georgia, until I had an exciting list of artists who were challenged by invisible disabilities, able to be registered with the Office of Disabilities, and who were making art informed by those challenges. I envisioned an exhibition that gave a voice to artists making work about what they face. It became my imperative to create a space for this conversation so it wouldn’t be “secret” any longer.

Many people live with a disability that impacts everyday life. A “hidden” or “invisible” disability is defined as a serious, on-going, medical or mental health challenge that impedes a completely normal existence but does not usually “show” on the outside. All of the artists lead what can be perceived as fully “normal” lives: they are educators, professional artists, parents, and business people. Every day they privately contend with needles, drugs, treatments, hospitalizations, erroneous assumptions and misperceptions because they ‘pass’ as normal. The artists in this exhibition have Diabetes, Deafness, Spinal Stenosis, Dyslexia, Brain tumors, Pectus Excavtum, Bulimia, Polycystic Kidney Disease, Bipolar/Social Anxiety Disorder, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and other. They make works and make public their feelings and seek to create a conversation about Invisible Disabilities. The participating artists  -- from South Africa, the U.S. and Canada -- revel in this challenge and show how it informs their work. It celebrates uniqueness and positivity in the face of adversity.

I had never curated an art exhibition before, but I was now doing so!

It was a long road fraught with obstacles. The excellently situated commercial gallery that had agreed to feature the exhibition ran into some legal challenges with the City of Atlanta during a move, left us hanging for over a year as a result, and then waffled for a few more months until I was forced to locate another space. Luckily, Abernathy Arts Center Gallery had a spot available and offered it. One artist dropped out because the new venue “wasn’t good enough for her” and two for unknown reasons. I was forced to ask two artists to leave the show due to their inability to get key components to me on time. A few of the artists in the show had trouble providing me with essentials, even right up until opening day. Things broke during shipping. The usual challenges for a curator!

(In addition, I had a terrible slip and fall at a department store end of June, and then a really, really, really terrible car accident September 1, bringing me to a screeching halt. However, I rose above these challenges and somehow semi-recovered from my injuries and burns enough that I hauled my sorry butt out of bed and continued on, ensuring that the show remained on track. Nothing was going to stop this labor of love from happening!)

As the artwork photos, statements, resumes and more began coming in from the artists, I realized what an incredible show it was shaping up to be. It blossomed each day into an extraordinary event. I blasted out about it on social media, sent out press releases to every arts group, disability group, schools, businesses, arts organizations, t.v. stations, and more, in the hopes that attendance would be high and that reviews and features might happen. People needed to see this show!

As the date of the exhibition came closer, thoughts of how to get this extraordinary venture out into the greater universe beyond Atlanta became imperative. I wanted a way to connect the far away artists with the reception so they could experience it and meet attendees. My husband has telepresence robots at work, so we borrowed those and brought Linda Wallace from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Lynne Lomofsky from South Africa, and J.Penney Burton from Halifax, Nova Scotia to the opening reception via technology. It was eye-opening and a harbinger of the NOW -- no longer can we term it "the future" -- and an extraordinary experience for all.

The opening reception was a hit. Elizabeth Labbe-Webb from the VSA Arts of Georgia took a head count for us and stopped counting when attendance surpassed 350 people. The robots were a great addition and many people enjoyed interacting with the artists on them. However, the WiFi connection at Abernathy was not the greatest, so we did have bad reception here and there but overall, the feedback was excellent! I haven’t heard of anyone else doing this at an art show. In addition, the artist talk the next day was really wonderful. Each artist present gave a heart-wrenching, funny, poignant look at the impetus behind their art works.

All-in-all, it was a resounding, incredible success and an amazing experience. I am extremely proud of how it turned out. I have given a voice to a topic in art that few do. And that is what art is about. 

Below are some images and information about the artists and their works.

I want to thank Crafthaus for the micro grant, money that will be used to assist the artists in covering their shipping and travel costs. There are many more images, but I don't want to show them all to you, as I am doing a book about the project and hope you will check it out when it becomes available!

Detaxis                                                                                          

Julie L. Sims                                            

2015                       

30”x 65”

Mixed media sculpture and electronics

J.Penney live from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on telepresence robots at opening reception- in front of her piece

Rumination                                                                                

J. Penney Burton                                

2015                       

variable              

Wire, cloth, polystyrene

John Rich prepping the telepresence robots at the opening reception. Brook Harris Stevens and Jason Thomson works above him.

Linda Wallace from Vancouver island, British Columbia, Canada live on telepresence robots and in front of her works

Ambivalent 1, 2, & 3                                                            

Linda Wallace                                       

2015                       

8”x11” ea            

Handwoven tapestries: Warp: cotton seine twine, Weft: wool, linen, cotton, silk, NFS

The Journey Back                                                                    

Linda Wallace                                       

2012-2015          

32.5”x44”

Handwoven tapestries: Warp: cotton seine twine, Weft: wool, linen, cotton, silk, NFS

GALLERY VIEWS:

 

 

ARTIST TALK:

Some of the ARTIST WORKS IN THE SHOW:

Measured in Time                                                                   

Brooks Harris Stevens                      

2015                       

8’x48”x12”           

Photographs, various wool yarns, stainless steel knitting needles, stopwatch, bronzed hand-knitted fabric, knitted pieces marking time, and video. Video in collaboration with Jennifer Seibert

Say What?                                                                                   

Ingrid Knox                                             

2015                       

16”x 20”               

Acrylic on canvas

Rumination                                                                                

J. Penney Burton                                

2015                       

variable

Wire, cloth, polystyrene

I Can’t Read                                                                                

Jason Thomson                                     

2015                       

human size

Copper, brass: die formed, electric formed, dapped, etched

 

Read It Over                                                                                

Jason Thomson                                     

2015                       

human size

Copper, brass: die formed, electric formed, dapped, etched

Waste Studies no. 12                                                            

Katherine Souci                                                     

2015                        

16”x18”x 4”

Hand dyed, silk screened waste hosiery (Sans Soucie hosiery textile scraps), tying, binding , visible mending

Funnel Chest  (detail of apron)                                                                          

Kathy Meliopoulos                            

2015                       

19”x 24”

Chamois leather, pins, marker, thread

Empathy, Perfection Normal Disabled, Teen Heartbreak                                           

2015                       

19.5”x 26” ea

Apron triptych: black canvas, Milagros charms, chamois leather, embroidery and antique gold thread, ink, ribbon

Syringe Cap Brooch                                                               

Kelsey Simmen                                    

2014                       

1.5”x 1.5”x 2”        

Silver, insulin syringe caps, epoxy (hand fabrication)

    

Double Sugar Syringe Brooch                                         

Kelsey Simmen                                    

2014                       

1.5”x 1.5”x 1”           

Silver, insulin syringe caps, sugar, epoxy (hand fabrication)

   

Syringe Cluster Brooch                                                        

Kelsey Simmen                                    

2015                       

4.5”x 3.5”x 1”        

Silver, silver castings of sugar insulin syringe caps, (hand fabrication)

Icon (an homage of gratitude)                                       

Leah Owenby                                        

2015                       

8”x10”    

Gold-leafed Accu-Chek Active glucometer & test strips

          

Freedom (I am thankful for the tools I have)          

Leah Owenby                                        

2015                       

5”x7”

Vial of Humalog insulin, wire, Reese’s and Ghirardelli  foil wrappers,

Humalog and Lantus insulin vials, lancets, test strips, and syringes, acrylic paint and rottenstone

 

Dia de los Diabeticos (altar to the sugar gods)    

Leah Owenby                                        

2015                       

10”x15”

Humalog and Lantus information leaflets, Dove chocolate wrappers, insulin syringes

Surrounded                                                                                

Leisa Rich                                                 

2015                       

84”x 64”x 84”

Installation: Plastic, thread, PLA, fabric, found object, antique lace: 3D printing, Free motion machine embroidery, stitching 3500 ears

sTriangulation  (detail)                                                                        

Leisa Rich  

2015 

31”x 36”x 1”

PLA, thread, resin, graphite: 3D printing, drawing, free motion machine embroidery

     

A Patient Copy                                                                         

Lynne Lomofsky                                   

2009-2015          

variable

Mixed media: paper, photos, pins

A Braille Poem: Untitled                                                    

Maria Ciavarro                                      

2011                       

27”x16”

Ceramic, wood, multimedia hand fabrication   

   

Oscillate 

Rea                                                               

2015                       

5.3”x7x5”

Nylon Bangle                                                     

 

Scabs                                                                                              

Michelle Urbanek   

2013   

60”x14”x6”

Organza dress, silk/cotton/wood embroidery threads, hand dyed fabric, cotton batting          

               

Stone Soup Spoon Theory                                                  

Lauren Sandler                                     

2015                       

10”x17”x12”

Handbuilt with clay                    

The Journey Back                                                                    

Linda Wallace                                       

2012-2015          

32.5”x44”

Handwoven tapestry: Warp: cotton seine twine, Weft: wool, linen, cotton, silk

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