BENSON – The little gallery is pleased to host “Conditions” – a group show featuring the work of four artists with chronic medical conditions – during the month of January. The opening reception is Friday, Jan. 3, from 6 to 9pm in conjunction with Benson First Friday.
The artists – Mary Ensz, Jeff Mack, Jennifer Novak Haar and Jennifer Shannon – bravely create art while quietly battling a wide variety of medical issues. Often the daily struggle of dealing with ailments can also be a source of inspiration. The exhibition features painting and photography.
“Conditions” runs through Jan. 25. The little gallery is powered by Polecat Communications. Winter hours are Thursday-Friday from 3 to 5pm, Saturday from 10am to 1pm and by appointment. For more information, call 402.681.1901.
Learn more about the artists below.
Growing up, my mom had a set of Matryoshkas, or Russian Nesting Dolls, on her dresser. I was captivated by how cozily they fit inside each other and how the forms felt in my hands. The littlest doll was my favorite, painted one color with a simple bud on her belly – unadorned and unchanged by the outside world, solid and without fear.
As a young girl, my art was without fear: I enjoyed it, so I did it. However, as a teenager, truths I wasn’t ready to see started showing up in my art. Everything I made resurrected trauma I didn’t want to remember or presented circumstances I didn’t want to acknowledge. My solution was to stop making art.
After unsuccessfully seeking alternative realities in many forms, I visited my hometown and found the Matryoshkas on that same dresser of my childhood. They reminded me why I want to create—to look beyond the exterior, find truth and connect with others. So I began using the shape of the nesting doll to ground me in my work and help me move through recovery from addiction and the diagnosis of Bipolar I disorder.
My art materials continue to change, but like the littlest nesting doll, the truth is unadorned and unchanged by the outside world, solid and without fear. My art instigates viewers to examine their truths, and through this awareness, transform ourselves and our hurting communities.
In the dim light of a fall morning in 1977, held close by my parents, I slipped into unconsciousness. At the time, treating juvenile diabetes was an even greater challenge than it is today. My artwork reflects my nearly lifelong struggle with an invisible disease. Through my artwork, I educate and entertain the viewer with images derived from my life experience.
Like most long-term diabetics, there have been many challenges I’ve had to face. From vision issues, cost of treatment and day-to-day management of my health, my illness is present in every facet of my existence. Communicating these obstacles is a central motivation in my art. I am constantly looking at the world around me for a way to transform utilitarian things into something beautiful.
In 2017, I began to use an insulin pump to manage my diabetes. The process creates a regular stream of waste products. I have been collecting the syringes, needles and other waste ever since. I use these objects, combined with an early photographic process called cyanotype, to create works of art.
Cyanotypes were originally used to create blueprints, and my work has that distinct blue hue as well. Building a pattern of objects on top of surfaces prepared with the cyanotype chemistry and exposing that combination to ultraviolet light, I create abstract shapes that show the source objects clearly.
Photography is another process I use to communicate and create images related to my disease. I combine digital, analog and historic processes to make my imagery. I use macro images, printed onto transparencies, to create abstract cyanotypes that remind me of the visual and perceptual challenges I sometimes face.
My practice allows me to investigate the relationships between the objects I create my images with, myself and society. The resulting artwork is a dialog between a single patient and a public that usually cannot see my struggle.
Jennifer Novak Haar
I have been sick my whole life. Some of my earliest memories are in the hospital. Despite years of trying to find answers, I have only a probable diagnosis – Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia – an extremely rare cilia disorder that affects the lungs, sinuses and ears. Because the cilia can’t move mucus out in a normal way, I have frequent infections and irreversible lung damage. I’ve had most of the insides of my sinuses removed to help drainage, and I have constant issues with my ears. I’ve had more surgeries and hospitalizations than I can count. Even a simple cold can be life-threatening; in 2011 I nearly died of a viral pneumonia and was on life support for five days. I needed oxygen for several months as I recovered.
My disease affects me on a daily basis. To compensate for the cilia dysfunction and lung damage, twice a day I do about 45 minutes of respiratory therapy, consisting of mechanical chest percussion, inhaled antibiotics, sinus rinses, steroid sprays and inhalers, and I need IV antibiotics several times a year. I have to make sure to get at least eight hours of sleep a night. People stare at me because I have a terrible hacking cough.
Despite this, I lead a very active and busy life. Since getting a port 10 years ago, I’ve been able to do IV antibiotics at home, which has drastically cut down on my hospitalizations and allows me to keep working even when I’m sick. I’ve taken on photography and enjoy taking photos of wildlife, zoo animals and pets. I like catching animals in funny poses and expressions, and being able to see what they look like extremely close up, seeing things that would be impossible with the naked eye. People respond to these photos with interest and amusement, which is how I feel when taking them.
Most people aren’t aware of the extent of my illness, and as a freelance musician, I don’t want people to know and then consider me unhirable. When I was asked to be a part of a show on chronic illness, I was at first excited and then terrified. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put this part of my life on public display for all to see. It has taken some courage to show what living with my disease is like through the means of photography. Some find these photos disturbing or confusing, but to me, it’s just normal life. My hope is that these images convey the stark reality of my disease, but also my determination not to let it define me or hold me back.
The beauty in nature and landforms has always captivated my attention. Finding ways to intertwine hidden suggestions of the human anatomy within our world is a new obsession of mine. Some may see rolling hills, where I might find forms of a ribcage. Colorful veins flowing through the heart may turn into a twisted tree when rotated, converting nature into anatomy and life into nature. My mind has been bursting, trying to create an apparatus to create interactive canvases that will allow you to easily view my work from a variation of perspectives. This new mechanism allows the viewer to create different scenarios within the work and how they correspond between each other
I often replicate images of life and health with delicate, flowing movements. Contorted skeletal structures are used to convey experiences with my own birth defect – Diastematomyelia – while including a variety of health concerns faced in our society today. I feel a longing to cultivate enthusiasm and educate viewers within my creative process by transporting the viewer into the human body. Formations of hearts emanate in hopes to bring awareness and comfort, while acting as a form of therapy due to the loss of my dad.
At times, I use thick and textured paint and sculptural pieces to build tactical forms that can be experienced from a variety of angles. I feel it’s important to be able to experience the texture, weight and temperature of each piece. This provides opportunities for observers who are visually impaired to be able to experience art as well. At times, random bits of found objects are used to connect the viewer to the subject with familiar unexpected content, whether it is seen or felt.