by YONA C. RIEL

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The resurrection of Yo

     Being an artist, for me, has not always been pretty or fun.  Nor does my process fit nicely into the perimeters of a timeline.  I can start a project with a ‘guesstimation’ of when it will be done, but I never really know what will happen once I start.
     In September 2006, I started a life-size mannequin by covering a foam one (I had laying around) with papier mache.  Then, I used the plaster gauze to make a smooth, hard surface to collage upon. I then collaged the entire surface with maps I printed out from various sites I found on the web. In the next step, I laid tissue paper that sewing patterns are made of, and then finally I painted over the entire surface, thinking I was going to sand back through the layers and come up with some interesting texture as skin.  
     By the summer of 2007 she was completely covered. Her torso and arms were sanded down revealing an unusual textural surface with an occasional word showing through. Her legs had red and white striped ‘socks’. Her face had tiny words embedded deep into her skin and eyes.  She sat peacefully in a cross-legged position with her fingers laced together.  And I hated her.  I just could not make any real meaning out of her even though the surface of her ‘skin’  looked just fine.
     Day after day, my frustration with ‘the mannequin’ grew whenever I tried to work on her.  Finally, sick of the frustration, I cut off her arms, then I cut off her legs and I wrote ‘I hate you’ and ‘throw me in the river’ all over her.  That day I promised myself, tears flowing, that I would throw her in the back of the truck, drive down to the river and throw her in.  ‘She will finally stop haunting me',  I thought.

     Then in December of 2007,  I had a near-fatal head injury to the right side of my brain caused by a sinus infection.  I was in the hospital for a month. By the time I got home I still had very little use of the left side of my body.  I could not put on my own clothes, tie my shoes, zip up my coat.  Making art was out of the question.  But everyday for several months I would walk up to the hospital for my physical therapy appointments then walk back.
     Eventually, I learned to read again, type, use my cellphone and most miraculous to me the pictures inside my brain came back.  (I had secretly feared I had lost my imagination).  To make art I would collect things in baggies and hang them on the wall and try to extract meaning from them.  And  I spent a few hours everyday writing.  The mannequin was the last thing on my mind though she still haunted me whenever I went out to the shed.  (I never did make it to the river.)
     I spent the next year volunteering at MECCA trying to learn how to work with others with my new limitations.  The head injury caused a lot of fatigue along with heightened anxiety when dealing with people.  The volunteering helped me learn how to negotiate my new limitations.
     When Mija (the director at MECCA) first said the words ‘Art Challenge’ I immediately knew I had to resurrect the mannequin.  The moment I saw the old lamp I knew that the lampshade was the skirt I had been looking for. And the base of the lamp would be heavy enough to hold up the mannequin.  So inspired was I, that I strapped the lamp onto the back of my bike because I had to start work that day.

      This is when it dawned on me that resurrecting the mannequin mirrored my own resurrection from the brain injury.

     Everyday, for the next two months, I would find little things at MECCA that spoke to me and I knew they belonged with the Resurrection piece.  Death sits on her head to remind me that it is always near, and a skull sits in a closet (or a coffin) on her back to remind me that grieving is a very necessary part of the healing process.  As I first said, for me, making art isn’t always a pretty or timely process.  But, at least this time, it is what makes meaning in my life.

5 comments:

  1. amazing yona! most of us don't realize that every day is a gift. you are an inspiration to all of us!

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  2. comments are always welcome...

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  3. thanks vickie. indeed it's been an amazing journey... thanks for reading and commenting.. yr awesome...

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  4. Yona
    Interesting and yes quite cool, but I cannot get the link to your second piece to work for me.

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  5. Yono,

    Your story resonates with me. We have traveled on similar journeys. Art has been my salvation following my tbi in 2007. I did not create as I do today before my injury. Perhaps too busy chasing life and career to nurture the important. Not able to return to my former career has turned to a blessing for my art creation. You can see my work on my website at www.becker-j=gutsch.com. I will check more of yours on FB.

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