Sharon Stone on surviving her brain Anneurysm


“A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water.”  ― Eleanor Roosevelt

I love how she refers to the starting over process as being that of a phoenix.  Lovely.  Yes, you lose everything when your brain is traumatized, but by starting over again, life is indeed richer and more powerful. Such beauty and hope in this short video. It doesn't speak directly to the research or the art, but I had to include for all the fellow survivors out there.


Crocheted Tree Ring Social Network Diagrams

4' x 6' panel with diagrams of data from Research of Dr. Amar Dhand, crocheted wool and acrylic, photo credit: Larry Sanders

Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty. ~Sicilian Proverb

As the resident artist on the research team,  my job was to visualize in some manner the research of Dr. Amar Dhand and make it more accessible to the general public.  After a number of open studio visits, it became apparent that the public wanted to see the art be encoded with the actual data.  They wanted it to be a literal translation.  I was stumped.  I was side-tracked by the pretty diagrams Dr. Dhand produced with R, but I also found them visually messy and not telling the whole story over time.  And so my research began in data visualization.  I poured through twitter posts, websites and such.  My visual parameters where that I wanted to stay with a round format as the circle is a symbol of wholeness and the universe and I really wanted to tell the story of the patient's network over time. It was also key that the patient remain in the center which evidently is counter to how most social network diagrams are constructed. As a stroke survivor, it was important to me that the patient be at the center, especially as the research is to hopefully create an intervention that will help the patient.

If you love data visualization, then  Manuel Lima's  fabulous book Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Complexity is a must read.  After reading his introduction into how family trees are the earliest form of data visualization and how that could also be shown as a tree ring I knew I had found the solution to my problem. But while I could make my art, was there any code out there that the doctor could run his data through?  It seemed to me  that the two must work together. This led me to a paper out of the University College of Dublin and the University of St. Andrews. They wrote code that was less node linked driven and allowed for the dimension of time.

I knew from many crochet experiments that I could create a tree ring diagram.  


The patient is the red at center. Time is represented by a color family.  I used a value scale of green in this example. The contrasting, complementary color of pink  represents the nodes.  I don't differentiate between strong and weak links as I wasn't given that data.  It could easily be done, but is not present in this example. The first ring is the network upon arrival at the hospital.  The second ring is the network at 3 months and the final ring is  at 6 months.  You can see how the networks make a shift over time.  Working the data in textiles allows for certain advantages not available on a computer.  I can shift the read with color and physical textures. Several diagrams  I crocheted, the nodes are worked in a bobble stitch,  so a person who is visually impaired may 'read' the data. 

The backdrop reminded me of the blue of the sea. A net is used to fish and a form of net is being used to collect the data. This particular shade of blue is also the chosen color used in the Come Back Strong campaign of the American Stroke Association. And of course the ultimate goal of the research is to help the patient come back strong. 

As it takes a network of support to aid the patient in their healing process, I've come to depend on my creative network to see the full  completion of this body of work.  It makes me nutty that the leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease and that the leading cause of adult disability are strokes and yet there is so little public awareness of it.  Every October, the United States is awash in pink. This attention on Breast Cancer has lead to many women's lives being saved.  They are getting mammograms which leads to early detection and greater survival. We need to see the same media blitz on heart disease and strokes. By the time I completed the panel of diagrams and several hundred mandalas, my hands were sore, yet I am aiming for 1,600 mandalas to represent the 1,600 stroke patients admitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in 2014.  It's a drop in the bucket of  the total 795,000 stroke patients in 2014.  1,600 seems small in comparison to 795,000. but that is a whole bunch of crocheting. Crocheters (knitters too) around the globe are making mandala contributions.  I don't know if I will make my goal, but then again when I had my stroke I didn't know in what way my social network would assist me. I don't try to control this part, I just share my story and hope that I can make my goal.  So far I've collected nearly 300 donated mandalas, mostly from a volunteer at BJC in the Arts and Healthcare department by the name of Yvonne.  Katherine Hull has crocheted two of the sure to be three blue panels which totals 10x10 feet of filet crochet.  That is a ton of crochet and took weeks to complete.  I'm even finding that yarn companies are helping out.  Lion Brand Yarns contribute the blue yarn.  So many different hands are involved in the making as they were involved in my healing.


Getting started.

When I met with Dr. Dhand regarding his research and my use of it in an art installation.  I was faced with this amazing wall of data.which you can see behind me in the photo. As an artist, I loved all the lines. Were those post-it notes really illustrating specific data about the health of patients?!  The drawings were later formalized into the computerized renderings which have a lovely graphic quality to them. The position of the patient is in the center in the drawings which makes more sense to me as the patient is embedded in  the center of his or her social network while in the computerized rendering the patient is located at the top position.


In both, the lines resembled threads to me which seemed a fitting metaphor. Thread appears as the symbol of life in  Greek Mythology. There are the Three Fates or Moirai, sister deities who spun the fate and destiny of humans.  One spun the thread while another determined the length of ones's life and the third inevitably cut the thread. My immediate reaction to making art about this research was to create a series of machine stitched webs, such as the example below.  ©2015-Lindsay-Obermeyer-Thread-Sketch-for Social-Networks-and -Stroke-Recovery-Project

I wanted something inherently fragile as in my experience the social networks of one's family and friends are just that, fragile.  Think of all the tension that flies around the dining table on Thanksgiving!  While metaphorically, I thought I was on the right path. The process of making was very limiting.  Each panel would need to be machine embroidered using a sewing machine and Solvy.  After a year of being cooped up in my house recovering from my stroke. I couldn't stand the thought of being tied to one location.  Besides I had learned through The Red Thread Project® that the best way to start a conversation about your art is to be making it in front of your audience which meant  knitting or crocheting.  I chose crochet for all the reasons mentioned in my artist statement.  And began experimenting.  I started setting up my portable crochet studio at various cafes around St. Louis.  One time while on the Amtrak to Chicago, a medical student sat next to me and asked what I was doing.  I told her and soon she got about a dozen classmates also on the train to crochet along with her. ( Yes, I always carry extra hooks and yarn with me just in case.) This process of sharing information is exactly what I wanted. Part art installation, part perfromance art and part community art, the idea is to educate and share information which I do through the final installation and the use of this blog, but with one person at a time at my local coffee shop.

©2015 Lindsay-Obermyer-Social-NEtworks-And-STroke-Recovery-photo-by-Larry-Sanders ©2015-Lindsay-Obermeyer-Social-Networks-and-Stroke-Recovery-photo-by-Larry-Sanders



Obemeyer-Social-Networks -&-Stroke -recovery

All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. -- Albert Einstien

Welcome to my new blog created specifically to chart the growth and development of one body of work - the Social Network and Stroke Recovery Project.

My Artist Statement 

Rendering visible the invisible and observation are at the root of art and medicine. Advances in medical knowledge were often based on the collaborations between doctors and illustrators, such as Vesalius and Jan Steven van Calcar or artists working with medical researchers in contemporary electronic visualization labs. While the focus has been primarily on anatomy and physiology, I am interested in the way art, particularly the textile arts, may be used to illustrate patterns of health and healing, whether that be the patterns lurking below the skin and seen only with the aid of a microscope or a pattern found through social network science.

This project is based on the research of Dr. Amar Dhand of Washington University School of Medicine.  My choice of medium is specific. Crochet is a structure in which each loop is interdependent on the other. Miss a loop or fray it and the structure becomes unstable. As stroke survivor I came to know intimately of my dependence on others. My illness had effected more than myself. It impacted my family and their work schedule, as well as the schedules of their colleagues. The research looks at the social networks of several hundred patients who were admitted to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital.  Who are the family and friends of the patient? What is the strength of this connection?  How will their connection improve the overall recovery of the patient?  The colors chosen are similar to those used in a functional MRI. Tactile-lines radiate from the center patient position and lead to the points marking the number of family and friends identified as part of the patient’s support structure. 

To me this study asks more fundamental questions: Who are your family and friends?  Can you count on them when the chips are down and how do you maintain and nurture these fragile connections now and when you are faced with a medical emergency? The study illuminates the invisible architecture of a family structure and network of friends. When I had a stroke, I was completely dependent on my social network; I had to learn how to gracefully accept help from others, let alone even learn to ask for it. I had been strong-willed and independent my entire adult life, so being so dependent on others for basic things like grocery shopping, cooking and doing laundry was frustrating and humiliating. My driver’s license was suspended; I couldn’t even drive myself to the doctor. You learn to accept assistance from anyone and everyone without question. While I was new to St. Louis, my use of Social Media made my plight known to family and friends throughout the country and they pulled in their forces to get me necessary assistance, while also offering their good humor and empathy on those days when I needed to vent. Even the act of calling a friend was a challenge that I found exhausting. I limited myself to one call a day. With diligent adherence to rehab exercises, determination and practice, I regained full mobility and am now on my neurologist’s research team visualizing the data from his study! The round format of the crochet resembles a mandala, a spiritual symbol representing the Universe. In a sense, I depended on the universe or many people for my recovery.

 I view my role as an artist to be synonymous with that of an educator and as such have always included teaching as part of my art practice. This project is inherently a form of community outreach to educate the public about strokes., to bring cutting edge science to the public in a more direct manner and hopefully reach more people as a result. The work is challenging in its construction.  I am currently trying to figure out how to crochet a mandala illustrating asymmetrical relationships while still using the symmetrical format of crocheting in the round.   ©2015-Lindsay-Obermeyer-Charting-a-crocheted-Mandala-for-socialnetneuro

The installation will eventually include 1600 crocheted images, one for each of the stroke patients to be annually admitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. While that number is staggering, it is even a greater shock to know that there are 795,000 stroke patients a year, which is twice the size of the St. Louis population.  Ideally I’d like the installation to travel with new mandalas being added at each new site until  795,000 are accumulated, thus making it an artwork made for the community and which is also partially constructed by this same community. Though these additional mandalas may not be encoded with the data from the research, they will allow the public to directly commemorate a family or friend who has suffered  a stroke.