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.
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.