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I’m honored to be one of several artists to be in the upcoming show in December “W/O Limits: Art, Chronic Illness, & Disability” exhibition curated by Megan Alves and Mindy Tousley of the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve. The Artists Archives has been awarded a grant from the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities where the organization will be able to incorporate strategies to increase accessibility with among others the use of braille and a 3d printed tactile sculpture for the visually impaired.
Megan asked if I would be interested in doing the 3d printed sculpture and I accepted, excited with the anticipation of revisiting shifting into 3 dimensions and also working again with Think[Box] at Case Western Reserve University. I had worked with Think[box] in 2015 where I printed 2 sculptures I call MODEL CITIZENS.
For the W/O LIMITS exhibition, In progress is a 3d Hash symbol with elements that make it accessible to the visually impaired. A modular system of 80 individually printed blocks (each block 2″ high) connected together and alternating between hash symbols in negative relief and positive relief form a bold singular Hash symbol. Primary colors and black and white provide bold contrast between the parts, making them more visible. The deep cuts into each block project shadows making it both tactile and with a sharply delineated pattern also making it more visible.
As an art object unto itself, the hash symbol with its use in hash-tagging represents our modern times, good and bad; where data is turned into meta-data; where information is categorized and made searchable; where so many find their voices amongst the billions of souls vying to be seen and heard to share joys, beauty, injustices, sadness…and so much more, elevating our humanity. But other voices use it to tear down our humanity and the beauty of our multicultural world. With this sculpture, however, I choose to express it as a symbol of empowerment.
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I usually don’t talk about my medical condition but my art and these newest works are connected to what I go through with my health. It’s uncomfortable to talk about publicly as what I most don’t want by doing so is pity, but only to help make transparent where my art comes from. So here I go.
Because my spine is fused from the beginning of my cervical disks all the way down to my first lumbar disc, what’s left, my lumbar and sacrum is not happy. With so much fusion, there are great stresses on my lumbar region causing herniations. The stresses on my sacrum cause my pelvis to slip out of alignment. In addition at L4-L5 there is severe stenosis which is a narrowing of the space in the discs that impinge on the spinal cord and the nerve roots exiting each vertebrae. Nerve block injections have given me only some pain relief. My mobility isn’t good. Walking is painful. Standing for extended time is difficult. Sitting for extended time is difficult. There are other complications; Nerve pain in my extremities, Occipital Neuralgia and more… OK, I got that out of the way.
What does that have to do with my art and in particular, these pieces?
I struggle with depression. I’ve had to lie in bed for extended periods of time. I’ll watch TV; the news, Netflix and Amazon streaming, listen to music and listen to audio books, currently “A Gentleman in Moscow” that I highly recommend. But sometimes I find concentrating on these things difficult. Every day I take a nap in the middle of the day. I don’t always sleep during naps, often going in a daydream state and imagine and formulate art in my head. The last work I completed was Hash ONE, a large hash symbol constructed by putting together 28 hash symbols. During some of these naps, it came to me that I could put these hash symbols inscribed within trapezoids together in a grid and with this grid, spell out words. Furthermore, I could make a hashtag. But what hashtag? I thought about what I’m grateful for, among other things that I have the love of my husband for 40 years. There it was; #LOVE.
During this holiday season, with the crazy time in history that we find ourselves in, with so many who have died, and so many struggling, with so much division, racism, homophobia, with our democracy in peril….I hope that this simple hashtag may speak to you for the love that you have in your lives as an uplifting message. As John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote, “All You Need is Love”
I put a little twist of the hash symbol in this piece. Normally in the hash symbol, the horizontals are straight across and the verticals are slightly angled but here I made the horizontals slightly angled and the verticals straight up and down. This gives the composition a energy and movement.
For nerds out there like me who may be interested in the history of the hash symbol (also known as Pound and Number symbol), I refer you to this article in the New Statesmen #History: the journey and many faces of the hash symbol. But the article doesn’t go into its modern history.
The asterisk or star (*) and pound or hash (#) key was added in 1968 to the push button phone keypad invented by Bell Technology engineers drawing it from the ASCII character set. When Bell labs were designing push button phones, they added these symbols to allow for access to telephone based computer systems, exactly how they’re used today. In 2007 it was Chris Messina, an open source technology evangelist who first suggested using the hash symbol on twitter to assign metadata to group and categorize discussion feeds. And the reason he chose this symbol: because before the iphone and android phones came out and texting was done on a qwerty keypad you had to use the phone keypad and it was easy to get to on his nokia phone.