Monday, March 19, 2012

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook is an art teacher and one of Thailand's' foremost female artists.  She had her first solo show in New York last month with a video exhibition showing historic art history pieces from western culture to rural and religious people in Thailand in an exhibit titled "Two Planets/ Village and Elsewhere"

However, for me, it is her previous work I wanted to touch on for this post.  Araya first made headlines in the US with an group exhibit in 1996. More controversy came in late 1990's and early 2000's when her exhibits began incorporating corpses.

In works such as "The Class II" Araya is seen on video lecturing a classroom of corpses. The topic for this lifeless class? Death.  You'll see her ask the dead bodies, "Did you die in autumn?"  You can see this video on YouTube here. I was struck by the seriousness of her tone as she interacts with the class on a topic they surely must know.

 In "Conversations I, II and III" she meanders through a room of corpses humming.  In "This is Our Creations" she actually lies down next to the bodies and is heard saying, "I came here to know you, lying here motionless. Once my father sent me a postcard from very far away. Its sentence: only a still pond can reflect the starts."

My first thought was, what experiences has this woman had with death that has led her to express herself in this way? I had to do much searching to find the answer, but in an interview in 2005 with Oliver Benjamin, she told her story.

Her father was a physician, and at the age of 3, as her mother labored in childbirth with her father as physician, her mother died.  A week later the young sister born also died. In the following 3 years she lost a step sister aged 18 months, her grandmother and great grandmother. As she said in her interview, "From this reason, I guess, I have been interested in examining death"

When you look back, even to her etching "The Dream of Mother" in 1990,  you can see the processing of her life events.

Sometime in there, her father then died of cancer. In response, new pieces such as "The Dinner with Cancer I" and "Th Dinner with Cancer II" were done.

Araya has used art as a way to deal with death. Specifically in her words, "I choose art as process of thought for the meaning of death".  Araya spoke of that meaning in an interview with Brian Curtin in 2007 saying "In reality, life and death should not be understood as opposites. People deal with death by trying to hide it. They hide death behind ritual or hope to prevent it with medicine. I want people to have more imagination and confront reality!"

In the interview with Oliver Benjamin in 2005 she concluded talking about the topic with, "I'm tired of death! May be too much."  That's the goal isn't it? To work with our patients and families to process through it? For now the artist does seem done with death, as her art has moved on to exploration of different ideas.

Whether you are repelled or connected to Araya's work with death, it's what I love about art - a vehicle to express ideas which then stimulate the viewers mind.

To see works listed up until 2002 visit this site. For those 2002 and on visit here.

Oliver Benjamin interview published in Citylife magazine Oct. 2005
Brian Curtin interview published in Art Signal Oct. 2007
Works in order of appearance "Conversation I" (2005),  "The Dream of Mother" (1990) and "The Dinner with Cancer I" (1993)

Monday, March 19, 2012 by Amy Clarkson · 0

Monday, March 12, 2012

Christina Symanski

In 2005, artist Christina Symanski fractured her neck diving into a swimming pool. She was pulled out by her boyfriend but has been a quadriplegic since that time.

Symanski continued her art, using her mouth and an iPad. More of her art can be seen here. The effect her injury had on her art is obvious.

She wrote about her experience in her blog, Life; Paralyzed. She also wrote a book about her experience. In April 2011(not posted until December), Symanski wrote a blog post entitled Quality vs. Quantity. In that post, she writes about what quality of life means to her and discusses the importance of having an advanced directive, how she wished she had had one prior to her accident.

"Because I didn't think things through before hand, or have a living will, I created a very difficult life for myself (unintentionally), by having to live within the confines of paralysis. Living with paralysis (at my level-C4/C5 complete) means I have very few options. In order to stay alive, I HAVE to take medications, accept help from others (for EVERYTHING), and tolerate unbearable (to me) treatments, like having an indwelling catheter, and bowel program. I HAVE to do all of those things, just to survive. That doesn't include coping with the loss of freedom, lack of privacy, loss of sensation, loss of dreams, aspirations and having to deal with constant compromise. It also doesn't account for the physical pain, discomfort, and sickness, that comes along with living with paralysis, and ultimately autonomic dysreflexia.

I have come to a point in my own life, where I'm struggling with the question "is this life worth living for ME, or am I just prolonging my own suffering?"

It is a very interesting and well thought out post about her life and the decisions she was making.

Christina Symanski's life made headlines when she died on December 1, 2011 after she decided to stop eating in order to end her suffering.

Monday, March 12, 2012 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 1

Monday, March 5, 2012

Christian Wiman

Christian Wiman, editor of  Poetry magazine since 2003, was recently interviewed by Bill Moyers about his journey with cancer, falling in love and finding faith in the midst of death. Wiman was diagnosed with Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia 6 years ago.  He's recently undergone a bone marrow transplant and tells Moyers he's in the "wait and see" phase.

As only a poet can do, Wiman's experience of being in danger of dying has allowed him to capture sentiments many of our dying patients may identify with.  His latest book of poems, "Every Riven Thing" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010) captures these moments so artistically that it's easy to resonate with each word.

In the interview with Moyers found here, Wiman reads a poem he wrote while in the hospital. It was right before chemotherapy started, and written in just one day.

It begins,  "Love's last urgency/ is earth and grief is all/ gravity and the long fall/ always back to earliest/ hours that exist/ nowhere but in one's brain."

The poem later ends with "mystery mastering fear,/ so young, standing unstung/ under what survives of sky./ I learned too late how to live./ Child, teach me how to die."

Wiman goes on to talk about the opening line of the poem saying, "I think there's a notion that  when you're sick, when you're in danger of dying, that you want to get beyond. You know, you would think you want experience that takes you beyond earth. You want some since of an afterlife or ...beyond. But My experience has been the opposite, that when you feel threatened, what, in fact, you want is the earth. You want concreteness.That's what rescues you."

How profound. I also identified with the concept of going back to "earliest hours that exist", don't we experience this in palliative care? We often counsel families to not be alarmed when hearing a strange story from a loved one. It actually may be a memory that existed, "nowhere but in one's brain."

Besides being confronted with mortality, Wiman has also experienced excruciating pain throughout his disease process and treatment. He said that this even more than the idea of death has impacted him.

An essay he wrote related to pain was published in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin for Winter/Spring 2012  and Wiman read it during the interview. In the words below I am struck with his isolation but also with the final effect of desire for God in the aftermath.

"Six years have passed since I wrote the first words of these notes. I have been in and out of treatment, in and out of the hospital. I have had bones die; joints lock in my face and arms and legs so that I could not eat, could not walk; cancer pack[ed] my marrow to the point that it began to expand excruciatingly inside my bones. I ... filled my body with mouse antibodies, small molecules, chemotherapies eating into me like animate acids. I have passed through pain I could never have imagined, pain that seemed to incinerate all my thoughts of God and leave me sitting there in the ashes, alone. I have been islanded even from my wife, though her love was constant, as was mine. I have come back, for now, even hungrier for God, for Christ, for all the difficult bliss of this life I have been given. But there is great weariness too. And fear. And fury."

Thanks to Chris Okon for steering me to the interview. For those, like me, who had not read Christian Wiman's poetry or prose, this will be someone to add to your collection.

Monday, March 5, 2012 by Amy Clarkson · 0