What does it feel like to live as a ghost? This is the question and crux of the haunting work created by Rain Lucien Matheke for Ill at Ease: Disease in Art, on view now at the University at Buffalo. Matheke’s sculptures – constructed from cast resin pieces, medical ephemera, and the artist’s own blood – takes an unflinching look at the liminality of the artist’s own body, a subject the artist has grappled with through an autoimmune disease, and a liminality that is embraced within this exhibit.
Curated by Conor Moynihan, a PhD student in Visual Studies at the University at Buffalo, Ill at Ease considers the multiplicity of ways in which a body may fall ill; through, HIV/AIDS, cancer, mental illness and wounding of identity. In equal measure, this exhibit considers those who come into contact with disease, or those who keep the memory of deceased relatives alive, and those who seek to re-negotiate ways in which society writ large handles disease and dying. Ill at Ease works across a swath of artistic production, and with a group of locally, nationally, and internationally acclaimed artists, to not only see the individual as the locus of bodily illness, but to comprehend the sociopolitical scope of bodies under duress which are impacted by social permissions.
In a quiet corner of the exhibit sits work by Christopher Tanner. His work, while calling to mind mandalas traced in brightly colored sand, stand replete with squiggles, waves and a wild stillness that can only be caught when light plays across different aspects of each of the four bedazzled and glitter-laden surfaces. Tanner’s work is a reflection on the HIV/AIDS epidemic that eviscerated a generation of LGBTQ individuals in the late 1980’s and into the 90’s. The figures present within each of the compositions are abstracted and gilded to obfuscate their true nature as microbes and viruses. By doing this the artist not only pays homage to those he lost to the disease, but seeks to examine his own mortality and move ceaselessly forward.
Many of the artists within the exhibit face their own mortality while contextualizing it within a society that shuns the sick and actively denies death. This denial of death, the ending to all of our existences is a uniquely human condition; bearing a self-awareness present in no other species, we are tasked with both living our lives to the fullest in light of our invariable demise, and participate in the denial of its existence until our final hour. Illness, however, interrupts our denial forcing those it touches and those who touch them to take hold of mortality and confront their own. Illness not only touches individual bodies, but it infects spaces those bodies encounter and often exceeds the ways in which we are capable of receiving it. It is exhibits such as these, which take on a revised cadence in our current political climate that implore us to remember how our societal body has fallen ill before, and ask us to care for each other and our future.
Featuring work by Molly Alloy, Frani Evedon, Carrie C Firman, Joan Giroux, Phil Hastings, Ames Hawkins, shan kelley (lead image), Vika Kirchenbauer, Rain Lucien Matheke, Ann Moody, Van Tran Nguyen, Christopher Turner, Moira Williams, and Vincent Tiley, Ill At Ease: Dis-Ease in Art is on view now through May 12, 2017 at the University at Buffalo Department of Art Gallery, B45 Center for the Arts, North Campus, Buffalo, New York 14260. This coming Wednesday, April 26 will feature a performance by participating artist Joan Giroux from 7-8pm.