Waiting Room, a silkscreen print by Heather Huston (contributed photo).

Health concerns spark artworks in The Other Passport exhibit

Red Deer museum show explores the fragility of the human body

Viewers are invited to walk on the “night side of life,” through an exhibit of works inspired by the personal health concerns of three visual artists, at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery.

The Other Passport is a show by Marnie Blair, Heather Huston, and Jill Ho-You, who all met at the University of Calgary about a decade ago. The title references a quotation by Susan Sontag, an American writer, who died of cancer in 2004.

“Illness is the night side of life,” stated Sontag. “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obligated, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

Blair, a Red Deer College visual arts instructor, was forced to accept a place in the sick kingdom after suffering cardiac arrest at age 19.

In The Other Passport, she uses the defibrillator that surgeons implanted in her chest as inspiration to delve into questions surrounding the links between technology and humanity.

Blair stated her work “explores the natural and the artificial and what it means to be dependent on the machine in order to live.”

Along with her day-glo woodcut prints of organs, she’s carved an impressive, life-sized woodcut of the human body, Chart II: Manikin. Blair’s stacked wooden organs bring to mind the layered cross-sections found in anatomy books.

While Blair’s health is now stable, she continues to be artistically inspired by the fragility of the human body.

Calgary artist Huston, an interim chair at the Alberta College of Art and Design, felt her future was up-ended in 2003 when she was diagnosed with remittent muscular sclerosis and inflammatory arthritis.

Huston remembers experiencing “shock” and fear — emotions she hopes to convey through her silkscreen prints on paper and plastic sheets. Waiting Room shows a female figure sitting alone in a chair in a sterile room. “I am looking to get across the anxiety about the unknown.”

Huston gained perspective after her doctor told her “it was an uncertain disease, so I had to make sure that I’m living the life that I want.”

While Huston’s MS symptoms occasionally return, she’s grateful to live, for the most part, without disability. “My husband and I save for retirement, but are mindful that we also have to enjoy our lives now, and try to travel when we want.”

Ho-You, an Alberta College of Art and Design instructor who also has a background in psychology, was forced to confront issues of mortality when her good friend died of brain cancer.

Her hand-cut white Mylar work, 249, suggests the fragility of the human mind, as ambient light creates ephemeral shadow lines under her lace-like cut-outs.

Ho-You states her work questions the possibility of organs harbouring emotions attached to past psychological experiences.

The Other Passport continues to Oct. 29.


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