I am pleased to announce that I have been invited to create a solo exhibition for the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, OR. It will take place from August 29th of 2018 to February 24th of 2019 and it will travel to other academic museums afterward. I am still working on the title. Paper will be the primary material. You can read the text below for more details.
PAPER EXHIBITION CONCEPT
By Elsa Mora
First, a Story…
I remember the day I became aware of the brain. My sister Ileana and I were walking down the street when she began to anticipate a seizure. I was 8 years old. She put her hand on my shoulder and directed me toward a discreet spot on the side of a house. With a calm voice, she said: “Don’t do anything, just stay with me until this passes.” For the longest
After the seizure passed we continued walking. Then she said something that became deeply embedded in my mind: “Maybe you won’t understand this now, but don’t ever take your brain for granted.” “You’re lucky to have a good brain.”
At the early age of 14, my sister had been diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia. The day I got to witness her seizure, she was 18. I grew up admiring my sister’s talents. Her opera singing voice was powerful, her writings beautiful, and she was also a natural actress who could convincingly turn into any character. But her biggest passion was visual arts, which is what she was studying at the time of the diagnoses. Unfortunately, her illness took most of those talents away, but one of them remained strong: her talent as a fighter.
While her world collapsed in a tsunami of suicide attempts, electroshock therapies, powerful drugs, and mental hospitals, the fighter part of her brain miraculously continued to work hard. After years of bumpy roads that included marriage, divorce, motherhood, her children being removed from her and all kinds of unfortunate events, she started to learn how to live with the demons that inhabited her brain. From wanting to murder them, she came to make peace with the fact that they would never leave.
As I write this, my sister is close to turning 53. She lives independently, has a partner, and is in touch with 2 of her 3 children. I can’t say that her life is perfect or that she has a good relationship with everyone, that would be too much to ask from someone who had to spend a lifetime trying to get along with herself. But the battle for self-improvement is taking her to some positive places.
The improvements started to get more noticeable after my Mom decided to buy her a sewing machine and sewing supplies. My sister was thrilled with the idea of building something with the very hands that had gotten so used to destruction. Her first impulse was to make a stuffed doll, and then another one, and another… At first, they came out looking primitive, but gradually she got better and better at it. More details started to appear, and before she knew it, her new hobby had become a real passion, almost an obsession.
I believe that my sister re-invents herself with each new doll. Making them has been a healing process that has ignited a creative spark in her brain. I can’t even remember when was the last time that she attempted suicide or stopped taking her medications or did something mean to someone else. The combination of engaging her hands and brain creatively, plus her resilience, has given my sister a way to keep her demons tamed. It’s obvious that after so many years of struggle, she’s winning the battle with mental illness.
Ever since that early experience with my sister’s seizure, and throughout my life, I have been intrigued and fascinated by the brain. But my relationship with that amazing organ got even deeper after our son Diego was diagnosed with Autism at age 2 and a half. Watching him struggle, and ultimately thrive after intense intervention through different therapies, showed me the hidden potential of the human brain.
Paper and the Brain
As an artist, I’m attracted to the expressive quality of different materials, but the one that has resonated the most with me is paper. It was around the time when our son got diagnosed with Autism that I became fascinated with it. It was its simplicity and portability what first attracted me to paper. I remember taking my knife and a small cutting mat to the waiting rooms where my son received therapy. I spent hours cutting intricate designs in a ritual that gave me a warm sense of comfort. Those first years of intense intervention with my son were challenging and demanding, but the repetitive surgery-like action of cutting small pieces of paper to form something that wasn’t there before, helped me go through everything feeling focused and with a sense of purpose.
The doctors had assured us that the brain was extremely malleable and that early intervention would make a great difference in our son’s progress. They were right, we began to see progress almost right away. His eye contact improved dramatically, as well as his communication skills and body coordination.
As I started connecting the malleability of the brain with the versatility of paper, I felt more and more compelled to pushing the envelope with a material that has been around me for so long, but which potential was still hidden to me. From flat pieces, I felt the urge to create 3-D pieces. I experimented with different improvised tools and a variety of papers. Through that process of exploration, I started to feel more and more confident in my ability to transform paper into anything I envisioned. I discovered that as long as I kept insisting on it with discipline and curiosity for the unknown, just like we were doing with my son’s therapies, I was going to get some rewarding results.
INWARD-OUTWARD. Paper Show
When Jill Hartz and I talked about showing my work at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art a few years ago, I immediately felt excited about doing it using paper as the primary material. The idea of working with a restricted amount of resources is appealing to me because it stimulates and pushes my brain to be more resourceful.
When I started thinking about a concept for this show, the idea that became strongest on my list was literature; an art form that demands a high level of engagement with the mind.
The process of writing is like capturing photographs of our thoughts using the written word instead of a camera. Such a complex process has the potential to illuminate and affect the writer and the reader at a deep level.
Concept for the works
The exhibition will consist of five series representing the 5 cognitive faculties that form the mind: consciousness, perception, thinking, judgment, and memory.
Each artwork will be based on a writer who suffered from some form of mental illness but created an important body of work, in in spite of their condition. The show will be a homage to the human brain and its potential to create wonders, regardless of its challenges.
According to World Health Organization: “One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.”
“Treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional. Stigma, discrimination, and neglect,
I believe that art is one of the most illuminating channels to express the intricacies of the brain. The world of creativity offers an infinite canvas for not only for expression but also for human connectivity. I want my show to be an invitation to step into that world with an open mind.
Tentative List of Writers for the Show:
Edgar Allan Poe
“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”
“I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.”
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
“Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”