Mary Kainer’s
Diana Meredith’s 
Cancer Files
​Peter Marmorek’s 

March 27 – April 7, 2019

“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.”Susan Sontag in Illness as Metaphor

The three bodies of artwork making up Diagnosis are engaged in a dialogue about the intimacies of our bodies’ frailties. Illness is an experience that happens to the body – both Mary Kainer’s Body/Burden and Diana Meredith’s Cancer Files take a visceral view of their subjects. We are diagnosed by a system of medicine that colonizes our experience. These works attempt to break free and redefine their own narratives of illness. While text and information are large components in these works, the use of image and material layering offer an alternate door of visual perception into the experience of illness and age.

Mary Kainer looks unflinchingly at the many diseases of aging – vision loss, osteoporosis, dementia, cancer, over-medication, diabetes, prolapse -in a room filled with drawings. Each drawing is a large 7′ x 3′ scroll filled with organic imagery, text, data, and collaged elements. Some images mimic medical illustrations; others create moody environments. Whimsical appearances can be misleading on closer inspection.  Her piece Vision Loss shows exploded close-up views of the eye’s degeneration from age zero to 90. This is the medical text book image giving cut and dry information; yet at the same time, we see eyeballs with nerves attached floating like jelly fish.  Words, names, and numbers ooze from immobilized forms and are lost in Dementia.  In Cancer, toxic chemicals bound in DNA strands weave through and surround cancerous organs.  Prescription medicines course through veins, infiltrate the brain, mangle emotions and alter behavior in Overmedication.  Her bodies find beauty as they face the decay of living longer and in increasing poverty.

The Cancer Files offer a close-up view of life in a chronically ill, cancerous body. Diana Meredith gives us canvases of faces and bodies where fragmentation is a central metaphor conjuring the fractured experience of cancer. There are the structural splits of triptychs and polyptychs – Fractured Identities are portraits broken into 4 pieces of people living with cancer. The large images of non-normative bodies – older, fat women with bald heads – float in a non-specific field visually reminiscent of the interstitial fluid surrounding cells. This is home base – where both the cancer sets off its mad replication and the chemotherapy delivers its poison.  On closer inspection, the viewer finds that Meredith’s bodies are made-up of fragmented pieces of text. “Pain steals my energy”; “Treatable but not curable”.  This is the text inhabiting the cancerous body.

Mortality is the hidden player in these works.  We age, we decay, we die. As a culture, there is a fear of looking at that truth. These artworks speak to a profound rite of passage and in so doing they unearth a strange tension between beauty and ugliness.  

As a postscript, Peter Marmorek will be exhibiting Aftermath, images of grieving.

Diagnosis – A Conversation of Images & Language

by Andy Fabo, 2019

Aging is a gradual reminder of mortality, while a diagnosis of cancer is a startling and sudden one. Struggling with cancer, Diana Meredith’s work focused on revelations of the body in crisis. Resolute, Meredith joined Propeller Gallery and eagerly awaited an exhibit of her series Cancer Files.  In the meantime, Meredith saw Mary Kainer’s exhibit, Body/Burden. Feeling an affinity for each other’s work, they organized a joint exhibit titled Diagnosis for 2018. Regrettably, Diana Meredith’s immune system was weakened by chemotherapy and she died from the flu virus during the preparations for this exhibition. Propeller Gallery agreed to postpone the show, including Aftermath, Peter Marmorek’s memorial series as a postscript. 

Meredith determinedly confronted three bouts of cancer by creating a biographical series of digital paintings that interlaced language and image. Kainer contributes an installation with a video, a set of sculptures and corporeal drawings articulating the slowly incremental crisis of aging. Peter Marmorek, Meredith’s partner in life, produced a brooding suite of photographs expressing his loss.

When did the “figure” become the “body” in art practice and what conditions created this transition? While this may seem like a question of semantics, such a shift in zeitgeist is central to the intent of both Kainer’s and Meredith’s art.

The best artists are prescient beings so we find traces of this evolution in the early 20th century in the deconstructed figures of Hoch’s collages, the fragmented body of Masson’s drawings, text-laden tortured body of Artaud’s drawings. However, this phenomenon is more notable in the late 20th century, when intellectual and medical crises precipitated cultural shifts in paradigms.

Both philosophy and the visual arts had reached a cul de sac after the horrors of WWII, forcing a significant rupture. Using the lens of poststructuralist theory, we spoke of the abject bodies of Kristeva, the “body without organs” of Deleuze, and Foucault’s notion of experience being “written on the body”. All arose from shifts from the generalized universals of modernism to the specifics of experience and identity reflected in dawning movements of the times such as feminism, black power, anti-colonialism, indigenous rights, and LGBTQ rights.

“The personal is political!” This feminist rallying cry became crucial to a broad spectrum of previously marginalized peoples in the 1960s. It signaled a change manifested in many artistic disciplines; the art emerging in this era rebelled against the hegemony of modernism by forging new formal modes in both new and traditional media. In visual art, two French theorists described different strategies for dealing with the consequences of the pivot. Deleuze in his writing about Francis Bacon’s painting, notes that the idealized body of past figuration became a visceral body replete with bodily fluids, while Foucault in various texts and interviews speaks of a body inscribed with discourse and power. Instinctually, Kainer and Meredith meld the lingual and the visceral in their work.

Another dramatic shift in our ideas about the body was medical. The AIDS pandemic barged into our collective consciousness in the 1980s becoming a major impetus for cultural transition. There’s a curious analogy between the discovery of the retrovirus and the identifying of this epistemic shift. The prospect of retroviruses, as opposed to regular viruses, was newly hypothesized when HIV emerged. Concurrently, the shift of theoretical, aesthetic and social paradigms referred to as “postmodernity” was identified and theorized. LGBTQ artists and their allies in the initial decades of the pandemic mapped out many of the possibilities for imaging the body in crisis.

Meredith’s Cancer Files had its genesis in a previous body of work about aging. An early pioneer of digital art, she maintained a painterly, expressive element in her oeuvre. Viewing the brutally honest depictions of aging in the photography of Suzy Lake and John Coplans, as well as Hannah Wilke’s conceptual work on cancer, Meredith wondered how to echo a similar rigor in her own practice. She increasingly integrated both anecdotal and didactic texts but wished to retain her expressive, figurative approach, so she created a synthesis of the two by using words as a structural element in her diary-like self-portraits, digitally mixing personal narratives with medical information.

Kainer’s drawing component of Body/Burden evolved from a large body of work that imbued mapping and schematics with a personalized social and political content and intent. These earlier drawings combined seemingly disparate elements: biomorphic surrealist images, scientific illustrations mimicking vintage natural science tomes; schematic renderings of imagined text books, meticulously researched didactic information addressing the issue elucidated by the primary image. This unique presentation of information in an aesthetic form has some historical precedents – from the da Vinci codices to the schematic Global Networks of Mark Lombardi. The strong material presence of her work brings to mind Kiki Smith and pure affect is most strongly embodied in the sculptural component of hand-modeled ceramics that pay heed to the body making as much as the abstracted bodies depicted.

Peter Marmorek’s photo suite evokes absence and loss in empty expanses of land, a method we have also seen in the photo-works of Gonzales, but Marmorek’s are less minimal, appropriate in homage to a maximalist like Meredith.

Kainer and Meredith have extended the boundaries of what is possible in representation, demonstrating the means of integrating information and speech with images that are redolent of the sensations of experience. Peter Marmorek adds a melancholy meditation on loss to the remarkable conversation about vulnerability and transience of the body that Diana Meredith and Mary Kainer create together.

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