Drawing on personal experiences with medical institutions, my drawings and sculptures discuss the fragility and vulnerability of the human body. As a patient recently treated for lymphatic cancer, being able to visualize the internal forms that were causing my illness was an important part of gaining an understanding of my condition. Although my condition was described to me by various medical professionals throughout my treatment, these descriptions varied greatly and there was little visual information available.

Living with a learning disability and being predominantly a visual learner, I created drawings and sculptures that could act as a feedback system and allow the hospital staff to gauge my level of understanding. These works expressed my interpretations of the interior forms I imagined as well as the anxiety I felt about those forms and the process of medical intervention. While my drawings tend to be illustrative, my sculptures use physical weight and tension as metaphors for psychological tension or anxiety. The intersection of organic and industrial materials speak to medical intervention - an invading and manipulation of the body by something foreign. This uncomfortable contrast alludes to the psychic impact of pushing through the body’s barriers.

Large organic ceramic pink forms hang from the ceiling in a group.

Pin Piece, Ceramic, steel cable, and hardware, 2016

Image Description: Large organic ceramic pink forms hang from the ceiling in a group. Each form is punctured with steel wire and cable that link together and run along the surface.

Description of work:

Punctured I, II, III: Three organic forms made of ceramic hang side-by-side on the wall. Each form is a pale pink/beige color and has the shape of a large heart with two open arteries on each end. Each heart shape form is punctured with steel wire and cable that link together and form organized lines across the surface.

Interior Line: Two curved pink organic tube-like shapes overlap each other and are suspended on the wall with cable wire strung carefully through two small pulleys hanging above on hooks and then fastened to the wall below the work.

Tension Ladder II: Five slightly curved pale pink ceramic tube-like shapes hang horizontally on top of each other in the form of a ladder. The ladder is suspended on the wall with rope. At the bottom of the ladder, a cluster of weights hang from each side and are cradled in white fabric sacs.

Pin Piece: Large organic ceramic pink forms hang from the ceiling in a group. Each form is punctured with steel wire and cable that link together and run along the surface.

Tense One: A white ceramic shape of what looks like a hip bone hangs suspended from the ceiling by a large hook and a rope. The same rope is tied to the bottom of the hip bone showing that the bone is both suspended and tethered.

Curatorial reflections

Lindsay Fisher: In Alana’s statement, she talks about a process of visualizing her own illness as a way of grasping an understanding of it. This makes me think about the limited modes of understanding in science and hospital terminology and the policies that are most likely put in place to guide healthcare workers in how they communicate to patients. Alana interacts with this medicalization of her illness by turning her diagnosis into sculptural forms that lends itself to a different kind of understanding and experience. As a viewer, we’re invited by the artist to intimately engage with what she envisioned was happening to her body.

Vanessa Dion Fletcher: I love how she combines the natural materials of clay, sand, and fabric with the hardware. She uses these materials to create forms that have a strong relationship to the body. They’re abstract but they still convey a sense of a physical body. I am interested in how she uses these sculptures to help her to communicate with her doctors about her understanding of her illness.

"Living with a learning disability and being predominantly a visual learner, I created drawings and sculptures that could act as a feedback system and allow the hospital staff to gauge my level of understanding." This feature of her work really resonated with me in terms of trying to understand one’s body and to communicate it to someone else. It’s a creative and empowering task to take control of representing oneself within a medical context and then to use these representations as your means of communicating with your doctors.

Two curved pink organic tube-like shapes overlap each other and suspend from a wall with cable wire

Interior Line, Ceramic, steel cable, and hardware, 2016

Image Description: Two curved pink organic tube-like shapes overlap each other and are suspended on the wall with cable wire strung carefully through two small pulleys hanging above on hooks and then fastened to the wall below the work.

Organic form made of ceramic hanging on a wall.

Punctured I, II, III, (detail) ceramic, steel cable, 2015

Image Description: An organic form made of ceramic hangs on the wall. The form is a pale pink/beige color and has the shape of a large heart with two open arteries on each end. The heart shape form is punctured with steel wire and cable that link together and form organized lines across the surface.

LF: Yeah, they have a sterile feel to them, similar to a hospital aesthetic in terms of the pale colours and the starkness and the pale pinks. They’re also very organized and carefully assembled and they seem to be about different laws of physics, the weights and tethering. She’s using gravity as a visual element.

VDF: They’re not at all messy.

LF: And the body is messy!

VDF: And our experiences of our bodies and of illness or failures or shortcomings in our bodies are often very messy. These are quite the opposite. We can also think about them as medical illustrations in terms of isolating parts of the body and taking out the messiness and visualizing it clearly. Unlike medical drawings, she is not concerned with labelling parts. I think accuracy is being assessed in a different way here than it would be in the context of a medical diagram. They are about an accuracy or understanding that makes sense for the person in the body rather than someone outside the body.

LF: Yeah, I think so too! Accuracy and I think control is also being assessed. I think living in a body can often come with the feeling of losing control especially when experiencing an illness like cancer and undergoing treatment, so yeah, I think these works are evoking a need to control in the science body and the physical body. They also make me think about suspension and tethering and how they’re interacting in this work. They’re similar in that they both render something immobile but they have different meanings. I think of being suspended as being held and to be tethered is like being seized. Looking at this work, I’m aware of the sensation of being held or cradled while also being trapped at the same time.