Figure covered in blanket of band aids interacting with public

My recent three dimensional work began about ten years ago when I started making band aid covered objects. At first I was just wrapping objects in band aids, a tedious and compulsive task. Then I began making shapes with the band aids that were more organic and less identifiable and installing them in mounds and piles. This process has culminated in a lace-like veil, large enough to cover me completely as a burqa or shroud. It acts as a second skin, an artificial barrier that both conceals and reveals.

Many of the issues that I deal with in my work relate to mortality, health, identity and the kind of obsessive hypochondria and fatigue that I sometimes experience living with HIV. There’s a kind of escalating attention to the body that I experience when irritations become serious conditions; each minor symptom acquires a more threatening presence. Making the flesh like surface of the band aid form also evokes issues about contact and protection and the perception and revelation of identity.

The labour intensive creation of much of my work questions the use of our limited life span. At a point of crisis is there time to sew thousands of Kleenex together to express grief or to embroider used bed sheets with thousands of sequins spelling out our final correspondence?

My current work explores these and other issues through textiles and performance, often with ephemeral materials such a Kleenex, tears and hair, hopefully alluding to larger subjects such as the fragility of the body and the ephemeral and transitory nature of our lives, possibly with some small humour and always with sincerity.

Description of work:

I Feel Fine: The phrase “I feel fine” is written in a cursive script across a black wall. The letters are made with insulation foam that is a pale colour and slightly shiny. There are small bubbles and imperfections in the material.

This is Not an AIDS Quilt is a series of words and phrases that have been hand embroidered on old bed sheets in the shape of various commercial fonts. The embroidery is done with thousands of sparkling sequins. The words embroidered are: Emergency, Exist, and Sorry.

All My little Failures is made of 70,000 Band-Aids that have been meticulously layered into a mesh blanket. This Band-Aid blanket is draped over a figure and covering the floor around it.

Curatorial reflections

Vanessa Dion Fletcher: Andrew McPhail uses spray foam insulation to write the phrase “I feel fine”, in cursive writing on a dark wall. The mysterious material that forms the text is solid but still looks like it might be squishy or wet. Its pale uneven surface evokes the physicality of the body. He draws our attention to the cliché answer of everyday conversation. Whether the inquiry is not sincere or one simply does not want to disclose a more thoughtful answer, ‘I feel fine’ is a kind of a shorthand answer that communicates not to ask anything else.

In the context of Andrew’s work, which deals with AIDS, I think that further complicates this conversation of how much you reveal to people about how you’re feeling. How much do people want to know about how you’re feeling? But I also get a sense of it being a personal mantra—when you tell yourself ‘I feel fine’ to get through the day.

Lindsay Fisher: Yeah, the script ‘I feel fine’ has a layer of vulnerability that is evoked in the strange chemical physicality of the material—a material that for seconds was active and alive and then came to a stop, solidifying once it was exposed to air. The phrase ‘I feel fine’ expresses a position of independence, strength, and stability and yet the material, the body of the script expresses the opposite—vulnerable, emotional, and unpredictable—characteristics that are shunned in our society. It reveals the co-existing states that exist when language communicates one thing and our bodies, exposed and reacting to the air around us, might express something else.

VDF: The material is wet and then dries solid and it grows a ton. This is one example of how Andrew ties materials to the body in unexpected ways. This one isn’t figuratively referencing the body at all, but there is a sense of expansiveness, of growing.

LF: I think it does reference the body! It’s such a superficial phrase in a way. When you say, “I feel fine”, more often than not, it’s said for the purpose of staying on the surface, to resist going under the skin and showing emotion.

VDF: I think that’s a great way to put it in terms of staying on the surface and the skin. The way it’s written on the wall draws attention to the surface of the wall and the surface of the material. There is an interesting relationship between the surface or superficial answer and the materials.

LF: His use of text in his past work shows that he’s transforming language into sculptural objects and revealing alternate meanings in materials and physical forms. I feel like this piece is similar to all my little failures in that they’re both about failure and vulnerability.

VDF: The title "All my little failures" makes me question, where’s the failure? Is it in the individual who has contracted AIDS and is that being seen as a failure? Is it about the failure of the government and society as a whole to legitimately address the AIDS crisis?

VDF: I was also interested in the way that the figure becomes anonymous. The Band-Aids are overpowering the figure’s body because it’s cloaked and it’s also threatening or overwhelming because it’s coming off the body and into the space and approaching the viewer. There is uneasiness about these Band-Aids, this blanket coming towards you.

LF: It looks like the Band-Aids are woven together. There’s a pattern in how they’re put together.

VDF: Yes it's like a net or mesh, but there is also a sense of the weight of the blanket covering the body and the thought that the Band-Aids are individual units being woven together to create a community and the weight of these units is coming together on this individual figure.

LF: I was thinking about the function behind Band-Aids, that they’re used to protect a wound. Is the wound the failure? Does the wound represent vulnerability? The idea of the wound can reference all sorts of connections in this work—the experience of feeling or of having a body. It feels like every single Band-Aid has its own unique wound lying underneath.

VDF: And then there’s the play on words, “put a band aid on a problem,” is not to deal with it very well—another linguistic element.