All posts by gvanlaven

Show & Review in Chicago

In spring 2013 my work was included in the Humans Being II Ehibition at the Woman Made Gallery in Chicago, IL.  The show was reviewed with interviews of three exhibition artists, including me.  The review article is titled “Living with disability on display in rare art exhibit” by LindseyPeterson, published May 21, 2013 in Medill Reports, Chicago.  Among the pieces we discussed was Defining Tough, the mobility scooter/motorcycle piece below.  My thanks go out to my motorcycling family of friends who support and entertain my unusual ideas and requests.  Such fun!


Pity party’s over….

Pity party's over. There's still cake.

Once, in a hospital, a tech said to me, “If you throw a pity party, nobody comes.”  I had just received bad news about my health and lifetime prognosis.  I suppose it was her strange way to say, “Buck up, kid.”  I have often thought of that hospital tech and her statement to me.

It seems that stigma rears its ugly head here.  When faced with the fear of another’s anguish, the “buck up” approach may serve to distance and appease an observer’s discomfort.  I, too, find it difficult to sit with my own impotence to remediate another’s painful reality.  What do we say as we bear witness to the complex expression of sorrow?

I suggest saying something other than, “If you throw a pity party, nobody comes.”   In fact, I have found this to be profoundly untrue.  For me, pity parties have served as a vital survival mechanism in balance with many other mechanisms.  In my experience, everyone can bring something to a lamentation party, be their pities “large” or “small” relative to others.  Each personal crisis or tragedy is real and vital to s/he who brings it.  The problem is not that nobody comes to a pity party.  The issue I can see is that not everybody wants to leave it.

I take a tactical approach to the concept of “pity parties.”  I have developed kits for hosting the perfect, time-limited pity party, with guidelines, custom tissues, and decorations.  Perhaps a piñata?  I am up for suggestions.  But of course, there’s cake.

In Medical Res

In Medical Res

In Medical Res
is a story of illness told from the middle.  Over and over, I have found myself plunked in the middle of medical muck.  In these images, I become a seeker and defender, trying to make sense of the mystery of ailments and defend myself and others against a plethora of medical conditions.

Jill in the Box

Bathing Independence

In 2007 after being struck and crushed by a car, I gained a visible identity, “Disabled,” along with many of the social stigmas of life inside the blue box of a wheelchair symbol.  I have been playing with ways to shift the viewer’s expectations of a disabled identity. These photographic works are set in an everyday landscape where tasks are usually proscribed and predictable. Bathing Independence, above, examines my one aspect of my life with disability.  I find getting out of a bathtub can be source of both difficulty and humor.  The text borrows from a form I have faced on “Activities of Daily Living.”  There are only two answers to each category (Cat 1: Bathing).  It asks, “Independent…. yes / no?”  I ask a more complex question, “What can it be like to have no independent way out of a bathub?”  As I take an unconventional and awkward exit from the tub, I reclaim control, confirming that we can adapt to new circumstances through our creative potentials.

Daily Prep with Trauma Kit

For the above  image,
Daily Prep with Trauma Kit, I donned the clothes the paramedics cut off me the day I was hit, stitched back together.  Trying to get ready for the day, putting on my earrings and pinning my hair, is harder when bearing the accouterments of an ambulance trauma kit.  This highlights the futility of trying to ready oneself for a traumatic event, and its effect on the simplest of daily activities.

Floating Lab Collective’s ReMuseum

I have been excited to be a part of this project with the Floating Lab Collective.  From the Floating Lab Collective’s project website,

“The ReMuseum is a participatory, mobile experiment that investigates museum processes such as collecting, displaying, valuing and commodifying objects…”(visit site)

Inside Corcoran

Working with community members in DC neighborhoods such as Deanwood, Brentwood, Petworth, and Anacostia, the Floating Lab Collective “mobile curator” helped identify objects of personal value to that were then replicated on large and small scales.  Objects and their oral histories are displayed inside a re-purposed taco truck and inside the Corcoran Gallery of Art.  Visitors to the ReMuseum are invited to redistribute small, casted replicas into their home communities.

Outside Corcoran

Curated by Laura Roulet, the project is part of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’s 5×5 public arts initiative, “twenty-five groundbreaking temporary public art installations that will be installed concurrently throughout the District of Columbia.” (DCCAH website).

For more information about the ReMuseum and to feed back into the project with your own images of objects in new places, visit

VMFA Award

I am pleased to be a 2012-13 recipient of the VMFA Fellowship Grant in the Professional Category with collaborators Edgar Endress , Peter Lee, and Sean Watkins.  This relates to work with the Floating Lab Collective whose projects in new media, research and performance  engage ideas around society, art, and public space.  I am grateful to all the members of the collective whose hard work and dedication has helped realize incredible projects. (website)

From the VMFA:  “During the VMFA Fellowship Program’s 72 years, the museum has awarded more than $4.6 million and 1,174 awards to Virginia’s art students and professional artists. VMFA received 755 applications, which marks the highest number of applicants in the program’s history.”

More: (VMFA Press Release)

Please Wait.

“Please Wait.”, my thesis show, is comprised of art works that question institutional and cultural ideology. The installation and encompassed works derive from my experiences with doctors, hospitals, and countless waiting rooms. Framed as a medical waiting room in the gallery, the MFA Thesis show raises issues including the cultural conception of wellness, how we perform as patients, and how spaces intended to seem innocuous can harbor ideology. The threads that tie the thesis work together are my use of self as source and subject, my extrapolation of the personal to a social and political significance for others, my goal to complicate rather than solve or simplify issues, and a challenge to the notions of the normative, of authority, and of sociocultural presumptions that are harmful or limiting.