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
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.

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.

Defining Tough

In these photographs I ponder how a mobility scooter can be a sign of toughness and virility.  By putting my scooter (“Pride Mobility” brand) at the front of the pack, I am redefining toughness and pride on my own new terms.  One true sense of strength is daring to be different, to risk being judged, and to know when to draw on one’s resources.  I extend a special thank you to my friends from Firebase Fairfax and Rolling Thunder, who are strong, daring, and fun.

No Compromises

vanlaven_august

InHabitations is an exploration of a body in its insistent fluidity and mutation. My body sometimes appears to be at times monumental, at times limp or frail, with textures from silk to parchment to sand, female and male, in shapes that flip between awkward and graceful. The gaze slips from disorientation and estrangement into sensuous immersion. Colors, textures, shapes and compositions lap at the eye like a flirty tide whose moon is our quest to, with or despite pain and fears, inhabit, embody, and embrace a physical self.

The online gallery contains a lot of nudity (While I post the work unapologetically, I honor the many differences regarding triggers, concerns and comforts of others).  The gallery is on my Artbeta site —   InHabitations Project Portfolio