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August 04, 2022

An Artistic Interpretation of the Scoliosis Experience

Artist and Patient Olivia M. Considers Simultaneously the Body's Vulnerabilities and Capacity for Resilience.

In January, 2020, artist Olivia M. underwent surgical augmentation to halt a progressive spine disorder. Her recent work explores her experience of surgery and recovery, as well as the abilities and limitations of her "new" body, while also speaking to broader human experiences of pain, resilience, strength, and vulnerability.

"A Dream Only My Body Remembers," 2021 Cotton, felt, embroidery thread, paint, ink

"A Dream Only My Body Remembers," 2021 Cotton, felt, embroidery thread, paint, ink

Olivia's latest collection, Body, Joy, Cage, Scar, was exhibited at the Arlington Arts Center's Wyatt Resident Artists Gallery. Featuring drawings, embroidery, and video, she explores the human body as a tool, a worksite, and a raw material.

Working across media, Olivia approaches the material nature of the body from multiple perspectives. In detailed and labor-intensive embroideries, the stitches and fibers of her pieces contribute a visceral physical experience to both representational and abstract depictions of the body.

Elements of embroidery also appear in her drawings, which combine tracings of the shadows cast by soft body tissue with drawings of the artist’s presurgery X-rays. Their scale is larger than life, rejecting the impulse to hide the body’s flaws, and instead, consider simultaneously its vulnerabilities and capacity for resilience. The presence of skeletal forms reappears in a looped video piece documenting a durational performance.

In the performance, shown below, she is surrounded by small porcelain sculptures that she created during her recovery from recent spine surgery. She attempts to stack these abstract vertebra-like pieces into a single tower. (The pieces were not designed to be stacked.) Invariably, each tower eventually collapses with a startling sound that breaks the silence of her concentration. After each collapse she begins the process all over again, exercising strength and persistence in the face of repeated failure and, perhaps, futility.

Olivia has exhibited her work in group exhibitions nationally and internationally.

Watch video on YouTube