Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Art is spiritual?




My artwork accompanies an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert in Spirituality and Health magazine's Nov/Dec 2015 issue. 

AND 

I gave a speech at Spirit United Church on Nov 15th. This is the story I shared:

My name is Liza Sylvestre. I’m 32 years old and I work as an artist professionally. At the moment I am also 29 weeks pregnant with my first child and I am very aware of the transition of my thought process, my body, and my life as I become a mother. I also grew up loosing my hearing. Although right now I may seem to function (and mostly sound) like a normal hearing person, I am medically deaf. I am completely dependent on this little device behind my ear, which is called a cochlear implant. When my battery dies, or a when a small part of my implant is in need of repair - I’m immediately plunged into deafness. 

My parents first discovered that I was loosing my hearing when I was 6 years old. At that time I had only a mild hearing loss affecting the very highest of pitches - things like birds singing or whistling. It took us a while to figure out that my hearing loss was actually a progressive one, and it took us even longer to figure out that it was my own immune system that was causing this loss. 

The anatomy of the human ear is amazing. Beyond your ear drum there is this really beautifully shaped crevice called the cochlea. It looks exactly like a snail shell. The cochlea is lined with hundreds of thousands of microscopic hair follicles. Each one of these hair follicles responds to a certain pitch of sound from high to low. When a sound wave, or frequency, enters the cochlea the corresponding hair follicle will also wave and that movement sends a signal to your audial nerve and then your brain. When you listen to really loud music these little hair follicles literally get flattened by the force of that music. Eventually, most of them perk back up and function again but several hundred of them will stay trampled and flattened and non functional - which is how you loose your hearing going to lots and lots of rock concerts. 

Now, in my case, my own immune system was killing off these amazing little hair follicles. This discovery was followed by several years of unsuccessful medical intervention - I was given medications to surpress my immune system, I had biopsies to make sure this defect of my body wasn’t affecting any of my organs, I had vials and vials of blood drawn and tested, and I had lots and lots of appointments with immunologists, ENT docs and of course monthly (and sometimes weekly) audiogram tests to chart and record everything.

My family and I spent a lot of time at the doctor’s office. 

Looking back - I can see my parents desperately fighting the inevitable. It was a really emotional time, and I was very aware of the effect that my medical problem was having on my entire family. At the same time it was hard for me to grasp what was really going on. What does it mean to be loosing ones hearing? How does an elementary school aged person understand something like that? What can you do to make your mom and dad happy again? What can you do to make sure your younger sister isn’t bored while you wait for your test results? How do you prepare? When would this “deafness thing” happen anyway? What would the world be like without sound? How would I communicate with my family and friends? How would I communicate with strangers? How would I be able to work? How much does one really need their hearing anyway?

I still don’t necessarily have the answers to any of these questions. 

What I do know is this: 
  • There are far worse things that can happen to a person than the loss of their hearing. - I’ve never fought cancer or any other life threatening illness, I’ve never witnessed, or lived with extreme suffering. I grew up with supportive parents and doctors who wanted to “help”, even if they couldn’t. Overall, I’ve had it pretty good.
  • Some things are going to happen no matter what you attempt to do to prevent them from happening. The best doctors in the world, and the most expensive medications and treatments were not going to stop me from loosing my hearing. 
  • Growing up beneath the shadow cast by my impending deafness has made me sensitive to the world and to others. I am aware of my surroundings in a way that I wouldn’t be if I were a normal hearing person. I sense other’s discomfort, I know who is listening and who is not, I know when people feel excluded. I can read lips from across the room - a tool my classmates utilized in the lunch room to unearth the latest gossip. I also trust and appreciate people who slow down enough to actually listen, as opposed to just going through the motions of communicating.
  • Language equals culture. When you grow up as a hard of hearing person in a hearing family, in a hearing school, and in a hearing world, it is easy to feel alone and excluded. I do know American Sign Language but I don’t really have anyone in my life to use it with. What good is a language if it isn’t shared? When I do hang out with deaf people I feel like I’m visiting another country. Although there are exceptions, and times when I do make connections with deaf people - overall I don’t belong to the deaf world any more than I belong to a room full of football players. 

I grew up with one “solution” in mind - my family and doctors drew up a plan - when my hearing got bad enough I would just get a cochlear implant. It wasn’t exactly presented as “problem solver”, I knew that there was a good chance that everyone in my life would sound like Daffy Duck after receiving my implant, because that was exactly how post-implant sound was described by my doctors. But the overall consensus was that cochlear implants were what you got when you became deaf. It was your lifeline to the world and all of the people you know that live in the world. And so in 2003 I bit the bullet and underwent a 4 hour long surgery and woke up with a cochlear implant.  

I love my cochlear implant. I love that in certain settings, with minimal background noise, and a voice that is familiar to me I can communicate almost like a normal hearing person. But when one signs up for a cochlear implant they are also signing up for a lot of work. Make no mistake - people with cochlear implants are still profoundly hard of hearing and when you are hard of hearing attempting to function in a hearing world the weight of communication always lies on your shoulders. It’s always going to be easier for the other person. Always. So in a very real way living life with a cochlear implant is like signing up for a daily battle. It’s exhausting. Communication is mentally exhausting. At the end of the day someone with a hearing loss has certainly worked harder to understand and get through their day than a normal hearing person. 

Don’t get me wrong, like I said I love my cochlear implant but I often wonder if I would have a more whole sense of belonging if I had not gotten it. In a way a cochlear implant is like a big band aid - it enforces a certain type of communication that exists only in the hearing world and it allows you to just hang on to that world. But in many ways it doesn’t allow one to deal with their deafness, because they just continue communicating they way they always have. It also feels confusing to the person receiving the cochlear implant - are they a deaf person or a hearing person? If they are a hearing person, why is it so hard to communicate? And if they are a deaf person, why is it so hard to communicate? And where are all of these deaf people to communicate with?

If I hadn’t received a cochlear implant then I would be 100% a deaf person and I would use American Sign Language with ease and I would have people to use that language with. I want you to think about this next time you see one of those emotionally charged youtube videos that circulate the web. The ones that show people’s cochlear implants being turned on for the first time. Those videos upset me because they paint a picture about cochlear implants as being miraculous problem solvers. Hearing a sound with a cochlear implant is very very different from hearing enough sounds to put together a word or a sentence. The reality is more complicated and a lot more work. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

UPDATE!!!

It's been a while! I've been busy and Instagram has taken over most of my digital record-making. But there's something nice about a blog, isn't there? Something more deliberate and slow and intimate. 

Recently I have been...

* FUNDRAISING for Creating Language Through Arts. We received another grant to continue our Arts Residencies that focus on using art as a language when there are communication barriers present due to hearing loss. Our new Metropolitan Regional Arts Council grant requires that we provide some matching funds so we are fundraising left and right! If you are able to contribute (even $10!) we will be eternally grateful. You can do so HERE. (These are some of our Third grade students)



* Participating in my new fellowship. I am honored to announce that I have been selected as a fellow for Art(ists) on the Verge 7. AOV is an intensive, mentor-based fellowship program for 5 Minnesota based emerging artists working experimentally at the interstion of art and technology. Myself, along with artists Eric F. Avery, Torre Edahl, Jessica Henderson and Joshua McGarvy will participate in a year-long program that will culminate in an exhibition at The Soap Factory in the Spring of 2016. Art(ists) on the Verge is generously supported by the Jerome Foundation


* Exploring new media- in January of this year I created a video that has been a long time in the making. This endeavor combines my love of writing with video performance and story telling and draws heavily on my experience growing up with a profound and progressive hearing loss. You can click here to view it on vimeo. 

* Working my butt off in the studio getting ready for upcoming shows at Public Functionary and The Phipps Center. I'm focusing on larger works, and I have six in-progress 4' paintings in the studio at the moment. So far my attempts to deliberately change the way I make art has been both challenging and rewarding. Change is a heavy thing and has its own order. All I can say about these new pieces is that they feel distressed, un-done, weathered, unraveled. Maybe I need to literally demolish these pieces in order to grow?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A short video of how I spent most of the past year - hunched over, listening to Beck, working


video

I spent the past year cranking out work for a bunch of deadlines. This was both a good learning experience and excruciatingly stressful. Moving forward with new work this year. I am focusing on intentionally making changes in how I work and what I am aesthetically producing. I want to risk more, tear up all of my old tendencies/habits and build some new ones. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

ETSY SHOP SALE!!!








































I am having a SALE in my etsy shop this month. 
Use coupon code "DECEMBER" at checkout and you'll get 20% off of your entire order.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Liza Sylvestre & Sakura GIVEAWAY

I have just plunged into the world of smart phones and instagram. Yep, thats right, up until a few weeks ago I had a phone that wouldn't do anything beyond texting. I will be using my new instagram account as a blog with daily shots of my studio and the things I'm working on. To celebrate I have joined forces with Sakura, the makers of the micron pens I use in almost all of my artwork, to create a giveaway. If you follow @liza_sylvestre and @sakuraofamerica on instagram you will automatically be entered to win a Pigma Artist Gift Set (valued at $170) and a limited edition fine art print from me. 

Also, Sakura created an awesome new website and they included a feature on my work, which you can see HERE. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lake Vermillion

Recently we took a trip up to Lake Vermillion and stayed at one of the most magical cabins in the world, Stub-a-Toe. This cabin is owned by some dear family friends. They have owned the land since they graduated from college in the 60s and everything, absolutely everything, is hand built. They have repeatedly decided not to hook the place up to "the grid" so everything is generator and propane run. It is an amazing place and I feel lucky to have been able to visit it throughout my childhood. This past summer we got to stay in the "grown up" sleeping cabin which is nestled on the edge of a cliff. We woke up every morning to the sun rising on the private bay and the loons calling. Here are some photos from our stay. 
















Yep, that's a hand built wood fired hot tub. 






























Our sleeping cabin perched on the side of a cliff. 




Just big enough for a bed. Our view from the sleeping cabin. 

The second floor of the main cabin.

My hot stuff reading Hot Stuff.

Cabin essential.

Bubba and I hanging out on the dock. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

This summer






This little corner of my studio has seen a lot of action:



















I have been listening to this album repeatedly: 



And I discovered this movie, which is almost flawless in my opinion:


Mostly I have been working this summer. I had three deadlines(two of them major) back to back to back and although I learned a lot, it wasn't much fun. And now the days start and end in a cool curve that is not summer and I prepare to teach again and take comfort in the fact that the year ahead of me will be calmer and full of just one really big project that I am so damn excited about. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Enormous Tiny Art 16 at Nahcotta







I love Nahcotta and I'm excited to be a part of another Enormous Tiny Art show with them. This show opens September 5th in Portsmouth, NH.

You can also see all of the work I have in this particular show here.













































Element LX
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 10"






































Element LXI
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 10"






































Element LXII
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 10"






































Element LXIII
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 10"





































Element LXIV
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 10"






































Element LXV
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 10"






































Element LXVI
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 10"






































Element LXVII
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 10"


Monday, July 14, 2014

Elements Unheard at the MacRostie Art Center











My solo show "Elements Unheard" opened at the MacRostie Art Center last Friday. It was a great night with an impressive crowd and I didn't pass out during my artist talk, so that's good.

It has been a year of deadlines and lots and lots of time in the studio working. I am thankful to have work that I love and spaces to show that work in. I'm thankful to be an artist working in the state of Minnesota. I am thankful to have been awarded a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant to complete the work for this show. I am thankful to have a partner who believes in me and who understands what it means to be an artist and who was right there while I went through the highs and lows of creating all of this work. 

Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.












































Haematic Susurrus I
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
21.5" x 29.5"







































Haematic Susurrus II
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
21.5" x 29.5"







































Element LVII
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
12" x 24"







































Element LVIII
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
12" x 24"







































Element LIX
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 22"







































Element XXX
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
11" x 14"







































Element XXXI
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
11" x 14"







































Element XXXII
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
11" x 14"







































Element XXXIII
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
11" x 14"



Element XXXIV - SOLD
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
9" x 12"







































Element XXXV
Acrylic and Ink Panel
9" x 12"







































Element XXXVI - SOLD
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
9" x 12"







































Element XXXVII
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
9" x 12"






































Element XXXVIII - SOLD
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 10"






































Element XXXIX - SOLD
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 10"






































Element XL - SOLD
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 10"







































Element XLI  - SOLD
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
8" x 10"






























Element XLII - SOLD
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
10" x 8"

























Element XLIII - SOLD

























Element XLIV - SOLD

























Element XLV - SOLD

























Element XLVI - SOLD

























Element XLVII - SOLD

























Element XLVIII - SOLD

























Element L - SOLD

























Element LI - SOLD

























Element LII - SOLD

























Element LIII - SOLD

























Element LIV - SOLD

























Element LV - SOLD







































Element LVI - SOLD
Acrylic and Ink on Panel
16" x 20"


It was important to me that I explore some larger scaled works for this show. These are acrylic paintings and they are very much paintings (with none of the drawing that is found in my mixed media work). I loved the experience of engaging more of my whole body during the creation of these pieces. I loved that it was a lot of physical work and that I would ache by the end of the day. I loved that at night I would close my eyes and see colors blooming before I drifted off to sleep. Feels like the beginning of something I want to explore more.







































Mazarine Tessitura
Acrylic on Canvas
36" x 48"






































Circular Tessitura
Acrylic on Canvas
48" x 48"