Exhibition explores creative responses to enduring illness

Viv Williams with work from TLC at the Refinery ArtSpace
BRADEN FASTIER/FairfaxNZ

Viv Williams with work from TLC at the Refinery ArtSpace

Ten months ago, mother of two, Viv Williams came off a child's scooter, "face-planting" on the footpath. She was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. The implications have completely changed her life from one of adventure and spontaneity, fulltime work and active parenting, to adjusting to a new regime.

"It's been life-changing. Everything I knew has gone," Williams says. "Early on I couldn't even hang out the washing, reaching up to peg clothes made me dizzy. I felt like my brain was on the floor; it's been like trying to pull all the cotton wool out of my head."

Williams is one of seven artists exhibiting in TLC (Tender Loving Care), curated by NMIT lecturer, Catharine Salmon at the Refinery ArtSpace. They are linked by enduring long-term illnesses, including depression, arthritis, endometriosis and recovering from a brain injury. Their work reveals how, despite the challenges of illness and side effects of medication, they continue to create. 

Curator Catharine Salmon with work from the exhibition TLC
BRADEN FASTIER/FairfaxNZ

Curator Catharine Salmon with work from the exhibition TLC

"TLC reflects their creativity while acknowledging in some way, in the pieces they make or through the accompanying words, their significant although very different health challenges," Salmon says. "In effect, the work is the conversation between the artefact(s) and these texts."

Salmon notes that most illnesses, except endometriosis, are not gender-specific, therefore artists are identified by surname only: Chadderton, Clayton, Craw, Edwin, Lucas, Newport and Williams. 

It's been a long, hard journey both physically and mentally for Williams, since she had no idea about brain injuries and how long it takes to recover.

"Everything you thought was important isn't really," Williams says. "You re-prioritise because you're scraped back to absolute basics, starting from scratch."

Headaches, nausea, dizziness, have impaired the simplest of tasks, while remembering things has been a challenge.

"My diary is my best friend," Williams says. "I used to keep it in my head, now I have to write it down." 

Each day around 1pm, she needs to rest for 40 minutes, which includes a 10-minute meditation.

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"Resting seems to recuperate, to re-set; you feel ready for the rest of the day."

Williams expresses her accident and long road to recovery through a series of ink line drawings in TLC. She chooses birds as a metaphor for herself and her life, with drawings that speak of pain and struggle, while also showing her steps toward recovery.

"Art has been therapeutic, it's put it all out there and let me close some kind of door," Williams says. "I'm kind of lucky; it's only 10 months after the accident, where as others have suffered for over 20 years."

Next door in the outer gallery at the Refinery, three women celebrate their long-term friendships and love of portraiture painting in Us. Jane Duncan, Kirstie Hogg and Lisa DeVries share both portraits of themselves and each other.

TLC, curated by Catharine Salmon, to May 27, Us, to June 3, the Refinery ArtSpace, 3 Halifax St, Nelson.

 - Stuff

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