Glass cas­tles

Shirley Klinghof­fer hon­ors breast can­cer pa­tients with CRT Re­vis­ited

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPOS - Michael Abatemarco

When au­thor Peggy Oren­stein was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer at the age of thirty-five, five years be­fore the gen­er­ally ac­cepted age to be­gin an­nual mam­mo­gram screen­ings, she did what most peo­ple who con­tract a po­ten­tially life-threat­en­ing dis­ease would do: She be­gan a treat­ment reg­i­men. In ad­di­tion, she turned to books to glean some un­der­stand­ing of her con­di­tion. What she dis­cov­ered as she pe­rused best­sellers in the health sec­tions of book­stores, how­ever, was a thinly veiled sham­ing of peo­ple who suf­fer from dis­ease be­cause of a pre­sump­tion that their lifestyles and lack of emo­tional well-be­ing are at the root of what ails them. By way of ex­am­ples, she wrote in a New York Times Mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle, “Breast Can­cer at 35: A Di­ary of Youth and Loss” that “Bernie Siegel writes, ‘There are no in­cur­able dis­eases, only in­cur­able peo­ple’ and ‘happy peo­ple gen­er­ally don’t get sick.’ Louise Hay claims that can­cer re­turns when a per­son doesn’t make the nec­es­sary ‘men­tal changes’ to cure it. Those are tidy ideas, plac­ing the onus of the ill­ness on the ill and let­ting the healthy off the hook.” But the truth is, healthy peo­ple do get sick and, like ev­ery­one else, they even­tu­ally die. It’s that fragility that prompted Santa Fe artist Shirley Klinghof­fer to be­gin a pro­ject that pre­miered at the Cen­tral Fine Arts Gallery in New York in 1999 in the ex­hibit CRT – 0981. The in­stal­la­tion com­prised 18 slumped glass sculp­tures made from molds of women go­ing through con­for­mal ra­di­a­tion ther­apy. Seven years later, Klinghof­fer, too, was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer.

“In the ’90s, be­fore I ex­pe­ri­enced ra­di­a­tion ther­apy, I did gather won­der­ful tes­ti­mony from women go­ing through treat­ment and one of my big­gest sources was Peggy Oren­stein,” Klinghof­fer told Pasatiempo. Oren­stein’s tes­ti­mony is in­cluded in a 35mm video pro­jec­tion called Voices, part of CRT Re­vis­ited, which opened in May at Ta­coma’s Mu­seum of Glass. The ex­hi­bi­tion is co-spon­sored by the Fred Hutchin­son Can­cer Re­search Cen­ter in Seat­tle. “I en­vi­sioned the pro­ject and fa­cil­i­tated the part­ner­ship be­tween the mu­seum and the Fred Hutchin­son Can­cer Re­search Cen­ter. We’re part­ner­ing to do a com­mu­nity out­reach pro­gram, bring­ing art, science, and health is­sues for dis­cus­sion.”

The forms in CRT Re­vis­ited are thin and frag­ile glass tor­sos and breasts of women at mo­ments when they were at the mercy of the med­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, poked and prod­ded, pros­trate in a ma­chine that de­liv­ers di­rected beams of ra­di­a­tion to af­fected ar­eas of the body. “Most women pick a time and show up five days a week. You lit­er­ally see the same women com­ing at the same times. You feel so ex­posed. Ev­ery day

new faces come down and your breasts are ex­posed, your body’s ex­posed. You get to the point where you feel like an ob­ject be­ing ex­am­ined. Of course, you’re grate­ful that these peo­ple are there for you and you’re be­ing at­tended to. I can’t say that this isn’t some­thing ev­ery­body who ends up in the hos­pi­tal goes through. Any­body who’s been put in one of those gar­ments that tie in the back knows you im­me­di­ately feel vul­ner­a­ble. The idea was to cap­ture that mo­ment of ex­treme vul­ner­a­bil­ity.”

Each sculp­ture is made from slumped sheets of glass an eighth of an inch thick. When the sculp­tures were dis­played for the first time in New York, they were placed face­down on a re­flec­tive sur­face, which had the ef­fect of mak­ing them ap­pear to lev­i­tate. “In my work, ev­ery­thing is sym­bolic. The lev­i­tat­ing is sup­posed to sym­bol­ize the hope.”

Klinghof­fer cre­ated the pieces at Ur­banGlass in New York us­ing toxic, heat-re­sis­tant molds. “I pro­tected my­self, but I did use ma­te­rial that could be car­cino­genic in the process. There’s a lot of irony in­volved in that and the fact that my life im­i­tated my art years later.” The molds were placed in a high-tem­per­a­ture kiln where the glass was heated to liq­uid form. “The only con­trol I had was to see if it had slumped down to where I wanted it be­fore putting it on the cool­ing or an­neal­ing cy­cle. When we did the cool­ing cy­cle — very slow, overnight — it left me breath­less in the morn­ing in an­tic­i­pa­tion as to whether we would have a whole piece. There was al­ways the chance I would find some­thing frac­tured. Mirac­u­lously, they all sur­vived.”

Klinghof­fer also be­gan an in­ten­sive, week­long res­i­dency in the mu­seum’s hot shop in late May to re­al­ize a sec­ond, re­lated pro­ject called Heal­ing Ob­jects. Klinghof­fer asked in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies to share their sto­ries of bat­tling can­cer and to send in im­ages of ob­jects that helped to com­fort and sus­tain them dur­ing their strug­gles. These ob­jects served as in­spi­ra­tion for a se­ries of glass charms Klinghof­fer made in the shop. She hopes to present the charms in an in­stal­la­tion where they’ll be linked to­gether as an ex­pres­sion of shared ex­pe­ri­ence.

Klinghof­fer’s works ex­plore is­sues sur­round­ing gen­der roles and fem­i­nin­ity, of­ten by in­cor­po­rat­ing casts of sex­ual or­gans and breasts to call at­ten­tion to the ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of fe­male bod­ies. Witty in Pink from 2006, for in­stance, is a bronze dome made from cast nip­ples sur­rounded by gauzy pink fab­ric, a wry take on the no­tion that wom­an­hood is de­fined by cul­tur­ally de­ter­mined pa­ram­e­ters, the color pink be­ing as­so­ci­ated with the fem­i­nine. The ex­plic­it­ness of the sculp­ture sug­gests, too, the de­mys­ti­fi­ca­tion of the fe­male body and, be­cause of its mul­ti­plic­ity of forms cast from the breasts of dif­fer­ent peo­ple, the di­ver­sity of the fe­male sex.

Her work of­ten in­volves a twist or con­trast­ing el­e­ment. The Love Ar­mor Pro­ject from 2007-2008, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with artist Sarah He­witt, which in­cluded the par­tic­i­pa­tion of more than 70 artists from around the coun­try, in­volved knit­ting a mas­sive cozy for a Humvee M1026: a war ma­chine cov­ered by a textile made us­ing what has tra­di­tion­ally been viewed as a woman’s craft. The in­ten­tion was to ex­press con­cern for mil­i­tary per­son­nel as well as civil­ians then in­hab­it­ing con­flict zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. “When I did Love Ar­mor, I had never knit any­thing be­fore. It was a chal­lenge, but the idea of knit­ting spoke to me about con­cern and com­pas­sion. In the case of the

CRT se­ries, the idea of mak­ing these forms from thin skins of glass was my chal­lenge. A cou­ple of the pieces were shown in a gallery in Hous­ton. When the gallery di­rec­tor saw them, he said ‘My God. This could be shat­tered in an in­stant,’ and that’s the point: that life can be shat­tered in an in­stant.”

“Shirley Klinghof­fer: CRT Re­vis­ited” runs through Oct. 11 at the Mu­seum of Glass (1801 Dock St., Ta­coma, Washington, 253-284-4750).

Shirley Klinghof­fer and Sarah Hewett: Love Ar­mor, 2007-2008, hand-knit cozy for a Humvee M1026; top from left to right: Shirley Klinghof­fer: Legacy I (de­tail), 2006, cro­cheted yarn and gi­clée print on can­vas; Se­cret Gar­den (de­tail), 2010, vintage skirt, cast rub­ber, and barbed wire; Bridal Bou­quet for Gertrude & Alice, 2011 (de­tail), re­fash­ioned bridal gown, tinted translu­cent rub­ber, and steel; op­po­site page, above: Witty in Pink, 2006, bronze and an­tique tulle; CRT-0981, 1999, slumped glass in­stal­la­tion

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