September 19, 2012
“I am not an artist. I am a diabetic, and these are my tools. For over 20 years, I have been dependent on these syringes to keep me alive. Each bottle now contains about two weeks worth of my medical waste…”
Jeannie McKendry, 2006
Part of the 2006 “Code Blue” exhibit at Art Murmur in Los Angeles, these bottles (mostly liquor, but also one ketchup bottle) reminded me of Peter Cuba’s 2010 project where he labeled a variety of jars and bottles with Budweiser labels. (wine, water, spray paint, Elmer’s glue, peanut butter… all given a fraudulent brand unity by unauthorized use of the Budweiser beer label.)
McKendry’s assortment of bottles are afforded a similar brand unity, but it’s a uniformity of content, rather than labeling.
I also like the polemic impact of defining herself, not as an artist, but as a diabetic. Bottled syringes are jarring because we don’t like to imagine swallowing “sharps.” Here, however, the meaning is not: “You are what you eat.” It’s more like: “You are what you treat.” (Or more precisely: “You are the disease that you treat.”) For chronic diseases like diabetes where the treatment is not a cure, but a lifetime regimen of injections, these accumulations of supposedly “disposable” medical supplies have, for many people, become totems of personal significance.
For McKendry, being a diabetic has also informed her career choices and views on healthcare policy. Asked what she thought about the current political wrangling about the Affordable Healthcare Act, she wrote:
“…while I don’t think Obamacare goes far enough, and I wish it wasn’t so beneficial to the insurance industry… I think it is definitely a step in the right direction. I think you would be hard pressed to find a diabetic out there that doesn’t love the fact that insurance companies can no longer discriminate against you just for having diabetes. If Romney wins (or steals) the election, repeals healthcare reform and defines rape as a form of birth control I’m moving out of the country.”
I too, am hard-pressed to see what’s so bad about more Americans having healthcare coverage. It definitely did my family some good that I could keep my son covered for a couple of years after he graduated college, before he was able to get a job that offered health insurance.
For Republicans to now condemn the “mandate”— (itself a huge concession to Republicans who were opposed the “public option” because of their McCarthyesque phobia of socialized medicine) — seems more than a little dishonest. You’d think they’d be satisfied with a regulated but totally “privatized” system, but they prefer to now use this “bipartisan compromise” as the Achilles heel, by which to attack the law in court.
(Read the rest of McKendry’s “artist’s statement” after the fold…)
“…Each bottle originally contained about a week’s worth of my overwhelming frustration at having this hellish disease and my rage at the state of health care in this country. I would like to fix this broken system. I would like for sick people to be treated like human beings. I would like the health care industry to focus on healing people and keeping them healthy rather than the bottom line. I would like the pharmaceutical companies to stop spending billions of dollars on expensive drugs that are Band-Aids at best, and useless or harmful at worst, and focus on curing people. I would like for all people to have the health care they deserve and the medications they need at a price that doesn’t leave them penniless. I would like to help make that dream a reality. I am currently a policy analyst for Medi-Cal, but no one really wants my analyses. I’m going back to school for a masters in social work and public policy to pocket some authority. Then maybe they will listen.
Jeannie McKendry, 2006