Chronicle of a disorder 

Family Gathering: A look into the world of eating disorders
1-5pm Sat-Sun
by appt.
Through Nov 17
Dicke Art Building
Trinity University
One Trinity Place
999-7682
Joy Christiansen uses photographic transfer, embroidery, and text to outline the psychological effects of a complex disease — anorexia — in Family Gathering, an installation currently on view at Trinity University. By activating the passive trappings of daily life, the artist successfully depicts the altered states of mind caused by the illness.

The installation begins with immediate confrontation. A white wall covered in text outlines the confusion and frustration of the environment behind the barrier with a quote describing the patient’s obvious signs of anorexia. This opening salvo serves as a precursor to the “home” behind the wall, one that is saturated with the signs and effects of the disease. The pristine condition of the newly renovated gallery provides an appropriate atmosphere for the setting, an upper-middle-class living room. The echo of footsteps on the wooden floor and chilly air add to the eerie feeling of an environment wracked by emotional distress.

This world of neatly arranged furniture is marked by a constant stream of dialogue. Words seem to be the single most important aspect of the piece; the installation is covered in text. The walls feature a continuous line of commentary, while the furniture, upholstered in fabric-transferred pictures of various family members, are embroidered with sentences that speak of grief, guilt, anger, and confusion. Even the china speaks. “Eating Rituals,” a china cabinet complete with dinner set, features pictures of the mouth of the afflicted girl as well as text transferred onto plates, bowls, and cups. An empty bowl neatly spells “excessive exercise” in a nondescript font, while an equally empty plate features the photographic transfer of a scrawling journal entry outlining the fight against weight gain. This medium successfully conveys the reality of anorexia as the artist transforms aloof scientific evidence into a living, human example.

The furniture features images of the sister, husband, and anorexic woman, and evokes a constant family presence — a presence skewed, as the distorted image created by the photographic transfer reflects the woman’s altered body image. This strange flatness is exacerbated by the fact that none of the family members are photographed with their mouths open; it emphasizes the still largely unspoken frustration of the disease.

Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is innocently featured on the coffee table but carries dual meanings. Expectations altered by disease and changing quality of life are all questioned in this small sculpture. Dickens’s book is inlaid with the grueling dictates of extreme weight loss. This small object amplifies the home’s saturated atmosphere as even outside objects become affected by
distorted perceptions.

Five portraits of the immediate family are also covered in text, except for an image of the girl’s perplexed father, who stares out from the frame hanging next to his wife in complete silence. Here, the artist successfully speaks to the reactions of many family members and people dealing with anorexia: silence. Whether the cause of this silence is grief, or the social taboo associated with speaking about psychological disorders in public, such a (non-)response is detrimental to the afflicted and can even lead to death. Christiansen emphasizes the exhibit’s plea to talk about the issue by incorporating an interactive wall in the rear of the exhibit where people may share their individual experiences with the disease.

While depressing at moments, the installation conveys an overall sense of hope, as Christiansen seeks to widen public perspective and encourage dialogue surrounding anorexia.

More by Emily Morrison

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