• Peggy Nichols

Artist's Post -- Lisa Talbot

To talk about what it is like to have a sick body in a time when we live in a “goal-oriented” era is to talk about the need for others to give solutions to my sick body rather than to simply create space for me to have such a body. I have multiple chronic illnesses, both of the body and of the mind all of which have disabled me to greater or lesser extents throughout my life. On the surface I look fine. That is to say my disabilities are invisible to the naked eye and I “pass” in the day to day world for the most part as an able-bodied person.

I look like my body is healthy. And because of this I have always had to contend with my body and its issues and how people perceive me. When I look in the mirror or when someone looks at me, what they see is not what I feel. It is because of this that I had decided long ago to forgo using the body in my photographic work. The body after all was only a container for what was happening on the inside and it surely did not represent much of reality. On the inside of my physical body, I have Irritable bowel syndrome, chronic Migraines, chronic back pain, and Multiple Sclerosis. Psychologically I have been diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder, none of these issues have a cure.

My symptoms of all of these things are too numerous to list and really they are not relevant here but what is important is that when I mention any of these things to anybody for any reason the instant reaction from 95% of people is for them to tell me to do something that they perceive will be the solution to all my problems. As if “drinking water” was something that I had never considered and would be a magical remedy that when they suggest it will create a force in the world that will, like Jesus’s miracles, cure me. However, what I believe many people are really saying to me when they make these suggestions is, “Hey Lisa, your illnesses are all too real and I want to go back to this Dream that I live in. By you telling me your reality it is making me war with the known world and the Dream I live in, drink some water so I don’t have to do that.” Of course, these people may “mean well” but this is not what ends up often meaning to the person it lands on. Maybe for some they can take it in and interpret it well enough. For others they will bend themselves into a pretzel trying to do better and be better. And still others will give up knowing that there is no possible way they can do all that is required. But this is the nature of our goal-oriented world where to be healthy is the most exalted state. What is a sick person to do when they cannot say “Well at least I have my health” in gratitude?

It was with this in mind that I began to form the sound parts of Sick Girl, a constant internal/external cacophony of voices suggesting/demanding/implying all the things I, as the sick person, should or shout not do to Not Be Sick.

The imagery came from the failing of our medical system. About a year or so prior to the my making of Sick Girl I had read an article in the newspaper about a hospital having been exposed for dropping of a patient on a street corner in the snow in a medical gown because they did not have health insurance. This was not the first story of this kind. This could be me, I thought. After all I had spent my entire adult life working around my health insurance issues. How could I keep my health insurance or keep affording it was a constant consideration in my head. And also, a constant fear that woke me in terror often. For without health insurance I would be FUCKED. All of my passing for a healthy person and the privileges it gave me, which were a lot, would be gone within 6 months if I lost my health insurance. The fact that the US does not provide health insurance for FREE to EVERYBODY is such a deep moral and ethical crime. This is an issue of ableism. This is an issue of the hatred and fear of illness and death. This is about people not understanding our frailty as humans. And this was something that came back to why people felt the need to tell me to just drink water as if that would make it all ok! I saw this vision in my mind’s eye one day of a woman walking down this corridor in LA in a hospital gown with an IV bag and I knew I had to make Sick Girl. I knew it was important that I make something that the physical body was shown, and I wouldn’t hide what was really going on with me. It was time for me to make something talking about these issues. Sick Girl is my version of political artwork. In general, I would not say I am a political artist, but sometimes one has to say something.

My regular art process, for the most part, has been designed out of being sick. I created a process of working in my studio, at home, that I could work on regardless of how I was feeling. The work could be done over time and it was the time that would become part of the work itself. I wanted to create an exterior space that reflected my interior space, and all the complexity it holds; the good the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. Because the truth of my life is that it does not live in a binary line, but rather the cyclical nature of a circle.

Through the ever changing nature of my sets, I try to capture the essence of an endless life cycle, and through nature of the companion photography and video, I preserve the moments of time that create impact in that cycle—those times when for better or worse—our lives are indelibly changed by forces outside and inside ourselves. The meaning in my work is in the doing of it. Just like my pieces themselves, my approach and its results have transformed over time. The pieces I build, using discarded detritus, become part of me for their lifespan. My photographs and videos are a record of their evolution and devolution—how within the set objects come together with others, move together for a time transforming each other and then separate to travel their own path. Rather than creating an environment, taking a photograph and then clearing it away so that the photograph captures the end of a life, my photographs and videos are simply milestone markers. I add to and withdraw from the landscape of a set whenever it speaks to me—allowing for creation and destruction to happen as it will and for patterns of intention to emerge. I observe the process over time; watching the scene as it breaks down and is built anew in completely different materials.

I live with the maxim as above so below and as within so without. I have found that this is true in that how we treat ourselves is a reflection of how we treat the world. We see it in our environmental issues today as well as the social justice issues and the mirrored psychological and health issues we face as individuals such as COVID-19 and the rampant health issues caused by an over-working, goal-oriented obsessed society.

I focus on myself in these pieces and my part of working on my interior temple. It is a practice, as the great work is, this is my artwork. My new series, Grounded is coming soon! Stay Tuned!

To see more of Lisa's work, please visit her website at: