This week sees the opening of a new exhibition by Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper.
Opening at the ONJ Cancer and Wellness Centre this week, ‘A Perfect Distortion’ is an exhibition that brings photography and poetry together as an invitation to see deeply. Having worked in the Open Studio at the ONJ Centre, Marietta now offers images and words, chosen to work together as visual poems. In carefully these carefully curated words and images Marietta invites us to see the ‘perfect distortions’ of reality that she has experienced as a survivor. This exhibition is an experience that will no doubt resonate with many who encounter the work this work in “the halls of the corridor” at the ONJ Centre. For the artist herself, the practice of exhibiting does indeed “extend therapeutic effect of involvement in the artistic process”.
Art Therapist, Fiona Scottney, spoke recently with Marietta about the meaning of the work and the process itself and Marietta has kindly agreed to shares her thoughts with us.
Describing my project & why it is meaningful for me
The project consists of mounting an exhibition of poetry and images (10 poems and 18 images) on the walls in the corridor leading to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre at the Austin Hospital. These poems and images are a representative selection of my photographic and poetic work, mostly from my two books, Island of wakefulness and A perfect distortion (Hybrid Publishers). The first book has a predominantly autobiographical focus, whilst the second, both in word and image, has a more reflective mood, even though many of the poems were written at the same time. (For a more detailed description, see the attached Artist Statement.)
Presenting my work in a different setting and format, and also to a new audience, is an exciting and fulfilling development. Preparing for the exhibition is certainly a steep learning curve, and it continues the therapeutic effect of involvement in the artistic process.
My relationship with the ONJ Centre
I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. My initial breast cancer treatment was carried out under the auspices of Peter McCallum Institute. When the cancer returned in the pelvis and spine in 2015, I transferred to the Austin Hospital, mainly because it was more convenient. I was also attracted to the facilities offered by the ONJ Centre.
While waiting to attend the clinic (we had a pager, so we could wander away from the clinic waiting room), I took to dropping in on the Art Therapy Open Studio drop-in sessions in the Wellness Centre. The art therapist running the sessions, Fiona Scottney, told me about an 8 week art therapy group called the Creativity & Support group, so I enrolled in these sessions. On the walls in the corridor leading to the Wellness Centre were a number of photographs with text. This gave me the idea of asking if there might be interest in an exhibition of my poems and photographs. Fiona, who had seen these in my books, was willing to consider this.
Earlier this year she told me that the hospital would host the exhibition and that she would curate it. She also told me I would be the first patient to mount an exhibition. I am delighted that this has come to pass and appreciative of the support I am receiving from the ONJ Centre
Kelder Sinds ik vijf was schrijf ik mijn kelder Hoe de lichtstraal door de tralies bij de straat de deeltjes stof besloeg de manier waarop ze dansten Hoe de schaduw van het tralieraam een patroon neerlegde op de vloer van steen Hoe de scherpte van het licht de duisternis deed verduisteren Hoe mijn hand werd belicht als ik in het licht stond en duisternis terugweek Cellar Since I was five I have been writing the cellar How the light-beam from the grille at street level struck the dust motes the way they danced How the shadow of the grille created a pattern on the stone floor How the intensity of light made the darkness darker How if I stood in the light it illuminated my hand and darkness became an absence
My first book, Island of wakefulness / Eiland van waakzaamheid, documented different kinds of survival: my experience as a young Jewish child in the Netherlands during the Holocaust, separated from family, hidden with Christians; displacement shortly after the end of the war through emigration to Australia; breast cancer in 2004; the experience of my mother in the Resistance and my father as a soldier. The ‘wakefulness’ of the title, that ever present sense of danger, was also an inspiration, which caused me to sense my environment intensely. An example of this is the poem Cellar, relating to my experience of being locked up in the cellar when Nazis visited the house in search of young men for the army or for Jews. Even at that time, as a five year old, I was able to appreciate and vividly remember the interplay of light and dark.
The poem Cellar provides a link between the first and the second book (A perfect distortion / Een perfecte vervorming). Some of the poems were written at the same time as those in the first book, but from a different mental space, broadly characterised as ‘reflection’. But even in the second book, many of the poems, though mainly concerned with nature, contain a reference to the self. Indeed, in the title poem of the book, among all the things which can interfere with ‘a perfect distortion’ is the author’s ‘overshadow’, that is, her ego. Even in the pigeon’s (Pigeon) restless search for a way out when there is no danger and the door is open (this really did happen), we might glimpse a metaphor for the author’s own searching.
The cancer story continues. My first experience with breast cancer coincided with the first book of poetry, and the theme of survival was apt for this stage of treatment: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Almost the whole of 2004 was taken up with the treatment, and four poems in my first book relate to that experience. (My poem Day ward, about the chemotherapy, won the Cancer Council Daffodil Day Award for poetry in 2004). The second book was compiled while I was coming to terms with the reappearance of the cancer in the bones. This book, including the images, was about finding that quiet moment, finding balance, even within difficult moments, as in the poems Poised and Painbird.
The setting for many of the poems and photographs, the Darebin Parklands, is a place near my Fairfield (Melbourne) home. I still visit it frequently, as it is close to my heart. The park is a microcosm of the Australian landscape, so different from the landscape of my early childhood with its snow, mild sunlight and lush meadows. Yet both have their shadows and their reflections, the vagaries of wind and water, providing me with a way of reconciling the two parts of my experience.
I see the photos as visual poems and as ‘perfect distortions’ of the reality before me, as are the poems.
Presenting my poetry bilingually is important to me because bilingualism is an important part of my identity. And the act of translation is itself a creative act, another ‘perfect distortion’.
Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper email@example.com