2010 Winners - Runner-up: Kathryn Parker Almanas
Inspired by personal experience with bodily illness, Kathryn Parker Almanas’s work renders the agony of inexplicable events through a series of carefully constructed medical tableaux. Her elaborately staged photographs, a combination of built dioramas and actual medical spaces, attempt to relate her inner struggles with physical maladies (specifically, several autoimmune diseases), and the realities of the patient perspective.
Almanas’s intricate compositions, reminiscent of Renaissance still lifes, feature a variety of food as symbolic stand-ins for the afflicted body. Through careful manipulation, pastries, jellies, fruits, and vegetables are transmogrified into abstracted representations of flesh, blood, and internal organs. The body of a blueberry danish is incised and scrutinized with surgical precision; a purple cauliflower head glows on its glass pedestal like a dissected brain. By orchestrating these compositions, Almanas is able to regain agency in an otherwise disempowering situation. As visual experiments, these edible-anatomical portraits reveal a desire to recover control over the inevitable circumstances of her body. In the artist’s own words: “Art transforms poison into medicine, anxiety into initiative.”
This is not to say that Almanas is focused solely on her personal experience with illness, however; she confirms that her photographs also generate from an “interest in the universality of corporeal existence.” Indeed, the artist creates abstractions of “the parts of ourselves both essential to our survival and responsible for our death” in order to simultaneously—and somewhat paradoxically—confront and transcend mortality.
By visually representing her anxieties, Almanas raises questions she otherwise could not form. The further she deconstructs the larger, irrefutable facts into smaller, more manageable parts, the more she advances her internal acceptance and healing.