CARING HANDS at Mattatuck Museum, September 22nd, 2019 - January 5th, 2020
Address: 63 Prospect St, Waterbury, CT 06702
Opening reception Sunday September 22nd, 1pm-3pm
Artist talk at 2pm
Maryna Bilak's art address the process of caring for someone with Alzheimer's Disease - in this case, the artist's mother-in-law, Dorothy. Bilak explores the different roles that the act of caregiving requires from each person involved. Caring Hands is a series of 18 plaster casts the artist created from hands of those who work with Dorothy. This exhibition will take place on the second floor at Rose Hill, Mattatuck Museum. marynabilak marynabilak artist mattatuckmuseum www.marynabilak.com художниця марина білак
Hudson-based Ukrainian artist Maryna Bilak exhibition at Hudson Hall
January 25, 2019 10:57 am
— Hudson Hall presents Maryna Bilak: CARE, an exhibition documenting
the unseen process of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s—in this case,
the artist’s mother-in-law, Dorothy. Through charcoal drawings, fresco,
sculpture, and painting, Bilak’s installation delves into the different
roles that the act of caretaking requires from each person involved,
including the patient herself.
The exhibition opens with a reception
with the artist on February 2nd, 2019 from 5 to 7 p.m, featuring a
performance of an original song composed for the exhibition by
Memphis-based pianist Michael S. Jaynes. The piece is inspired by
Jaynes’ own experience caring for his mother,also an Alzheimer’s
sufferer. Molly McCann, MHA, Associate Director of Programs and
Services: Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives, at the Alzheimer’s
Association of Northeastern New York will also be speaking. Maryna
Bilak: CARE is curated by Emily O’Leary and is on view until March 17.
patient, older woman, mother-in-law—is the conceptual and often
physical nexus for each work in CARE. In a series of traditional
charcoal portraits, Dorothy is depicted chronologically, starting with
softly rendered images of girlhood that evolve gradually into more
harshly rendered scenes of the subject in the last vestiges of the
disease. The small-scale frescos provide limited glimpses into Dorothy’s
features—an eye, a mouth—and reflects on the disintegrated and
fractured mental state that accompanies Alzheimer’s. The installation
focuses on the tangible and intensely personal, incorporating clothing,
nail clippings, hair, and plaster casts of hands and feet.
series of cast-off hangers, clothing, including a headboard that once
belonged to Dorothy turned on its side, becomes a delicate, conceptual
artwork. By engaging directly with these objects, they adopt newfound
significance and become an artistic language in which Bilak speaks to
the experience of what it is to be a caregiver.
“This body of
artwork was created as a response to the long-term care provided by my
husband, Maurice and I to his mother, an Alzheimer’s sufferer,” she
says. “This project is about life with a mentally and physically
disabled person, and all the dedication, sacrifice and responsibility
that comes with it. It is about mother, son, and artist. It is about a
family,” she says.
Born in the Carpathian Mountains in West
Ukraine, Maryna Bilak received her first MFA from Subcarpathian National
University (Ukraine). After, she studied at Balassi Bálint Hungarian
Cultural Institute in Budapest (Hungary), Charles University in Prague
(Czech Republic), and in 2014 received her second MFA from New York
Studio School. Since 2001 Maryna has exhibited her work in Ukraine,
Hungary, Slovakia, Russia, and USA. Her recent solo show Buon
Fresco/Fresh was featured at John Davis Gallery. Maryna lives in Hudson,
NY, with her husband Maurice Haughton, daughter Irina and her
Artist Maryna Bilak’s
Winter Star sculpture has been a highlight of Hudson, New York’s Winter
Walk for the past two years. Now, you can see more of her work in a new
solo show, “Care,” opening at Hudson Hall
on Saturday, Feb. 2. Through paintings, charcoal drawings, fresco and
sculpture, Bilak documents what it means to be a caretaker for someone
with Alzheimer’s and delves into the varied roles each person involved
plays, including the patient herself. Born in the Carpathian Mountains
in West Ukraine, Bilak studied in Budapest and Prague before receiving
her second MFA from the New York Studio School. She lives in Hudson with
her husband Maurice Haughton, daughter Irina and her mother-in-law
I came to America in 2012 to study at the New York Studio School in
Manhattan. It’s my second MFA, but the education was so different from
my previous studies. It really changed me as an artist. I learned not how to make art but to ask myself why
I do what I do. As I was approaching graduation, in 2014, I had a show
in New York and one of the guests at the show was Maurice. He’s the
reason I stayed in America. We got married and moved to Hudson, and now I
have my art studio right next to the house, so I can work any time I
want. Most of the art for this exhibit was made after my daughter was
born; it was a very intense time. My daughter is the direct connection
to my mother-in-law, who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
We moved to Hudson in 2015, but the caregiving started five years
ago, when we were first dating. Most couples go through this after 20 or
30 years of marriage, but we were still in the romantic period. I
became the main caregiver for Dorothy when she was still mobile, but I
did all the cooking, I showered her, all these kinds of intimate things.
I was working in the apartment and I would sculpt or paint on the
terrace and she would watch me. When someone has Alzheimer’s, they are
losing their ability to smile, but sometimes she would smile and laugh
and we really had fun. I was so happy to see that she was happy. That
was the beginning of our relationship.
So many people say it’s beautiful and nice to be able to care for
someone like this, but it’s extremely challenging and it’s more than
artwork can express. It’s something that people don’t like to talk
about. There’s a level of resentment. Many people forget themselves and
dedicate themselves to the person who is sick. We talked to
professionals on how to deal with it, because we felt like we were
Having Dorothy progressing with the disease put some challenges on
our relationship. Very often I would go to my studio for a break; I
would escape there. I tried to convince myself that it was my happy
place and my rescue, but all my thoughts were still focused on the
everyday experience of sharing space with someone who is mentally and
physically disabled. When the denial passed, I was standing in my studio
and I starting seeing some patterns in my work. I started noticing it
had those connections, so I decided to embrace my situation. My
mother-in-law became my model and a great inspiration. She likes the
attention and I love to make art. Her features are perfect for sculpture
and painting. When she was posing for portraits, she was normal, but as
soon as I was finished, she would go into another world that we don’t
The fact that I’m an artist, and it was the only thing I never gave
up, really saved me and my marriage. The art is about Dorothy, but also
about me and my husband. The part of the exhibit called “Monologues” is
writing, and it’s a representation of thoughts from different
perspectives. There are 12 characters and I tried to figure out how each
feels. Dorothy is shown as three persons: a mother-in-law, an older
lady and an Alzheimer’s s patient. Maurice is a son, a husband and a
man, and I’m a daughter-in-law, a wife and an artist. It’s about how we
learn how to live with each other and go through the struggles.
This is only a tiny expression of my experience, and the variety of
materials speak to all the varieties of situation that come with care.
“Caring Hands” is a special work because it’s a collaboration. I invited
everyone who helped us with Dorothy, who provided either physical or
emotional support. I mixed plaster and they each held it in their hands
until it set, about eight minutes. It’s a series of hands, installed on
one wall, framed but with no names, so it’s anonymous. It’s very
symbolic in that it shows how many people it takes to care for someone.
Another part of the exhibit is a series of plaster abstract
sculptures. Dorothy would sometimes not recognize some of her clothing
and would want to get rid of it. I collected the cloth and used it as
material. I sewed it together like it was a body and poured liquid
plaster over it. There was very little I could do to control how it set,
which is just like being a caregiver.
The exhibit shows care but also how I help myself; there were tough
moments and I felt very often weak and desperate and sorry for myself,
which I hate. The artwork started not on a conscious level at first, but
I approached my husband about the show and he was a little
apprehensive. But the artwork was happening already, and then we started
learning that there are so many families having to deal with this.
Three people just on our block have someone who has this disease. He’s
happy now because he thinks it helps remove the stigma. I hope with my
show, it can bring awareness, and people can educate themselves. If
Maurice and I knew more about it at the beginning, it wouldn’t have been
as hard. Hopefully people can avoid the mistakes we made. And I
encourage people to have something for themselves, in my case it was
art-making, because it really, really saved me.
Hudson Hall in Hudson, New York presents artist Maryna Bilak:
CARE, an exhibition documenting the unseen process of caring for
someone with Alzheimer’s — in this case, the artist’s mother-in-law,
Opening reception on Saturday, Feb. 2, from 5 to 7 p.m., featuring a
6:30 p.m performance by pianist Michael S. Jaynes.
The exhibition runs
through Sunday, March 17
Hudson Hall, 327 Warren St., Hudson.
The reality of caring for someone with advanced Alzheimer's
is more insane than any work of fiction. I tried to convince myself that my
studio was my “happy place” and that art-making was my rescue. But my thoughts
all focused on the everyday experience of sharing an intimate space with
someone who is physically and mentally disabled. When the energy of denial
exhausted itself, I decided to embrace my reality and consciously navigate and
dedicate my creativity. Suddenly everything made sense. I stared and began to
see patterns in my artwork from the last five years—the time I have lived with
my mother-in-law. She became my model, and the body I watched and touched so
many times became an inspiration for the active studio process.
The work I have done for this project is only a tiny
expression of my experience which is as complex as it is difficult to define.
The verities of the materials speak to the endless cycle of care. Using different
media allowed me to work through different emotions. Clay, plaster, charcoal,
acrylic, wood, cloth, nails, lime, pigments among others learned to coexist.
There are no words and there are no colors to represent the
tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease and the impact it has on people providing care.
But no matter what the subject is, for an artist, good form comes first.
Without a good form there is no content.
This show is a resolution: to decline to be a hero and
refuse to be a victim. Every piece contributed to my process of releasing
strong, repressed emotions as a caregiver, as a daughter-in-law and as a wife.
Preparation for this show provided relief and served as catharsis of all the
struggle and frustration.