Packing Up 

 Packing Up is a two-channel video installation that consists of a 8' by 12'  wall of cardboard packing boxes that divide the gallery into two spaces, a large "outside" space and a smaller more intimate "inside" space.  The video projection inside depicts what’s going on internally, inside the body— cancer is figured as a pair of talking hands, an image both familiar and foreign.   Cancer speaks with the voice of a child- a living piece of you that is blithely destructive and grows increasingly willful and independent.   Like young children, the "desires" of cancer are few, it simply wants to live and to grow but its demands are great.  

The video projection on the outside of the box wall consists of a set of four movements, each a one-sided conversational snippet between a terminally ill patient and his son.   

This piece emerged as a response to my  father's recent cancer diagnosis.

Cancer is no joke.  Neither is confronting one’s own mortality.  The seriousness of these two frightening realities however, doesn’t prevent them from being ironic:  As we sicken and age we become increasingly preoccupied with health.  The closer we approach death the more reflective and conscious we become of life. 

Cancer is the most ironic of all.  Tumor cells are not foreign organisms or outside invaders.  These aggressors are inseparable from their victim, parts of the very same body engaged in the very same biological processes of division and growth  that are required to keep the body alive. The difference between cancer cells and healthy cells is that cancer cells no longer “listen” to the body, growing and dividing in uncontrolled and unregulated ways. This creates an organism that both is and is not its host, an unruly life form increasingly independent and destructive to the bodily order.  In Packing Up I have given cancer the voice of a child.  This is not meant to be an easy or cynical comparison.  Children are not cancer.  However events as wildly different as raising a family or succumbing to cancer can serve as potent reminders that as human beings our fate, both in life and in death, is to become more than ourselves.


Production Notes:

  • The radio signals and channel tuning are meant to reference memory and also represent the often desperate desire to connect to someone or something beyond ourselves. When I was very young my father was a ham radio operator.  I remember listening to his Transoceanic shortwave for hours when he wasn't home.  There was always something exhilarating yet profoundly sad in eavesdropping on those mysterious transmissions.  In the process of working on this project, my dad's ham  radio "handle" or call letters, which I hadn't thought of of heard in over 35 years, came came floating back to me.
  • The sine wave is a visual representation of the radio signals but is also recalls hospital monitors.
  • In the second movement that deals with denial, the object that is placed behind the box wall is a molecular model of nicotine.
  • In the cancer video I attempted to evoke the kind of earnestness and naivety characteristic of elementary school productions and silent film melodramas.
  • Voice talent: Lucy Arrigo, additional camera work: Melinda Wagner Arrigo

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