In the exhibition, Sensory Paradox: An Artist’s Experience with Multiple Sclerosis artist Sarah Richter candidly displays what life is like living with Multiple Sclerosis. The exhibit features works that use video, audio, and physical touch to give viewers a terrifyingly beautiful look into the harsh realities of these symptoms. Reaching this end point wasn't easy, as describing the symptoms of MS can be incredibly difficult to define, but Richter took this challenge and found unique and beautiful ways to elicit the surreal realities of living with this complicated condition.
"Trying to recreate these experiences was a challenging task, but I thought the end result felt really similar to my experiences. These changes had another level of complication, as well, because the symptoms themselves were not only very painful physically, they were also really beautiful and inspiring. It's led me to question reality beyond our physical limitations." Richter, Sarah. (2016, May 25). Email Interview.
One of the videos featured in the exhibit titled Sight Distortions, is a trippy visual journey through the forest. The sequence is an incredibly dreamlike experience as the walls of reality melt in and out as you venture further into Richter's world. Another piece titled Fatigue is a video of a fully clothed man immersed in water, which instantly elicits constrictive feelings of struggle and helplessness. One can imagine trying to run through water, or what the world looks like when your vision is unexplainably blurred and altered. Many sufferers of MS find that one of the most difficult aspects to the disease is the inability to explain what the symptoms are like to friends and loved ones, but through Richter's audio and visual work, viewers are instantly able to imaging, sympathize, and appreciate the realities of living with these symptoms.
"I thought about how much these symptoms changed my perception and interaction with the world, and then asked how I could recreate an experience of those symptoms. It's a really complicated subject, because there's a lot of uncertainty with MS. Symptoms come and go and change over time. Part of this project was not only conveying these symptoms, but also facilitate a dialogue about dealing with these uncertainties and making sense of a new reality." Richter, Sarah. (2016, May 25). Email Interview.
In one of Richter's audio-focused pieces featured in the exhibit titled Audible Departures, the artist takes original sounds and alters them into a distorted representation that elicits the challenging realities of dealing with the hearing related symptoms of MS. A participant speaks into a 3D printed device, and that audio is then distorted and outputted through a headphone on the other end. Again, Richter explains how difficult it can be to describe these types of complicated reactions that occur within one's mind, but through the use of digital art, she is able to share her uniquely tragic realities of coping with the audible symptoms of MS.
"The experience of the sound is a haunting distant echo; muffled, atmospheric, strange and beautiful. The sounds subtly alternate between different types of distortions, identifying loss of hearing, tinnitus, sensitivity, and confusion when processing multiple sounds." Richter, Sarah. (2016, May 25). Email Interview
There is a common theme throughout Richter's exhibit - a dreamlike state in which reality is a vicious antagonist that has the ability to challenge the normalities of life and reality itself. Richter incredibly spins the difficulties of living with MS into something beautiful and cathartic. Through the use of digital art, Richter finds solace through the rewarding ability to share the realities of her symptoms with others. And although the work is meant to help non-sufferers better understand what living with the disease is like, the work proves to be most affective for fellow MS sufferers. When visiting Richters exhibit at the Childrens Hospital, numerous people who live with MS approached Richter and avidly thanked her for taking on the challenging task of physically depicting the symptoms of MS. A couple of them in tears, as they explained to Richter how hard it is for them to explain their struggles to friends and family, and what an incredible job she has done - defining these symptoms in an artistic and visceral fashion. What Richter has accomplished with Sensory Paradox is a genuine example of the power and value of digital art.
"Digital art seemed to be the most effective and immersive way of communicating the content of this installation. In my experience of living with Multiple Sclerosis, I have found it to be a fluid and dynamic process. It is a fluctuating landscape with effects that are negative, positive and often unexpected. I wanted to create an experience that reflects this world that's incredibly difficult to describe. Invisible symptoms of MS are so challenging to convey in words." Richter, Sarah. (2016, May 25). Email Interview
A similar project to Sensory Paradox, is also a direct influence of Richter's work. Anne Hamilton's installation The Event of a Thread was a user driven interactive experience were participants could enter the large space and interact with the dreamlike devises and visual depictions of reality. The main piece of the exhibit featured a humongous flowing sheetlike fabric that was constantly changing its cloud-like form. Participants could lay underneath or sit on a giant swings connected to the flowing fabric and be instantly transported to a dreamlike state. This work relates and influences Richter's exhibit as an interactive user-driven experience that serves as a connection to the surreal mind of an artist.
The last relatable project to Richter's work is also another direct influence for the artist. Bill Viola's project titled Tristan's Ascension is a gorgeous performance/video piece that features the artist laying on his back, immersed in a flowing waterfall, ascending to a higher realm. The dreamlike state of the work is a very similar experience to Richter's Fatigue - the restricting power of water and its power to transform our state of consciousness within reality. Although water restricts, it also the ability to provide freedom and weightlessness, this dichotomy of the elements is a vital example of eliciting difficult concepts in a beautifully artistic form.
Sarah Richter's Sensory Paradox was featured at The Art Gallery - Fulginiti Pavilion for Bioethics and Humanities for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
"Sensory Paradox is proudly supported by the Rocky Mountain MS Center, a patient- and family-centered local nonprofit organization that provides a comprehensive and integrated wellness approach to MS, life-changing support services, and cutting-edge research. The MS Center’s mission is to improve the quality of life of individuals and their families living with MS and related neurological diseases through care, support, education and research. For more information, please visit mscenter.org." Exhibit Brochure (December 10, 2015) ucdenver.edu