Intro from Jay Allison: I don’t want to say too much about Matthew Blanchard’s story, because its strength is in the unraveling. Here’s what producer Helena Keeffe says about its genesis.“I first met Matthew in the spring of 2008 when I was a visiting artist teaching printmaking workshops at Laguna Honda Hospital (LHH) in San Francisco. Many of the residents are elderly and suffering from some form of dementia. Matthew stood out both because of his youth and clarity of mind. He wore a face-mask, got around in in a wheelchair and was obviously in recovery from some kind of procedure. He pulled me aside as people were leaving on the final day and asked me if I’d be interested in making some kind of art project based on the healing process he was going through. At this point he revealed what was behind the mask…”Helena worked with Matthew to tell his own story in drawings and sound. From a production standpoint, the story couldn’t be simpler. But it will stick with you.
I first met Matthew in the spring of 2008 when I was a visiting artist teaching printmaking workshops at Laguna Honda Hospital (LHH) in San Francisco. LHH is the city’s long term care facility. Many of the residents are elderly and suffering from some form of dementia. Matthew stood out both because of his youth and clarity of mind. He wore a face-mask, got around in in a wheelchair and was obviously in recovery from some kind of procedure. I never knew much more than that during our time in the workshops. He also stood out as a skilled artist.
At the end our our six week long workshop Matthew was getting ready to be discharged from the hospital. He pulled me aside as people were leaving on the final day and asked me if I’d be interested in making some kind of art project based on the healing process he was going through. At this point he revealed what was behind the mask, a face undergoing dramatic transformation through a series of surgeries. When we first met he’d already undergone a couple of surgeries and as I write this he is recovering from his ninth. I was honored that he trusted me enough to show me his face – he had never taken his mask off during the workshops. I also felt daunted by the idea of making ‘art’ from this very heavy story. I had ethical concerns about what it would mean for me take his very personal experience and try to express it through my art practice. What I ended up proposing was that we make some kind of collaboration. It was obvious that he wanted to share his story and working together felt like the best way to approach it.
At the very beginning of our collaboration I asked Matthew to articulate what his goals were for this project. His response made a lot of sense to me. He said that he wanted to use art as a way to come to terms with his new appearance. We began by making drawings – portraits of him before and after the incident. We also took lots of photos and continue to do so before and after every surgery. In addition, we recorded his story in the form of audio interviews.
At the beginning of our work together Matthew and I were meeting once a week – making drawings, taking photos, etc. There were times when he was extremely depressed and struggling with illness and addiction. In addition to being his artistic collaborator I became a part of his support network in some small way, getting him out of the house for walks when he was too depressed to work and occasionally providing a shoulder to cry on. As time has passed I have seen him overcome incredible difficulty. He successfully completed a treatment program to help him kick meth addiction and is now comfortable enough with his appearance to have posted several of our photos on the web along with prolific blog postings about his progress through the surgeries. The more I get to know Matthew the more impressed I am by his resilience and his commitment to being a leader in AIDS and addiction advocacy in the face of his challenges.
It takes resilience and commitment to face difficult challenges.
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The interview was recorded at Matthew’s kitchen table with a Shure Beta 87A and a Marantz PMD 660. Editing was done in Logic Express. So far I have decided not to use music, mostly because I’m new to this form and overwhelmed at the thought of it! The subject matter is very sensitive and I’m nervous about overpowering the story with music, or choosing something that will feel trivializing. I am open to suggestions from the Transom community.