Matthew

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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.

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Listen to “Matthew”

About Matthew

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.

Before image
‘Before’ by Matthew Blanchard

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.

After image
‘After’ by Matthew Blanchard

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.

Tech Notes

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.

 


Additional Support for this work provided by
National Endowment for the Arts logo

Helena Keeffe

About
Helena Keeffe

Helena Keeffe is an artist living in Oakland, CA. Her first exposure to the power of interviewing was a set of tapes made by the Wisconsin Historical Society chronicling her grandfather's survival of Nazi persecution during WWII. The common thread in her work as an artist is not her choice of media but rather a deep interest in people and the overlooked stories of everyday life. More often than not, her work exists outside of traditional exhibition spaces and is positioned within specific social contexts, such as a series of posters along Market Street in San Francisco featuring illustrated maps of city bus routes complete with interview excerpts, illustrations of route details and bus driver portraits. In 2008 she created a series of events for the City of San Jose as a temporary renovation of the Robert F. Kennedy memorial in St. James Park. More recently she created textiles in collaboration with residents of Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco from which scrubs and pillowcases were made for use in the hospital. She is co-owner of Alula Editions with Amber Cady.

Matthew Blanchard

About
Matthew Blanchard

Matthew Blanchard lives and works in San Francisco. He received a BA in 2002 from the College of William and Mary where he majored in French Literature and Theater. From 1999 - 2001 he studied Performance and French Language at L'Universite de Paris X - Nanterre. While in Paris he also attended workshops led by Wu Xing Quo and Arianne Mnouchkine of the Theatre du Soleil. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of Bay Area Young Positives and has served as Board Associate of Communications & Design for International Professional Partnerships for Sierra Leone, Inc. since January 8, 2009. If you would like to be in touch with Matthew regarding his story, he requests that you contact Helena Keeffe who will pass correspondence along to him.

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  • Ronan Kelly

    4.07.10

    Reply
    Matthew

    Great piece – thank you for putting it up.

    The San Francisco sequence may have benefitted from some cutting – the pace slowed around then.

    I know you say you don’t want to use music, but it might be interesting to hear another structure using music under some of his comments and none under others.

    For example, to tell two stories in parallel: the story of his life and the story of his self-image (with some differentiating music, perhaps). When he’s talking about drooling, he’s slightly closer on-mic and it could be an internal conversation removed from the interview.

    While the story of his life is engaging, the story of how you judge yourself by your image, well told, would be really compelling for the listener.

    The dark room at the bath-house, the self-affirmation by learning to play roles all great material that could be used to this end.

    Again, congrats to you and Matthew and thank you for sharing it with us.

    Ronan Kelly, Dublin, Ireland

  • Tara E Anderson

    4.07.10

    Reply
    No Music

    My opinion would be: no music. Matthew tells his story simply, and his voice is so compelling that I think music would be distracting and possibly too editorial. The voice is the focus here – he is expressive, and raw, and we can hear him smiling and looking off into the distance as he remembers things in the past. I would keep the focus on the voice.

    Beautiful piece. Thanks to you both.

    Tara Anderson
    Louisville, KY

  • Kimberley Rome

    4.07.10

    Reply
    Thank you.

    WOW. I can only respond as a human. I am so moved by the bittersweet beauty of this piece that I cannot even get up from my chair. The whole fulcrum on which it turns is when Matthew attests to his intrinsic beauty. This piece is a testament to the power of radio storytelling. There is something so much more intimate in hearing him in the mind’s ear (I agree — no music), even as I view the pictures simultaneously. (As an aside, I am wondering if Matthew has read Lucy Grealy’s book, Autobiography of a Face? — and followed up with Anne Patchett’s, Truth and Beauty… )
    Thank you for this piece of work, Thanks to Matthew for his vulnerable strength. I am moved.

  • Helena Keeffe

    4.08.10

    Reply
    Great Feedback

    Thanks to all of you for your feedback, it is invaluable. I’m so grateful to have a new forum for this work and to hear responses from those of you in the field. I will share these comments with Matthew as well, I know he will appreciate them. I am glad to hear that the choice of no music is working for most. It does feel like the right choice at the moment. I look forward to hearing from others as well.

    Warmly,

    Helena

  • sam greenspan

    4.12.10

    Reply
    re:

    You and Matthew have crafted an excellent piece. I agree that in its current state it doesn’t need music, but you could try using a little light or ambient music to break up scenes. This story is really gripping and affecting, and it might give your listener a bit of a breather in between some very heavy subject matter. It just depends on what you’re looking for your piece to evoke.

    For me, part of the reason why this works without music is because of his voice. From the way that he speaks, breaths, and swallows, we can tell that something is up, and the affect of his voice in conjunction with his story makes us want to hold on and keep listening, even in the absence of any background music or ambient sound.

    best,
    sam
    dc

  • Sydney Lewis

    4.20.10

    Reply

    Helena,

    Strongly feel that music would detract more than it would add. But did you try playing around with music at any point?

    How involved was Matthew in the editing? How did he respond to the final draft and transom page?

    Thanks for your fine work…

  • Krissa Palmer

    5.03.10

    Reply

    I thought the piece didn’t need music, but I do like the idea of some sort of ambient sound used a few times in the piece to give the listener a chance to take it all in. I think Matthew is an amazingly courageous person and I applaud his willingness to take off his mask. Thank you for sharing this piece.

  • tocologne

    1.07.11

    Reply
    very moving

    Matthew’s story is very compelling and moving. This piece left a great impression with me. It will stay with me for a long time. Good luck to Matthew and thank you for sharing this story.

  • Dao

    8.26.11

    Reply

    I listened prior to viewing your entire program site. Matthew’s voice and words held me captive the entire time. The way he described his surgery and face, had me feeling scared at the thought of seeing him! Radio is such a strong medium because with only sound and no imagery my mind just filled in the rest so I was scared of the unseen Matthew.

    Afterward, I scrolled down and read about the background then was actually surprised and impressed that Matthew’s photo was there! And he was smiling!

    Matthew: I commend you on your courage to share yourself with others. I hope this has brought you much closer to your healing. Even after your loss your spirit still shines through. It was more than your voice that captures listeners, it’s the colorful way you told your story and the feeling behind the words.

    Helena: Well done for a first piece! I think that you did an excellent job on the editing. The entire piece was compact yet captured the essence of who Matthew was and is. Basically telling someone’s life story in a few comprehensive, gripping minutes is very impressive.

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