Initiated by my Daughter’s severe Childhood Apraxia of Speech, a large part of the journey this work has taken me on has been about communication. Through the use of symbols and sign language, we have learned to understand each other better, but there are still large gaps to be filled in, particularly around more subtle or complex desires and ideas that she has no way of expressing. This has been a huge challenge for her self-advocacy efforts, and often ends in tears and stomping fits that I find myself ill-equipped to diffuse. But the experience has helped me come to appreciate how much the able-bodied world takes for granted, and how little we appreciate the uphill battle that is experienced by the disabled. Every. Single. Day.
Ona’s communication board using Tobii Dynavox Compass software on a tablet.
After a while, these kinds of battles have a way of defining who we are, steeling us against adversity, sometimes becoming a wellspring of hope, sometimes making us callous from wear. Beginning with symbols used on laminated sheets, and progressing to using assistive technology to get her wants and needs across, the process of distilling words down to visual symbols that transcend the structure of the English language has opened my mind to more abstract ideas about how meaning is derived. Much of the information we receive and interpret every day is based on symbolic systems – think emojis, traffic signs, Ikea assembly instructions. Each of these systems evolved organically from symbolic precedents like alchemical notation, runes and even oral storytelling traditions where the pith of the tale has been encoded in symbol.
Remnants of dead languages: protective and healing charms written in Ogham.
I’ve never been much of a linguist, but as I’ve come to recognize the wealth of visual languages operating in the background of my consciousness every day, I’ve overcome the mental block that disallowed the acquisition of new language. This has allowed me to learn more complex hand signs, and strangely, an offshoot of this has been to be able to equate other systems of writing and symbolic notation in my imagination. I am learning to dissect and extrapolate visual codes that I’m then trying to modify and reassemble for use in my artwork. Beginning with borrowed languages like Ogham, Futhark and witches’ notation, I’m looking to create my own visual vocabulary that, like unicode, can be roughly interpreted by anyone, anywhere.
The Icelandic Stave Vegvisir: “If this sign is carried, one will never lose one’s way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known.”
While the origins of this pursuit are something I would never wish on anyone, I feel blessed to have been selected to grapple with this challenge, as it has become one of the defining experiences of my life. To me, the logical next step in working with signs, symbols and intent was to make the leap to creating talismans and amulets. At first, to place a protective bubble around my child, to give focus and strength to myself and my family to be able to help her in the ways she needs us to. But then, reflecting on past experiences working with issues of hunger, housing, healthcare and education – it made sense to me to start trying to formulate these kinds of willful objects for others seeking to attract desires or repel adversity in their own lives.