This is one of the many plaster pieces that I made from the leftover artifacts.

THE AFTERMATH OF ACCUMULATIONS

By Jaclyn Mednicov
Jaclyn Mednicov is a Chicago based artist, whose work combines painting, photography, collage and installation. She has studied at Parsons School of Design in NYC, University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and has her BFA from University of Kansas and MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Jaclyn has taught at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Carthage College. She has also attended residencies at Vermont Studio Center and the Ragdale Foundation. Her work has been exhibited in nationally recognized galleries including Mixed Greens Gallery, NYC; The Painting Center, NYC; Northern Illinois University Art Museum, Dekalb, IL; Paris London Hong Kong, Chicago, and her work has been published in New American Paintings in the NE edition.
Jaclyn's website is: https://www.jaclynmednicov.com/
The Aftermath of Accumulations

After several years of being a painter, I decided that trying to capture my ideas on canvas with paint wasn’t working anymore. I left New York City for a month to attend the Vermont Studio Center for an art residency.

When I arrived back in New York with fresh eyes, I found myself photographing the detritus and piles of discarded materials on the streets and sidewalks. The imagery and materials began to seep into my art, and I started thinking about the aftermath of accumulations. Why do we collect some things and throw others away over the course of a lifetime? And what happens to these belongings when we die?

My interest in the accumulation of material objects increased during a visit to an abandoned Minneapolis steel scrap yard, late in 2012. There I found piles of car parts, massive tangles of wire, and old rusty scraps. There seemed to be an impractical order to the chaos, and I collected hundreds of images from the scrapyard and brought them into my studio. For the first time in years, I began using photo transfers, collage, and sculpture. It felt more natural to work with materials from the physical world. I’d always been attracted to sites of demolition and detritus, and I began to ask why.

This is a collaged image transfer from photos I took at the scrapyard.

I had a fortunate upbringing. My parents had a healthy marriage. I had a sister and two brothers, a dog, a nice home, nice clothes, nice everything. But at times, there was tension I couldn’t quite understand.

Death came to our family when I was five. First, it was my grandmother (emphysema), then my grandfather (pancreatic cancer), then my other grandfather (prostate cancer), and finally, my aunt’s suicide, all before I was eighteen.

MAKING ART COULDN’T EVEN PULL ME OUT OF THE DARKNESS.

At sixteen, my dad was diagnosed with lymphoma, and I was certain he was going to join my aunt and grandparents. I was wrong. His cancer went into remission for the next ten years. He had the same cancer a total of three times throughout his adulthood. Life with him was always like that—a big unexpected explosion would happen, then we moved on until it happened again.

This wasn’t the case in 2007, when my mom discovered, over the course of a few months, that my dad had a gambling addiction. He had accumulated an irremediable amount of debt, and their home was going into foreclosure. After 36 years of marriage, my parents divorced. And my world crumbled.

Everything I thought I understood about life felt destroyed. When I wasn’t working, all I could do was lie in bed, eat watermelon and edamame, and think about my parents. Making art couldn’t even pull me out of the darkness.

My dad wanted nothing more than to keep his marriage, family, and 30-year-old pizza business intact. But it was too late. He moved out of the house and slept in various places—his car, his office floor, and, finally, a small apartment. Mom stayed in the house for about a year, until the bank kicked her out. She moved into a smaller house down the street from our old family home, and I moved back to Chicago, from New York, to help out. Dad was then diagnosed with lymphoma again, along with Parkinson’s disease. At times, he threatened suicide. My sibling couldn’t cope, but I took him to Gamblers Anonymous and worked towards forgiving him for jeopardizing our family.

I EVOLVED FROM THE ROLE OF DAUGHTER TO THE ROLE OF CAREGIVER.

A couple of years later, Dad was again diagnosed with cancer. This time, as it was esophageal, it was not curable. The doctors shared the news with me first, even before telling my dad, since I was his emergency contact. But how do you tell someone you love that they have only six to nine months to live? I couldn’t do it. Instead, I told my siblings and Mom, and we went to another doctor for a second opinion.

The second opinion did little to improve Dad’s condition. The chemotherapy didn’t work. I evolved from the role of daughter to the role of caregiver. My dad often called me crying in pain. More times than I can count, I had to call an ambulance and spend the night in the emergency room. Then one night, exhausted, I didn’t answer his call. That was the night he went into the ICU.

When I finally received news from the doctor, I didn’t leave Dad’s side until he went from the ICU to his final days in hospice care. I did everything I could to comfort him—slept by his side, rubbed his head, gave him a water-soaked sponge lollypop for hydration, and played his favorite Barbra Streisand album.

After his first night in hospice, he stopped opening his eyes, speaking, and eating. He would squeeze my hand when I spoke to him. The nurse told me that hearing is the last sense to go before dying.

In the middle of the night, he awoke screaming from pain and fear (apparently, this is common as people transition from life to death). My brother, who hadn’t spoken to him in five years, came to visit. Everyone in the family had forgiven him. And the only person not by his side when he died was Mom, and not by choice—she had a heart attack the day before he passed away.

NOT ONLY WAS THE PROCESS A WAY OF DEALING WITH THE PHYSICAL DEBRIS LEFT BEHIND, BUT ALSO A MEANS OF RELIEVING THE LAYERS OF EMOTIONAL WEIGHT I CARRIED WITH ME.

Upon his death, I transitioned from the role of caregiver to the role of mourner. I had the responsibility of handling his estate and belongings. The estate was comprised of myriad debts, debris, and dreams. I was the curator of his clothing, paperwork, and tangles of unspoken truths. My father found value in things many would consider trivial. For example, growing up he would have my siblings and I dumpster-dive to collect restaurant menus and any other clues to his competitor’s business practices. He had saved everything for over 30 years, and as I reconstituted the stacks, I began to value the personal items as his, as ours, as mine. I began to use these items in my art process. Coupons from my father's financially distressed restaurant and old clothing were stand-ins for the memories left behind.

I spent many nights caring for my dad in his apartment and discovered his habits of hoarding. While he was with my mother, the items were kept tidy, and I didn’t really notice the stacks of books, magazines, business cards, papers, etc. I took these remnants of my dad’s life and embedded them in plaster. I liked the idea of burying these items that no longer had any use. These pieces became artifacts of my dad and leftovers of what once had been.
My dad lived for fishing. I inherited three full tackle boxes, but the best item was the cozy pair of socks that I still wear. They needed to be super warm for his annual fishing trips to Canada. I found metaphors for life and death in my dad’s belongings. This fishing lure is attractive, yet painful to touch; I was interested in the way the beautiful and painful, sweet and sour, could coexist in one object, the way they do in life.

After days of grieving and trying to figure a way out of the dark, I began to make even more art. It was cathartic to use my dad’s belongings in my artwork. Not only was the process a way of dealing with the physical debris left behind, but also a means of relieving the layers of emotional weight I carried with me.

I used remnants of check receipts my dad left behind and reassembled the paper into small “paintings.” Perhaps this was a way to create order out of feeling disorder or to confront my loss in a way that kept me moving forward.
The materials in this piece are my dad’s socks and checks. I used gold thread to sew the remnants together. I found relaxation in cutting apart items that were so personal to my dad, such as socks and private documents, and then threading them back together again. It is a way of mending by way of beauty.
I wanted to get rid of the layers left behind. The bills, debts, and other paperwork that caused so much tension toward the end. I embedded these papers in plaster to bury them, finally putting to rest the feelings I had about these things. It was cathartic.

What are we supposed to do with the items of a deceased loved one? They often come with memories of emotions that we hold—grief, anger, happiness, betrayal. It can feel almost impossible to process these leftovers. Creating art from them helped. But the grieving didn’t end overnight. It took weeks, maybe years, to stop the tears. Playing Barbra Streisand albums on repeat, I made something from the material objects he had left behind, and my interest in the aftermath of accumulations finally made sense to me.

My recent work has undertones of loss, but it is no longer directly about my father or my family. Everyone deals with loss at some point in their life, whether it is the loss of a loved one or even a memory. My process has become more involved, and I’m curious how other people deal with loss. My photographs are still of detritus, but also memorials and marks that I find around the city.

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