Finnegan Shannon, Mentally I’m Here 2 (2022). Image courtesy the artist.
Mentally I’m Here is a series of photographic images of tissue box covers: a house, a bed, and a couch, made by Finnegan Shannon from vintage cross-stitch kits purchased second-hand from online vendors. As objects Shannon often turns to during times of sickness and sadness, they began crafting these tissue box kits, particularly throughout the course of the pandemic, as they provided a planned and structured creative platform amidst uncertainty, destabilization, and grief. Each box offers a sense of softness, pleasure, and presence with a touch of silliness, providing comfort and a means to reflect amidst collective and individual moments of depression, catastrophe, and loss.
Photographed from Shannon's apartment using what was immediately available – often from bed using a phone camera – these images represent acts of both care and caretaking. Tissue boxes are typically interacted with daily, but are also turned to in times of sickness and sadness, with even further collective connotations in the context of a global pandemic. Domestic spaces and objects such as the bed, the couch, and the house suddenly took on broadened significance and resonance due to perpetual lockdowns and enforced isolation for the general public. However, it is important to note these representations of domestic space are nothing new for the disability community or those experiencing chronic illness. Take for instance the poem, “I know crips live here” by Leah Lakashmi Poepzna-Samarasinha. Further to this, these photos ask us to reflect on connection and solidarity from this perspective. Where is the sense of solidarity, or “we’re all in this together” today? As so many have purported to have moved on from the pandemic, eager to return to a sense of “normalcy”, those who are immuno-compromised are left with the question, Solidarity with whom?
Framed by Shannon's handwriting with dichotomous phrases such as “Big absence, small presence”, “Big loss, small softness”, and “Big depression, small pleasure”, the images take on a melancholy quality that is anchored in conversations around disability and ableism by mirroring such domestic interior spaces of comfort but complicating their context of comfort by holding space for grief, frustration, and disenchantment.
As a subtle nod to “mentally I’m here” memes, which touch on collective dispositions of facetious dissociation and ironic responses to the current conditions of labour and social practice, the images use collective, harmless, and identifiable kitsch objects with a sense of nostalgia as a way to both visually and conceptually engage various audiences. By situating themselves gently in this contemporary moment, the images ask: where do we go from here?
This installation has been commissioned in the lead up to CAFKA’s next biennial exhibition of public art in Waterloo Region, Stay With Me, June 3 – July 22, 2023. Continuing conversations from the previous biennial, CAFKA’s next public art exhibition, Stay with me is guided by a declarative, yet vulnerable and tender invitation that beckons us to pause, reflect and come together–not only around the discourses, ruptures and speculative possibilities in the artworks presented–but also with each other. Stay with me… cultivates reciprocity for the individual and collective–offering public platforms, with and without words, while advocating for acts of care, accountability and learning/unlearning in community with one another. Shannon's installations respond to and engage with the exhibition theme by drawing particular attention to different modes of connection and solidarity throughout the pandemic, demonstrating what can be learned from the disability community around engaging with the complexities of domesticity, health, and care in ways that are both compassionate and critical.
Finnegan Shannon is an artist. They experiment with forms of access that intervene in ableist structures with humor, earnestness, and rage. Some of their recent work includes Anti-Stairs Club Lounge, an ongoing project that gathers people together who share an aversion to stairs; Alt Text as Poetry, a collaboration with Bojana Coklyat that explores the expressive potential of image description; and Do You Want Us Here or Not, a series of benches and cushions designed for exhibition spaces. They have done projects with Banff Centre, Queens Museum, the High Line, MMK Frankfurt, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, and Nook Gallery. Their work has been supported by a Wynn Newhouse Award, an Eyebeam residency, and grants from Art Matters Foundation and The Canada Council for the Arts. Their work has been written about in Art in America, BOMB Magazine, and the New York Times. They live and work in Brooklyn, NY.