Visualizing Chronic Pain and its Side Effects (2013)

Carrie C Firman and Ellen Rogers 
Edgewood College Gallery November 21, 2013 - January 23, 2014 

Click here to view the interactive image gallery.



Disclosure documents the losses and changes in our lives caused by mysterious, painful illness and its far-reaching effects. Chronic pain affects about 100 million Americans, young, old, healthy, active, disabled, male, female, and everything in between (1), invisible but everywhere. Answers about causes, treatments, and cures are elusive, leaving many people in pain undertreated or untreated.

“But you look fine.”

“I get back aches sometimes too.”

“You should exercise more.”

Well meant but unhelpful platitudes from families, friends, and even doctors emphasize our isolation and depress, rather than elevate, our spirits. Perhaps it is no surprise that chronic pain saps our relationships as well as our bodies. As a statistical group, our relationships fail 75% of the time, far more than average(2). We battle a barrage of symptoms besides pain and are often forced to choose between pharmaceutical side effects or a fractional relief of pain. We are tired, forever and most always.

What if we could see pain in the body, not just rely on subjective self-reporting? What if pain was visually arresting, like blood seeping from a wound? Would this produce more empathy or more medical investigation or treatment?

What if we assembled and classified all of the objects that represented the activities and parts of life from which we have had to abandon due to our physical discomfort? Could this Museum of Loss communicate the way pain, fatigue, and chronic illness erodes one’s way of life in a more relatable way?

Disclosure aims to do one of the most frustrating jobs of all: describing the bigger picture of chronic pain. For the artists in this exhibition, our symptoms began without warning, cause, or family history in early adulthood. Pain and perseverance, sacrifice and self-evaluation, agony and adjustment, and hopelessness and humor cycle continuously as we cope, adjust, give up, and move on again and again. We have little idea of how we will feel tomorrow, much less next year – there is no end or relief in sight. Through this artwork, we seek visibility and understanding.   

(1) Institute of Medicine of the National Academies Report 
(2) National Health Interview Survey, Chronic Illness

Click here to view the interactive image gallery.