Born from the deeply personal journey of accompanying their partner through cancer treatment, treatments offers a poignant exploration set against the repetitive landscape of clinical environments. This art project delves into the ritualistic and often sterile spaces of medical care, juxtaposing them with art that serves as both a salve and a distraction from the profound gravity of the experience. Featuring a series of subtly manipulated photographs, a two-channel video installation, and an artist book, it highlights the stark yet hopeful interplay between healthcare settings and the art that inhabits them.
In 2019, my partner was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As I accompanied her to consultations, tests, and treatments I found myself considering the spaces in which the clinical met the individual. The hallways, waiting areas, and examination rooms were a pastiche of industrial wall coatings, clinical equipment, and artworks. In particular I was struck by the artworks that had been selected for display, often copies of well-known master works and pastoral scenes, placed into nearly identical serial cubicles. These visual spaces were meant to distract and calm and yet, I could only reflect on the fact that that was their purpose. All this while contemplating the unimaginable.
The process of dealing with a cancer diagnosis and the resulting responses led to early consultations, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in Chicago, Evanston, and Milwaukee. As the treatments continued, we navigated COVID within the medical establishment, which brought an enhanced sense of isolation and distance. At their most strict, the COVID protocols forced my partner to go to day-long treatments alone. However, in most cases, I was able to accompany her to consultations with her doctors as critical treatment decisions and test results were discussed.
A year later, after a recurrence of disease, the family relocated to Los Angeles, CA so my partner could join a clinical trial. New classes of institutions were mapped into our lives and are reflected in the project. In the summer of 2021, after nine months, and what seemed like significant health gains, the family returned to Chicago and soon thereafter, my partner entered hospice care.
I returned to these images last year with a renewed interest in what they meant to me not only throughout the lengthy illness, but also what they had come to mean to me now. Predominantly depicting images of natural landscapes, often depicting humankind’s place within it, I have darkened the images themselves as a means to create tension between the built environment and the art on display. It is hard to escape that these clinical spaces are designed for an unending series of medical rituals; tests, treatments, and hard conversations.
Recreating the space of encounter with these artworks in a gallery exhibition, mounted on and integrated into assemblages, the walls shift and are contorted, simultaneously representing the distortionate emotional weight of the experience, while also signaling the impossibility of reliving it through the promise these artworks seem to hold out hope of delivering. In this way, Treatments draw back the curtain on the process of the more realistic depiction of the experience, becoming art; while the depicted artworks emphasize the return to nature, promising palliative moments of a brighter place, a happier time, they are now eclipsed by a reality they can no longer address.
Special thanks to Lucas Ryan for image editing assistance and Latitude Chicago for photo printing.
In the spring of 2023 we published a book titled treatments.
An anthology based on the Treatments 2019 / 2023 photographic series by Rappaport, made to accompany the 2022 exhibition at Material Gallery, and as a stand-alone anthology of artistic meditations on spousal loss and grief. The volume includes an essay by Michael Workman, with poetry collections “The Well: Grief Poems,” by Rachel J. Webster, and Josh Honn’s “We Fall: Migration.”
Mat Rappaport’s Treatments 2019-2023 is a deeply personal poetic meditation on illness, institutional space, and loss, documenting a body of photographic and installation works created over a two year timespan.
“This book collects some of the most challenging work I have made, and while difficult, it is a privilege to share and put it out in the world.” says Rappaport. “Treatments detail my observations of institutional spaces while navigating my partner’s experience with cancer. The journey coincided with our shared trauma of covid, during which she endured surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles.”
“I know readers will be enthralled with this as a photography collection.” says Bridge Books publisher Michael Workman. “It recalls for me the institutional documentation of Mary Ellen Marks’ Ward 81, the objects of the institutional space captured here in a way only glimpsed between the frames in that artist’s series, which were mostly portraits. A perfectly tidy lunch tray and salt shaker here become the silver half-dome security mirror, the errant red wall outlet alongside the waiting room portraits of the art framed and hung for patients, often with messages of perseverance or similar up-lifting message. “
View the full press release here.
In Spring 2023, treatments was shown at Material Exhibitions in Chicago.
In December of 2020, this body of work became part of the Midwest Photographers Project at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago.