Artist Fawn Rogers has shown her paintings, photographs and conceptual installations in art galleries and corporate headquarters all around the world. Her work has expanded to fill the walls of international airports and even the facades of tall buildings of Times Square, New York, where it was viewed by thousands of passers by at a time. In the last year or so, however, she has embarked on an artistic project that lacks the glamour and prestige of many of her exhibitions, but is surely profoundly impacting the lives and the spirits of the handful of people who are able to see it. In late 2014, she installed several large custom made paintings from her "Visible Light" series in the Alexandria Care Center, a convalescent home for Medicaid patients in Hollywood. Her aim is to bring nature into an environment associated with loneliness, isolation and death.
Much of Rogers' recent work has been about human connection. Her video installation, "I Love You And That Makes Me God" explores the themes of identity, power and the embodiment of love. Rogers filmed a broad range of individuals, including celebrities, homeless individuals, academics, convicted criminals and victims, humanitarians, inventors, athletes, and a Native American tribal chief, each saying the phrase, "I Love You And That Makes Me God." According to Rogers, "The work is not concerned with the categorization of Love and God, but explores the proximity of Identity to these themes." As each person looks directly into the camera while uttering these powerful words, an intimate connection is created for a moment between the viewer and the subject. While filming, Rogers talked with the each of the subjects and included clips of these conversations in a separate interactive section of the exhibition. The idea of the installation is to explore public and private dialogue while encountering the concept of belief, and the unconscious frequency with which it surfaces. As well as these filming these intimate videos, Rogers took this work into the streets, applying the same phrase in bold letters onto walls and billboards, and in 2014 she reworked it as a 50-story LED installation blinking on and off on the facade of the Eagle Building in Times Square in midtown Manhattan, taking this very intimate statement and giving a powerful public presence.
A few years ago, Rogers was researching convalescent homes for her father-in-law who was no longer able to care for himself. As she toured the various facilities, she noticed that in many private and public facilities that cared for Medicaid patients, the residents rarely had a glimpse of the natural world outside. Their only outdoor spaces had views of walls or parking lots. Plants are prohibited for safety reasons. The corridors and rooms inside were similarly bleak, hung with cheap, framed posters or no art at all. Rogers, who had suffered from depression years before, had overcome challenges though philosophical practice, spending several months in solitude. Her perception of color changed and she began to translate what she had experienced at that time into art. Her "Visible Light" series are photographs, shot with a high-powered lens, of natural electromagnetic light taken through purified water. She then cuts between a millimeter and an inch from the original photograph and enlarges that piece up to 25 feet and prints them on various archival substrates, including painted canvases without ever manipulating the color digitally.
The effect of gazing upon her softly vivid canvases is immediately uplifting. This is exactly why Rogers has chosen to donate them to a convalescent home and has launched her "Visible Light Project," with the aim of making similar donations to other facilities of this type. "The project aims to bring awareness," Rogers explains, "to the disenfranchisement of the elderly population in the U.S., which in my experience has been denied power, respect, and visibility." When she started working on this project, she was shocked not only by the bleakness of the many of the facilities that house our elderly but also to learn that over 85% of patients in elderly care facilities receive no visitors. When she asked about art donations, she discovered that most of these elderly care facilities had not received a donation of any kind, and the Alexandria Care Center had received nothing in over 15 years. Their employees, who do their best to provide compassionate care on an untenable budget, were very responsive to her project, which inspired her to move forward.
At the Alexandria Care Center in Hollywood, it was the center's Activities Director, Adriana Casanova, with her infectious enthusiasm and devoted care to her patients, who won Rogers and her team over to be the first recipient for the "Visible Light Project." As someone dedicated to enriching the last weeks, months and years of the lives of her patients, Casanova believes that art has a significant impact on their daily lives.
Rogers worked with Casanova, for months to get the approval of the facility to donate and place her art on their walls. This was not something the Center, or any other, had done before, so they were initially wary, but Rogers and Casanova won them over, arguing that there would be no cost to the Center, only benefits. Rogers also promised that the Center would not be liable for any damage to the paintings due to the illness of the patients. Rogers found some financial and in-kind support for the project; the rest of the costs she covered herself. Then, she custom made the paintings to fit the walls of the Center, which couldn't be more different from the spacious interiors of many art galleries. The common room had one large wall, so was an obvious choice for her large rainbow-like diptych, "E1310620," which measures a total of 17 feet across, and another piece fit along one of the corridor walls. A third painting is placed in a very unconventional spot, along the wall below the reception desk. Although most people walking normally through the space might miss the work, Rogers realized that since many patients spend much of their time sitting along the wall opposite the desk, and several of them use wheel chairs, the painting would be at their eye level in that position.
In the year or so since Rogers' Visible Light paintings were installed at the Alexandra Care Center, Casanova has noticed that the paintings have indeed helped to cheer up many of the patients. One man in particular, who had been a neurologist before he retired and then became mentally incapacitated, is prone to agitated outbursts, often shouting out and distressing the other patients. When he sat in front of the paintings, however, he stopped shouting. Something in him seemed to be soothed by the gentle color gradations of the paintings. Another patient tried to remove one of the paintings from the wall to put in his own room. Rogers knows that by stepping into convalescent homes, she is in uncharted territory as an artist, but the response of the patients at Alexandria Care Center motivates her to keep moving in this direction. "I've been told on a number of occasions by individuals in the art world that donating artwork to convalescent facilities is not "interesting" or "sexy" enough to be a good career move for an artist," she reveals. "I think this reflects a very impoverished view of what art's purpose. With the "Visible Light Project," I hope to inspire awareness and volunteer action on behalf of the elderly and terminally ill demographic who have little to no voice, and that it will help to promote a more egalitarian understanding of what art is really for."
For more information about Fawn Rogers and the Visible Light Project, visit http://fawnrogers.com/visible-light-project/.