Tuesday, April 30, 2013

IN THE NEWS: Local project converts pinecone art into good cause

By Kaylyn Hlavaty / Athens News / Wednesday, March 27,2013

Retrieved from http://www.athensnews.com/ohio/article-39430-local-project-converts-pinecone-art-into-good-cause.html


The first sight of pinecones to any passerby may provoke annoyance, lack of appeal or no thought at all. Pine trees and sweet gums are everywhere around Athens, littering the sidewalks with their annoying cones and spiky balls. One person who appreciates the fallen debris is Jenny Nelson, an associate professor of Media Arts and Studies at Ohio University, who uses them in her project, "Pinecones 4 Parkinson's"(PC4PD).
Currently on display at Whit's Frozen Custard on South Court Street, Nelson's installation is a collection of hanging patio/porch art made from a variety of painted pinecones, gumballs, doll heads, plastic lizards, and Mardi Gras beads. With the artwork ranging in price from $5 to $15, all sales will benefit the local Parkinson's disease support group.

"Every month we have different art so it's always been interesting to me to see the reactions of people to the art," said Whit's manager Nate Hayes. "Most people have been mystified or surprised because it's a very unusual type of art. We've never had an artist do something like that with pinecones. Everyday someone is interested in buying one. For example, today I sold two so far."

Nelson's life changed in 2010 when she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Awarded an Ohio University 1804 grant in 2012 to study how media representations of Parkinson's affect people's perceptions of the disease, the research morphed into a more creative area of ethnography. The PD/MS Narrative Project is a collection of short videos made for and by people living with Parkinson's or multiple sclerosis.

One such video, "Chuck's Truck," features a man from Vienna, W.Va., who deals with a gambling addiction as a side effect of one of his essential Parkinson's medications. Another video, "David's Quilt," is about a Pomeroy outdoorsman who now makes quilts with a group of women at the Nelsonville Quilt Shop.

"These are the stories you never hear about," said Nelson. "We wanted to make this a regional project and show the collective action surrounding the cause. As more people see the videos, the more people will reconsider how they think about it." 

After a short time with Professor Nelson, anyone can see her determined attitude when it comes to finding ways to combat the silent stereotypes in society toward Parkinson's disease. The pinecones were not just chosen for their beauty, but rather the way they symbolize Parkinson's.

"I picked gumballs and pinecones because they are incredibly tough and also remarkably fragile," Nelson explained. "Try cutting one of these in half and you will fail, but the edges get all beaten up. To me, that's a perfect symbol of what people with PD have to deal with all the time."

Nelson and her rotating team of assistants (including video production students, local thrift stores, and the neighborhood youth who collect and sort the cones) continue to combat the stigma surrounding Parkinson's disease.

"Forget about autumn and Christmas décor," she laughed. "Bring in spring with glitter and a spray can! It's all about subverting expectations, both with the PC4PD installation and the videos. That's what we're trying to do with people's perceptions of Parkinson's."
Asked about whom specifically the proceeds will benefit, Nelson emphasized that she will keep the beneficiary local. "I don't really like to do national foundation because there is so much money at the executive and bureaucratic level, and I don't have that much money so what I may do is donate it to the local support group and try to get us out of the basement," Nelson said.

As for Nelson's research, she said that in the video, she and her team of helpers strived for more diversity when depicting people living with Parkinson's.

"One of the reasons we started this is because all the videos we see tend to be of people who are middle class and not from a recognizable location," she said.

As for the future, Nelson said she's focused on breaking the social stigma by working with those who have the disease and society as a whole.

"I'm not exactly the person to get on the Internet and look for cures because it just gets repetitive, but I have other people who do that on a regular basis so I talk to them," Nelson said. "I'm not funding for cures, but I'm rather more interested in the everyday experiences of people who have it (PD) and making them comfortable with themselves and making others more aware of this disease."

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