Carlene La Rue was raised outside of Edmonton on an acreage and spent most of her childhood outside with any animals that didn't run away when she approached. Following her initial aspirations to enter medicine while taking genetics at the University of Alberta, she spent a year in Hinton, AB, where she spent more time outside both painting and photographing the outdoors. At this point she decided to switch into Fine Arts, and has attended both Red Deer College and the Alberta College of Art + Design. Currently she is completing her BFA at the University of Alberta with a focus on Intermedia and Sculpture.
Living with an invisible illness influences my work and drives me to create pieces that assert power over my disability. Invisible illnesses are a unique experience; for those living with them the ongoing struggle to appear ‘normal’ can become as debilitating as the illness itself.
Party Tricks creates a space where I can showcase my disability, safely. There is a vulnerability initiated on behalf of myself, as well as the viewer entering the space. The lure of seeing what is behind the curtain is traded for venturing into the unknown and unfamiliar space. The viewer can privately observe what I have spent so much of my time and energy hiding. Being seen as someone abled or normal has always been my priority. With this piece I attempt to show my inner self, or actual self in a way that gives me power over the disability.
The video consists of ‘party tricks’, motions that are used as a diagnostic tool for Ehlers-Danlos, as well as something that often comes up during parties as an attention-grabbing performance. For years growing up I was asked to perform to the amazement of my friends and family. At the time, I did not realize the damage that I was doing, and only when diagnosed have I researched more into the long lasting repercussions of these actions. In the video I also show myself being bandaged up and the creation of the bandages (a blend of transcribing the faulty DNA sequences and sewing the code onto the bandage strands). By wrapping myself in the faulty DNA, it’s only a band-aid for the problem, the damage done underneath is not repaired.
The sewing machine sounds and setting is my way of creating a ‘side-show’esque atmosphere for the viewer. Contortionists and circus performers would often have this condition, and performing would lead to shortened lifespans and chronic pain and dislocations. For them, and myself, there is a clear focus on cost and balance. Performances would draw attention and bring money, but the physical cost on the individual would quickly take it’s toll. For me, creating art is paid for with my wellness and capability. It is an ongoing barter system in which I create awareness and dialogues with my works - but pay for with recuperation time, dislocated joints, and on-going pain.
Showcasing my own duality, and taking back my sense of self from illness are the focuses of Party Tricks. So often the condition limits what I can do, and performing this movements has become a demeaning task. Using the illness and pain to create a piece allows me to move past becoming a voyeuristic pleasure and instead allows me to use the illness to convey my message and create a dialogue with the viewer. This power shift grants me the sense that I am more than my abilities, and am more than the syndrome itself.