Within the confines of a humbly sized, white-walled gallery space, shrill beeps harmonize with low-frequency pulses. Fluorescent lights flash periodically from multiple sources, some of which resemble ambulance headlights. The objects that fill this space are hard to group; ornate, nearly surrealist pieces are placed amongst varied medical paraphernalia and archaic looking television sets, each of which display hypnotising visuals.
The site of these auditory and visual stimuli is an art exhibit entitled “HIPAA Violation,” a reference to the legislation passed in 1996 requiring the protection and confidential handling of health information. Through some knowledge of the legislation which the the exhibit derives its name from, and close examination of the pieces displayed, the meaning behind the work begins to reveal itself.
Junior intermedia major Panteha Abareshi debuted her mixed-media installation in the Helen Lindhurst gallery on October 28th. The installation is inspired by her struggles with chronic physical illness and includes several artifacts of her treatment — from pill bottles to syringes.
Abareshi has a rare combination of sickle-cell and thalassemia. Her frequent hospitalizations served as inspiration for the exhibit.
“The title HIPPA violation comes from my own experiences in the hospital and thinking about what autonomy really is, what empowerment really is and what weakness really is,” said Abareshi.
Abareshi got her start in two dimensional artwork, but transitioned into creating performance art and video installations soon after arriving at USC. The shift, according to Abareshi, was motivated by a desire to use her body as a material in her work.
“I started out experimenting with what I could do and what felt right, and it sort of turned into this practice that I’ve developed now where the work has been really bodily in terms of documentation,” she said.
The medium through which Abareshi displays her performance work also factors into her creative process and has similarly witnessed changes throughout the years. Abareshi began documenting her performance work using DSLR cameras, but made the switch to 8mm after finding herself “really wanting to degrade the footage.”
“I would look at the footage and I was like, ‘It’s too crisp, it’s too clean.’ With issues that I’m talking about, nothing is that clear to me,” said Abareshi. “With the 8mm I really love it, because there’s a bit of unpredictability in terms of what’s going to happen after the film is processed.”
One theme prevalent in “HIPPA Violation” is the recreation of standard medical forms using diverse materials. A piece that illustrates this artistic choice is “Comfort Object,” a floor-to-ceiling length tapestry with a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) form printed onto it.
The choice to use textile as a medium for this piece came from a desire to turn the DNR into “something that’s domestic feeling almost and that we can recognize as something that you could wrap yourself in.” Ultimately, the piece reflects the agency that signing a DNR form creates, according to Abareshi.
While “HIPPA Violation” opens up discussions surrounding chronic illness and the state of the medical complex, visibility is at the crux of its message. For Abareshi, the lack of visibility for her community is a “big part” of what motivates her work.
“Empowerment doesn’t look one way. For me, empowerment a lot of times is admitting things that I cannot do, leaning into my weakness, leaning into my objectification,” Abareshi said. “Reveling in your illness and being comfortable with your illness and not wanting to amend your illness isn’t like an inherently negative thing.”