Into The Light – a journey told from the heart


Corina Duyn describes her Artist Book-in-a-Box ‘Into The Light’ as an adventure. The result of a seventeen-year-long journey with the chronic illness ME and having taken 3 years in the making, it is a real testament to human resilience to carry on despite the slings and arrows that life throws at you. Review by Colin Hambrook

Blistered ends of a branches and twigs of a tree

Chopped Tree. Photo © Corina Duyn

I have to begin this review with a confession. I like to think I can cope, that I can carry on despite the daily battles with pain and brain fog and feeling like shit half the time. I like to think that in many ways I am lucky, privileged to be living where I live, etc. And I am privileged when I put my struggles in context with the kinds of barriers that others have to face.

Corina sent me this beautifully packaged artists book just over a year ago on a promise to review the book for DAO. I dutifully went through the book and began jotting down observations, thoughts and feelings that arose. And then I got stuck.

It wasn’t a conscious thing but Into the Light hit me close to the bone. I found myself never quite getting around to following up on the notes I began to make. I realised that the book reflects upon so many sore spots about my own life situation.

Corina’s carefully assembled collection of 82 loose sheets – each with a reflection, a quote, an artwork, a poem – addressing different aspects of pain and illness from a constructive stance – either challenging medical model assumptions about life with chronic illness or simply stating how it is.

There is, for example, the brutal image of hacked branches in Chopped Tree. Lismore. Accompanying it is a quote from Emily Dickinson about feeling a “cleaving in my Mind – as if my brain had split”. On the reverse is a poem from Corina with her own direct summary of the impact of living with pain.

It brought to mind a quote I remembered by the Japanese actor, director and teacher, Yoshi Oida on the human condition, that goes something along the lines: “When we find water, we drink. When we find food, we eat. When we encounter a problem we go to sleep.” I have a tendency to sleep-walk through my daily meetings with chronic fatigue. I like to think I can get on with the tasks of the day and sideline the pain my body and mind put in the way of me completing any given job.

But I struggle to face up to so much buried resentment and the tendency to fall into negative emotions when thinking about living with ME. It is easier to put it to one side rather than accept the pain; easier to perhaps place the ‘fault’ elsewhere.

I came into Disability Arts in the mid-1990s – a time when there was largely a taboo on talking about impairment. There were logical reasons for doing so. As a ‘community’ we were fed up with being identified by our impairments as if they were the sole factor in defining who we are. There was an anger at being labelled by medical diagnosis – rather than a will to address the lived experience of barriers that prevented our inclusion in the world.

Time and again I witnessed the most incredible abuses from strangers in the street towards my visibly disabled friends – being drawn over the coals as to where, when and how they got to “be like that”.

There is a lesson in Chopped Tree that deserves thought and consideration. Our starting point always has to be accepting where things are, now, before we can move on and “look beyond”.

Two crows face each other off, perched on a street lamp against a blue sky

Crows. Photo © Corina Duyn

In the introduction, Corina talks about the power of creativity in being able to understand life and illness. Here through her writing, sculptures, tapestries and photographs, she shares the tools she has devised.

And, there is a subtle humour that runs through the book.

For example in Crows – a pair of birds eye each other up unsteadily perched on top of a street light under a perfect blue sky. The caption relays the fact that Corina captured this ‘stand-off’ outside her front gate. In the caption beneath she puts the words of Cheri Register (from ‘Living with Chronic Illness’) into the birds beaks: “You look good. You must be feeling better”.

On the back is Corina’s poem responding to that conversation many of us have heard a thousand times over:

If you look well
you’re expected
to behave
in a healthy fashion

Free of limitations

To protect yourself
from judgement
you may feel the need
to explain
your reality
of illness

I get bored of hearing myself speak about chronic fatigue. It often arises not because of anything anyone says necessarily, although often I’ll be asked stupid questions like “did I wake you up?” at times when it’s obvious I’ve been awake for hours. Often I will just get a sense of being judged – that an assumption is being made that I can’t be bothered to engage, when the truth is that I am struggling to find the energy and wherewithal to be present. And then I will feel I have to say something.

Photo of a blue wooden door. The frame is rotting and covered with ivy

Derelict House. Ardfinnan. Photo © Corina Duyn

Derelict House. Ardfinnan reminds me of much of my own artwork seeking to capture something beautiful in the ‘ugly’. The quote that goes with the image is from Kat Duff’s The Alchemy of Illness and reads: “We are not responsible for our illnesses, we are responsible to them.”

On the back of the page Corina’s poem reads a like an anti-mantra

When illness persists
We are often held
as if we lack the
to recover

We should
we are well
Thereby disregarding
our reality

As if thinking
we can climb that stairs
will actually get us there

Into the Light is perhaps a meditation on all the crappy homilies we are fed in the avoidance of the person that chronic illness makes of us. As such, it begins to unravel all the messages you’ve imbibed unconsciously about how much better you should be doing etc.

But Into the Light has left me reflecting on a whole range of emotions: anger, pity, sorrow, joy, friendship, gratitude – and through it all there is a wonderful intelligence connecting the reader with a whole host of creative people who have pondered the good and the bad that illness brings into life. And within that is a sense of freedom at sharing that experience of barriers to what… to being understood, accepted, appreciated, a part of it all rather than apart, isolated from the life.

image of a sculpture of a small figure curled asleep at the foot of a tree

Rejuvenate by Corina Duyn

Into the Light is written and illustrated by Corina Duyn; published by Little Wings, September 2015, Limited Edition of 500. Shortlisted for Carousel Aware Prize for Independent Authors (The CAP Awards) 2016. There are four versions available, priced between €20 – €40 plus a flat rate of €5 postage per book. For details go to Corina’s website.