For artist Christina Tedesco’s first-ever solo show, Gallery 263’s “The Playground Project” (on view March 29th through April 10th), she chose to examine her lived experience with cerebral palsy. Throughout, some of the scenes she recreates are inspired by real memories, while others are imagined. Her work uses bright primary colors to recall the intersection of childhood innocence with learning about individual differences, inviting viewers to question how we move through space and time and relate to our own bodies and to each other.
Recently, I asked Tedesco about the significance of the solitary figure seen throughout her works and the freedom she’s found in her own art.
Playgrounds are usually associated with fun, laughter, and community, but the figures in your paintings are all alone. Was there any significance to that and if so what?
Christina Tedesco: There are a great many significances to the figure being alone in my paintings. When you have CP, you are always alone. It is something I have to deal with; the fact that I am different than everyone around me. No one knows how I feel about my CP [and] just because someone else has CP, it does not mean it affects them in the same way. It can feel lonely when you have all these thoughts going on.
As a kid, I remember that the playground was a place that I had to get my courage up, to go play on the slide or find someone to help my play on the seesaw. By the time I got over to the slide or the seesaw, other kids would be done playing or the kids who would stay and play with me would not stay too long. Even though I am an outgoing person and have a great community of friends, it gets lonely when you know that you can’t relate to what the other kids can do.
In the pieces, one figure is your CP; the other is your personality. What made you combine them sometimes, and other times show them separately?
CT: I try not to let my CP define who I am. Too many times in life, people look at me and see that I have CP or they think it is MS. They often do not see my personality or that I am a woman. This happens because people see the difference first and then it takes time for them to see my personality. This is why in some of my work you will see two figures.
Recently, with the “Playground Project,” I combined both of the figures into one. It is important for me to say that my CP has a big influence on my personality. It makes me outgoing and able to speak up. It gives me the understanding that I can’t do everything and to have the willingness to ask for help, though it is not what I want to do. I believe this is what makes someone have courage. On a playground, I needed to have a lot of courage if I wanted to play with other kids.
How do these images/memories/figures interact?
CT: Although all of the images are snapshots of playgrounds, they are not the same Playground. Some of them are of memories from where I went to school, such as “#5 Nightmare at Manito.” There was a slide there that would twist and turn. I was deathly afraid of it because it was so high and you would go so fast. I still can remember the anxiety I had about that slide. Images of the swing, such as “#13 Memory of the Playground,” are happy memories of what I could do on the Playground. Some of the images, such as “#9 Somewhere in Chicago,” come from a story that was shared with me about a boy and a basketball court. The memories are what help me create the images; the images trigger memories in the viewer. Even though the figures are based on my body, the figures have no identifying features; that way everyone can relate to the figure being on a playground.
How has embracing art changed how you move throughout space and time?
CT: Through making the change in my art with the “Playground Project,” I wanted to create images that everyone can relate to. I had to slow down and take even more time then I normally would. It took more time to walk to the bus because I was taking photos of the sky, wanting to have the sky in my paintings look like the sky I was seeing. I paid more attention to the way shadows fell on pavement and the color and texture of sand. I did this because I wanted to capture the feeling of every aspect of the Playground.
What do you hope the viewer comes away with?
CT: My hope is the viewer comes away with the understanding that yes, the playground is a fun place to be but, for some individuals, it’s a challenging place to be. It is where the lessons of life start.
Make sure to check out “The Playground Project” at Gallery 263, starting March 29th through April 10th. Find out more information here.