Beds, knives, and why you shouldn’t give up smoking

by Kitty Drake in August 2020
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Art & design

A magazine made by disabled artists and writers, Sick begins with an essay about beds. “I have remade the bed, writes Jennifer Brough, “both literally and metaphorically transforming it from a passive rest place to an active site of creative thinking”. Brough goes on to reference the art of women who have made work from, and about their beds, including Frida Kahlo — who, in 1953, attended her own exhibition in Mexico City in a four-poster decorated with skeletons. The piece also references Virginia Woolf and Audre Lorde.

By drawing on the work of of iconic sick artists to create something new, Sick gives the reader a sense of the history of illness — all the more powerful because chronic illness is so consistently invisibilized — and establishes a dialogue between disabled artists, past and present.

Vice is excess. Vice breaks the boundaries of the body, of normality, of fatuous denials of mortality.

Another great piece is an ode to smoking, by Keith Kahn-Harris. “Vice is excess. Vice breaks the boundaries of the body, of normality, of fatuous denials of mortality”. Through indulgence, argues Kahn-Harris, we can truly be present in the moment, rather than put off the job of actually enjoying life until some indefinite time in the future, after recovery. While smoking Kahn-Harris could “suspend the arduous weight of deferral, suspend the weight of hope. Every smoke break was a vacation into the here and now”. It’s a surprising essay, and testament to Sick’s commitment to publishing work on illness that is vital, and truthful.

The best bit of the magazine, though, is the art work. There are very few photographs: the illustrations on the cover are curvy and soothing; the colours beautifully rich. My favourite series is by Sarah Courville, who has a chronic neurological illness, and uses collage to evoke the discord between the mind and the body. In one piece, high heels dance over white slices of bread, thick with horribly red paté. In another, we are given a “buyers guide to” knives.

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