One hundred intricately carved sculptures of long term care residents sit on a shelf in Christine De Vuono’s home in Guelph.
Carved out of individual soap bars using dental tools, each sculpture is bottled and exhibits detailed expressions, moods, and postures De Vuono observed during her time working at long-term care (LTC) homes in Guelph during the first wave of the pandemic.
The art project called "For Your Own Good" is in the running for the Salt Spring National Art Prize in a competition this year which called on artists across Canada to reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic. De Vuono is one of 52 finalists in the competition.
“I wanted to reflect on the uniformity that we treated everyone in long term care. Nobody could have visitors, nobody could have outside food or outside clothing or whatever they were looking for,” said De Vuono who has been very active in the local art scene for years and has had her work featured in Guelph, Toronto, Ottawa and the UK.
Her recent sculptures of seniors can be seen visibly distressed, bored, resting, sitting, crouching, lying down or holding a cane. The remaining shavings of each soap bar sit in the jar with each sculpture.
“They’re basically all just waiting,” said De Vuono.
“While I was there, it really touched me and made me feel quite sad about it and I wanted to make a comment on their state.”
She said the bottled sculptures show how basic human connection was denied and sacrificed for LTC residents who couldn’t see loved ones for months.
“A lot of long-term care homes need family and friends support in order to do the little things that staff just don't have time to do, and that can be sitting and reading, it can be just a visit, it can be bringing food from home,” said De Vuono.
“So we put our elderly, most vulnerable people in such a tight lockdown, in order to save their lives. What did we do to their quality of life?”
De Vuono said she decided to make 100 carvings when the world hit day 100 of the pandemic to show the worst of the pandemic was behind us.
She said the entire project was completed in October last year and took roughly three months to finish. Each sculpture took approximately three hours to complete.
The environmentally conscious artist put out a call to her friends and family for glass jars to use for the project and primarily used reclaimed jam jars to showcase her sculptures. In 2018, her artwork called "450 Years to Forever" was on display at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. It was a tall structure made up off single-use plastic going in different directions to illustrate the disposable attitude surrounding plastic. It also highlighted that once single-use plastic is cleaned, it is like new.
De Vuono said she noticed the response to her LTC sculptures is often a feeling of melancholy because even though the project was created with LTC residents in mind, it brings attention to seniors in the community who have felt isolated for years and have an added burden of physical health issues.
“What we're seeing with families that are connected and are integrated with various generations, is there are a lot of seniors out there who don't have that connection, and for them this isolation is something that has been happening for years and years,” said De Vuono.
“I was talking to some people whose parents are at home and haven't been able to see them. They do the grocery shopping and drop them off on the porch, and maybe they'll stay home, they don't go in, and that loss of connection, the dinners and the visiting, it really wrenches at people.”
More photos of her project can be seen here.