I was diagnosed with single sided deafness when I was four. When I was in sixth grade my parents let me make the decision to get my BAHA. In the deaf community, many don’t consider being deaf a disability at all, and they would never change who they are. Throughout my life, I have found myself in an odd space between the deaf community and the hearing community. I am not fully part of either community, which is a large part of why I consider my hearing loss a disability. I chose to get my BAHA, even if I didn’t fully understand it at the time, to continue to bridge the gap between the two communities in my own way. I don’t only belong to one, but I do have a place in both and I think that that is really powerful. I don’t really wish that I didn’t have single sided deafness. It is a constant challenge and has affected my life in many ways, but it is not only a part of who I am, it has made me who I am. It has shaped my personality and the way I see the world in ways that I am only just becoming aware of. It has taught me to be creative, confident, empathetic, and strong.
I now attend the University of Minnesota and just finished my sophomore year in the Apparel Design program. This spring my studio class partnered with the Weisman museum on campus to create designs using non-traditional materials inspired by Andy Warhol’s concepts of self portraiture and how objects can shape our self image. For my self portrait, I chose to explore how my hearing loss has shaped my identity and how that could be represented in a physical way. I chose to work with copper wire shaped like soundwaves and hearing aid batteries. I created a dress that juxtaposed my place in the hearing world with my place in the deaf community while projecting a sense of power and strength.
To achieve this, I designed a simple shift dress with copper wire, hand shaped to represent sound waves, wrapping around one shoulder and on the opposite hip, and having hearing aid batteries creeping out from around the edges of the wire sections onto the rest of the dress. The materials are purposefully abbutted but distinctly separate from one another to represent my split presence. The shape is simple but it projects strength and power in the simplicity of the shapes combined with the ornate surface treatment of wire and batteries. The dress also reflects the invisibility of my hearing loss. From far away, you cannot tell that it’s made of batteries and it looks like silver beading, but up close and with some context, it can be seen for what it really is.
To create this dress I had to get my hands on a lot of hearing aid batteries. I was just upgrading to the BAHA 5, which is part of why I was thinking about hearing loss and hearing aids when starting this project, so I asked my audiologist at the University of Iowa if she knew of any way I could get a bunch of old hearing aid batteries. She set me up with my two largest suppliers who gave me over 30lbs in batteries. I also called local medical supply stores and hearing aid centers in Minneapolis just to be sure I had enough of what I needed. I used size 10, 312, and 13 batteries and created texture and depth by playing with the placement of different size batteries next to each other, and using the flat side next to the raised side.
After countless hours in materials testing, concept building, and design, I began the construction of the dress, a process that took over 100 hours. Each piece of wire was bent and attached by hand. After the wire pieces were attached, I individually glued each battery to the dress with industrial adhesive. I finished the dress just a few days before the runway show at the Weisman art museum where I was able to see my vision come together in person.
The dress will be on display in the (dis)Abled Beauty exhibit at Kent State University, July 29th 2016 – March 12 2017 https://www.kent.edu/museum/event/disabled-beauty.