Bodypainting world champion and visual artist Trina Merry returns to the Oculus for a new project that is near and dear to her heart. Under the soaring white arcs of the shopping and transportation center, the Seattle-born, New York City–based artist has previously painted people’s bodies so they blend in with their surroundings as part of her international “Urban Camouflage” series. From December 12 to 15 at the Oculus, Merry is presenting “This Is Pain,” an immersive installation that details the compelling stories of eight men and women suffering from near-crippling chronic pain. Merry has built a vertebrae-like structure with eight large-scale video monitors that face inside and eight more that face outside, showing encounters in which the subjects talk about their injuries/illnesses, describe their terrible pain, and get their bodies painted by Merry, who is inspired by their tales, making each person an artwork as unique as themselves and as specific as their stories.
Merry became interested in chronic pain after being struck by lightning, leaving her with “crippling and continuous aches and pains throughout my body as well as a heightened sensitivity to electricity,” she explains in her artist statement. “I escaped to Yosemite to seek respite, and it is there that I was led to painting as a means of recovery. . . . My hope is that this exhibit can help generate understanding and compassion and show the world what living with chronic pain is really like.” She turned to bodypainting at the suggestion of her friend Amanda Palmer.
Merry, who was influenced by Yves Klein, Yayoi Kusama, and Verushka and studied with Robert Wilson and Marina Abramovic at Watermill, modeled the white structure to evoke a spinal column — the spinal cord is a major bundle of nerve fibers where severe pain can originate due to neurological damage — and to sit alongside the Oculus, Santiago Calatrava’s massive transportation hub entrance that resembles a bird in flight or a skeletal rib cage. Of course, it is also by Ground Zero, where so much physical, psychological, and emotional pain has occurred on and after 9/11/2001. Pushed past their comfort zones by Merry, the eight brave people who discuss their health situations and, in most cases, bare their bodies as they’re painted are Patricia from Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, who was injured doing yoga and feels burning pain that feel like electric lightning bolts; Cathy from LA, who believes in mind over matter; Cindi from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, whose pain feels like cactus splinters and who works with the American Chronic Pain Association; Tom from LA, a military veteran whose pain feels to him as if he’s wrestling a tiger on fire; Shannon from Austin, a wife and mother who indulges in simple acts of kindness and compassion to combat her pain (“My pain is like a tornado. It comes in and wreaks havoc on my entire body.”); Trish from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, who has battled joint pain for more than thirty years (“My pain manifests as fire in my knees.”); Al from Littleton, Colorado, who has had nearly two dozen surgeries, including twelve spinal fusions, to fight off pain that he says feels like hot lava; and Tony and Emmy winner Kristin (Chenoweth) from LA, who suffered an accident while on-set six years ago and has experienced kaleidoscopic, disorienting pain ever since, although she refuses to let it keep her offstage or off-camera. Sponsored by a pharmaceutical company, “This Is Pain” also gives people the opportunity to post their own stories here in the hope of bringing more understanding to a very real problem.