Get Well Soon examines the lonely, funny, bizarre world of sickness with art that pokes fun at hospitals | Visual Art | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Get Well Soon examines the lonely, funny, bizarre world of sickness with art that pokes fun at hospitals

click to enlarge “Big Day”
“Big Day”

There's nothing friendly about hospitals. They almost seem designed to make patients and visitors feel unwelcome. Some of this can't be avoided, like the harsh, but cheap and long-lasting fluorescent lighting. The sterility too is just something that comes with the business, even if it feels cold. And then there's the color palette, one never found in nature, only in medical setting, like scrubs green or pill bottle-orange. 

In the solo exhibit Get Well Soon, now on display at 707 Gallery through Tue., Dec. 31, artist Derek Peel dives headfirst into the dreary, harsh, antiseptic, eerily colored world of hospitals and sickness. The collection of wry and insightful sculptures and conceptual pieces pokes fun at hospitals, illness, and the isolation of it all.

Entering the exhibit, the first piece you see is an enlarged pill case filled with empty pill bottles. Instead of labels for every day of the week, each box says Monday. It's a way to visualize the disorientation that comes with taking several medications at once, especially for older adults or people with mental illness. 

The most eye-catching of the pieces, for its bright colors and striking contrast, is a hoard of balloons — the kind one might be gifted during a hospital stay — trapped inside a dog crate hanging above. The balloons range from heart-shaped baby pink to shriveled and deflated It-red. Peel says the piece captures some of the insincerity of people giving symbolic gifts when you’re sick, like a balloon or a card that says, “Get well soon.” The person giving it means well, but what can a balloon really do, besides litter?

click to enlarge “Condolences”

"I hope they last ‘til December," Peel says of the balloons, some of which have started to deflate. But it only adds to the effect. The only thing more useless than a balloon in a hospital room is a deflated balloon in a hospital room.

In the middle of the room sits a tall concrete block enveloped by a curtain, the type that might separate two patients sharing a hospital room. The pink looks sickly, like a faded nightgown you'd find in your grandma's closet after she died. Peel describes it as a Schrödinger's Cat for humans — the philosophical exercise that imagines a cat sealed in a box with a bomb, and without knowing whether or not the bomb went off, the cat is both dead and alive. Hospitals can be like that too. If someone you know is sick in the hospital, but you're not there with them, their current state could be anything.

Peel says that some visitors have been struck by how acutely the exhibit expresses their experiences with chronic illness, or that it reminded them of caring for a dying relative. One piece, a weightlifting bench with an extra-long bar, screwed into the wall on both ends, imagines lifting an endless and impossible weight. One visitor told Peel it expressed exactly what Crohn's disease feels like.

Other pieces in the exhibit include a folded bed that resembles a bear trap, an IV stand with bags full of sand, and a nebulizer mask affixed to a bone-colored balloon.

Much like a hospital, the atmosphere of Get Well Soon is not exactly comforting, and that's on purpose. The lights are harsh, industrial fluorescents, and the floor is a cold, smooth concrete. Peel says this is what she was looking for to tie the exhibit together. It might not seem like a welcoming space, but it is, because inside 707 Gallery is a collection of art that understands the lonely, funny, bizarre world of sickness.

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