Valerie Skakun

  • Artist/Educator
  • Ridgewood, NY

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I am an artist based in New York City. My work spans across several mediums, incorporating sculpture, textiles, installation, performance, sound, and curatorial projects. I received an MFA from Hunter College of the City University of New York in 2019, and a BFA from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 2009. I am appreciative to the Canada Council for the Arts for awarding a Digital Originals grant, Queens Council on the Arts for awarding two SU-CASA grants, PlySpace Residency Program for a Resident Artist Fellowship, Vermont Studio Center for an Artist Opportunity Fellowship, and to Highly Authorized for a fully funded residency.

The philosophy of my recent body of work is informed by the process of being routinely sick, re-learning to walk, and regrowth after atrophy, referencing "organs" as a double-meaning of body parts and musical instrument, physical therapy equipment, prosthetics, decaying organic matter, and plants/foods which protect and heal our bodies. I have explored sculptures as objects of ritual, collaborative movement, and play, ranging from time-based devotions to endurance trainings in order to transform mental and physical states of being. The materials and rituals which help me to regain and maintain a somewhat functioning body and immune system inform the materials and processes used in my sculptures.

My red blood cells are mutated, spherically shaped and fragile. Though I was a chronically-ill infant, I was not diagnosed until I was a child at age five. My spleen had filtered out most of my red blood cells, resulting in a hemoglobin of 3.6 g/dL. After an emergency room visit, multiple tests, and a blood donation from my aunt who could match my O+ blood type, my spleen was removed in order to stop the destruction of my red blood cells.

In 2014 I was struck by a car, whose driver ran a stop sign, while on my bike and left unable to walk for a year, resulting in permanent damage to my bones, ligaments, and muscles; I have since navigated life with chronic pain. Though utilizing a daily physical therapy routine in an attempt to re-build my muscles to take the load off of my joints, my left leg is smaller, weaker, and in much more pain than my right.

Due to a neglectful capitalist "healthcare" system, whose focus is a final outcome of "fixing" bodies just enough but not more than to be able to return to work, and who values capital over human life, many of my symptoms have gone without proper care.

Like many under-insured people in the United States, my insurance plan will not cover costs for treatments, including physical therapy and mental health. After physical damage that was caused by an accident and subsequent surgery, suggested treatment plans for my ailments are further highly invasive surgeries that will leave me unable to walk for at least another year; however, my insurance will not cover the outpatient care which invasive surgery entails. I am fortunate that I have the option to indefinitely postpone the surgeries and live life in chronic pain. Many disabled people who cannot afford treatment are left to die; millions of people are uninsured in the United States.

Since there is little to no support in long-term care, I have researched ways in which to treat my symptoms, providing myself the preventive and restorative care in which the healthcare system fails, and have translated my daily rituals into art making processes.

My rituals help me reduce the amount of medicine I take on a daily basis, not replace life-saving medicine. Please never go off of your meds thinking that diet or exercise alone can save you. Without modern medicine, I would most certainly be dead.

Diet and exercise are only a few tools to care for our bodies. Full and equal access to quality health care is human right.

I am one half of interdisciplinary collaborative Skakun&Spadine. Together we work in the realm in which the physicality of sculpture and sound overlap. Our sound sculptures have been performed at art and music venues across NYC, including Outpost Artist Resources, Pioneer Works, NY(G), 205 Hudson, and Club Sourdough.

See videos of performances here: