Arts

Bedridden for years, Kim Kitchen made hundreds of vulnerable recordings — now she wants you to hear

After a devastating diagnosis changed everything, she rebuilt her art practice and her life.

After a devastating diagnosis changed everything, she rebuilt her art practice and her life

After a devastating diagnosis changed everything, she rebuilt her art practice and her life. 6:04

For over two decades, Kim Kitchen had built a vibrant life filled with travel, community, and an active art career — but an unexpected illness changed everything. In 2015, Kitchen was diagnosed with Rheumatoid disease, a diagnosis that completely transformed her life and her art practice. Bedridden for over three years, she made hundreds of hours of vulnerable recordings, detailing how she adapted to the sudden changes in her life.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune systemic disease that most commonly affects the joints but can also attack organs and body systems, such as the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Although Kitchen tried every treatment and medication available to her, none would alleviate the pain in her body. Feelings of isolation and fear took hold, and she could no longer help her husband Perry work their 17-acre property in Astorville, Ontario.

While her physical ability and independence diminished, one of her biggest fears was that she would lose her art practice as well. 

Kim Kitchen making a recording with her hand-held recorder. (Vanessa Tignanelli)

"A dear friend gifted me a handheld audio recorder. They encouraged me to record my daily insights, and capture sounds of my environment," says Kitchen. "It was meant as a way for me to stay engaged creatively through this extremely difficult time."

In 2017, a new treatment began to show promise and — with her regained energy and mobility — Kitchen used an Ontario Arts Council grant and a mentorship with Canadian soundscape artist Darren Copeland to make something out of her recordings.

"We began extracting pieces from all I had captured during those years that we felt were integral to telling my story." 

Kim Kitchen in her garden. (Vanessa Tignanelli)

Able to Disabled: My Changing Landscape was released this past March, five years after her diagnosis. The 25-minute spoken word soundscape is a monumental archive of grief, loss and transformation. 

"My artwork has always been about transformation in the natural world," she says. "I recognize that this is exactly the process that my body is going through now."

At a time when COVID-19 has forced everything to move online, Kitchen's soundscape stands as a reminder that many live in isolation and must manoeuvre a world that does not always prioritize being accessible. "As everything went online, the world opened up to many of us who have been wanting to participate from our homes for a long time," she advocates. "As we return to daily life, I really hope this continues." 

Kim Kitchen looking out her window. (Vanessa Tignanelli)

Special thanks to Benjamin Hermann for providing original audio clips from Able to Disabled: My Changing Landscape and to archivist Tyler Levesque for providing home video footage in the video.

Able to Disabled: My Changing Landscape is available on Kim Kitchen's website and will be showcased at the WKP Kennedy Gallery in North Bay, Ont. from July 24 to September 26 in Our Bodies Our Land shared exhibition.

About the Author

Vanessa Tignanelli is an international documentary photographer, videographer, visual artist, and musician based out of North Bay, Ontario. Her work has been recognized by the Royal Family, NPAC National Photographs of the Year Awards, and the InFocus Photo Award. She is a graduate of the studio art program at University of Guelph and the photojournalism program at Loyalist College. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg, VICE, National Post, CBC, Toronto Star, Photographers Without Borders, PhotoEd Magazine, and more.

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