'I've lived a life of pain': How Melanie Chikofsky has used her sculptures to heal

The Toronto artist uses small human figures, acupuncture needles and a sense of fragility to make the sculptures that help her fend off pain.

She uses small human figures, acupuncture needles and a sense of fragility to fend off pain through her work

(Melanie Chikofsky)

Melanie Chikofsky is cheerful — remarkably so when you realize she has lived much of her life in significant pain. Calling herself accident-prone, she can easily make a list of shudder-inducing injuries, surgeries and hospitalizations. Of one, she says, "I don't remember anything other than waking up in a bathroom and hearing my voice being called and I saw my hand in a sink of cold water. And I don't know how I got there. When I was in a state of shock, I remember most distinctly looking and saying, 'Oh, bones, veins.'"

Watch the video:

Mixed media artist Melanie Chikofsky channels real physical pain into the acupuncture figures that become her models. Filmmaker: Cat Mills 3:35

It's graphic stuff. And as you'll see in this video made by filmmaker Cat Mills, Chikofsky has chosen a much less painful if equally evocative art form to work out her physical trauma. Her sculptures mimic small human bodies — some flayed, others punctured by pins, all of them vulnerable and a little bit ghostly. They're inspired by forms of bandaging Chikofsky sees in old medical textbooks, and they resemble something you might find in a laboratory.

But for Chikofsky, not only the sculptures but the process she uses to make them are remarkably helpful. "As long as I'm focused on something and I'm involved, I don't feel the pain," she says. "I just would be afraid if I didn't have something like this to do to keep me well."

See Melanie Chikofsky's work at Beaver Hall Gallery in Toronto, November 7-17.

(CBC Arts)
(Melanie Chikofsky)
(CBC Arts)

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About the Author

Lise Hosein is a producer at CBC Arts. Before that, she was an arts reporter at JazzFM 91, an interview producer at George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight and a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. When she's not at her CBC Arts desk she's sometimes an instructor at OCADU and is always quite terrified of bees.