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The Disabled Artist’s Dirty Secret

July 8, 2019

Kristina Veasey describes herself as a visual artist who is “drawn to the things most people pass by”.

At heart, she is a very tidy person – but her partner and three children are not and regularly leave the house in an unwelcome mess. She also lives with a chronic illness which prevents her from cleaning as much as she would like – and the mess causes frustration to build.

“There’s something about having control over your immediate environment that makes you feel at ease and at peace,” she says. “When that’s interfered with, it’s quite hard not to feel a bit resentful.”

Kristina found she spent more time looking at her surroundings when her impairments flared and made movement difficult.

“I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which means that my joints dislocate quite easily and I’m relying on muscle strength to keep them in place. So I spend probably three days a week laid up at home.”

She also has arthritis and chronic fatigue.

As cleaning fell further down her to-do list, the mum of three felt like she wasn’t “doing her job” anymore.

Speaking about other stay-at-home mums that she knew, she says “their main focus was on keeping house and raising children”.

She felt some of them saw tidiness as a badge of honour and thought she was being told “you’re not fit enough to get up and take control”.

As the house became messier, Kristina devised a way to take back some of the control by presenting her family with photo evidence of the mess they had created. To really make the point, she zoomed in on it so they couldn’t ignore it.

But the photographs didn’t have the response she expected either with her family or others.

“People would say ‘Oh, that’s really nice, I like that,’ or ‘It’s very vibrant – what is it?’ They actually looked quite abstract and colourful.”

They did not recognise the images were of mould under the fridge or dirt on the skirting board.

When she put the photos on social media, she received a slew of responses.

People shared their own “dirty stories” with her, complained about the “messy ones” in their houses, the hoarders, the state of the kids’ bedrooms and the fact they had to rely on others to help out.

Kristina remembers one person who posted about some hurried tidying she’d done which led to a surprise later: “One day, she went into the kitchen, opened the fridge and there were a pair of shoes in there.”

The fact that her photos had been seen as colourful and abstract got Kristina’s mind whirring.

She started to experiment with the images. She developed the photos and made kaleidoscopic patterns of them. Then she took it a step further and printed them on fabric and furnishings.

By incorporating these patterns into the furniture she wanted to give the idea that all she could see was mess and dirt and that it had “taken over the room”.

It inspired her new art installation My Dirty Secret – an exploration of her unusual relationship with mess.

Alongside the furniture is a television which plays a video of the stories Kristina gathered from other people after she shared her experience of the unmanageable mess in her household.

The video is a Through the Keyhole spoof, called Through the Back Door, with two presenters who guide viewers through different items in the room describing the mess, the textures and smells.

Kristina says many stories were very personal in nature.

“Some people talk about the use of carers, relatives who have died in house fires because they hoarded and couldn’t get out.

“I’ve talked to quite a few people with mental health issues who have hidden all their washing-up for weeks in cupboards.” She says. “They shut the cupboard door so that when family members come down they see everything’s okay.”

Kristina was mindful of the pressure and embarrassment some people feel about the mess in their homes. So, as well as showing people’s stories on the television, the installation includes a telephone which plays out audio recordings. With no pictures this keeps storytellers anonymous and needs to be lifted so you can hear it.

“It’s like someone whispering in your ear and passing on a more private secret,” she says.

With accessibility in mind, the artwork includes captions and a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter and there are transcripts in the form of handwritten letters, addressed to The Messy House.

“You can open the mail and still have that idea that they’re being let into a secret or a private aside,” she says.

Kristina was surprised to receive lots of positive feedback from other less mobile people who had similar feelings.

“Everybody said ‘Thank you’ for acknowledging something that I’m going through that people rarely talk about.”

Kristina’s work will feature at Arts B&B in Blackpool in July where she has used her images to design a whole room.

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