The Panel Project
A collaboration with artist Rachel Hecker and Gabriela Trzebinski 2010 - 2015
The Panels were a collaboration between Houston artists Gabriela Trzebinski and Rachel Hecker. The project began in 2010 when Trzebinski began undergoing treatment for Lymes Disease and Hecker was helping with intravenous pic-line treatments. Despite neurological difficulties Gabriela made herself keep detailed calendars of her symptoms and responses to her medication. These calendars contained systems for colour -coding texts and stickers that corresponded to her symptoms, and pictographs (fire, brains, hands, airplanes, fleas, etc) that were a form of visual shorthand. Each calendar entry was encrypted with everything that was going on in body and mind that day. At the same time, Hecker was working on enlarged paintings of her own grocery shopping lists, to-do lists, calendar pages, and notations, as well as a large painting of a section of one of Trzebinski's calendars (with Trzebinski's dense iconography copies verbatim). Hecker then enlarged several blank sections of a single 'month at a glance' calendar cells on 16" x 20" styrofoam panels and gave them to Trzebinski, with the suggestion that she might fill in the day and details much as she had been doing on her medical calendars, but at this increased scale. Trzebinski did so and then handed the panels back to Hecker, in what was to begin a visual form of call and response, and what the artists refer to as 'the panel collaboration'.
While the 16" x 20" panel format remained consistent, the imagery moved quickly from being lymes-centric to expanded themes that included references to Trzebinski's native Kenya, and Hecker's interest in illusionism. Even as each artist worked independently, the process took on more fluidity, with Trzebinski beginning panels and passing them off to Hecker, then back and forth multiple times until both artists agreed that there was nothing left to alter or add. Neither artist refrained from working on top of what the other had previously done, making the exchange of the work particularly anticipatory. Materials expanded from paint, pencil, charcoal, and markers, to collage, stickers, glitter and fake gems, becoming playful and surprising to them both. The panels mirror the almost diametric opposition of each artist's approach: Trzebinski is direct, intuitive and expressive - Hecker is methodical, calculating and restrained. Trzebinski can be fantastically messy, Hecker can't. They speak very different languages here, and these grounds are both held onto firmly and modulated by a dynamic and unapologetically eccentric conversation in text and image, between two very good friends.
Image: Original outline of 'man' attributed to David Werner's self help African medical journal 'Where there is no Doctor'.