Ellie Kammer Paints Her Pain and Perseverance

In her solo exhibition Nescience, Ellie Kammer will expose the pain and solitary experience of living with two diseases that take a toll on her body and mind: adenomyosis and endometriosis.

(WARNING: This article contains confronting and sensitive imagery)

Brooding and completely unapologetic, Kammer will confront audiences with a triptych show of aggression, devastation and quietness this July at Light Square Gallery. Featuring 10 visceral paintings, the artist will examine the intensely private and publicly voiceless experience of endometriosis.

“Between my personal experiences with the disease, and through my natural inclination to express the feelings that I experience, the collection has unwittingly become sort of a narrative of the changes I’ve gone through both physically and mentally,” says Kammer.

Nescience refers to the ignorance of the disease, wherein the artist hopes to bring forth the secret suffering of women afflicted by the condition and the misunderstandings that surround it.  She hopes her exhibition will provoke conversation and thought in its audience.

“I intended to address a lot of the issues with living with a chronic illness, but I think the biggest theme I’m exploring is the importance of awareness,” she says.

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Ellie Kammer, Endometriosis (Volatility)

A panel of endometriosis specialists including Kammer’s friend, mentor and hyperrealist painter Robin Eley will open the show. “Excited and honoured” by the event, Eley will be in Adelaide over the coming months for some rest, relaxation and work of his own.

“Returning to Adelaide always carries with it the attraction of familiar things, but Ellie’s exhibition will be an entirely new experience for me,” says Eley. “Having seen the work I have to say that it is a huge honour to stand up and speak on behalf of such a fine young artist.”

The internationally renowned artist first approached Kammer at a local exhibition in 2012. Impressed by her emotion and aptitude, Eley saw potential for growth and recommended oil paints to match the young artists vision’ more closely.

“I support Ellie first as any friend would, but professionally I saw a tremendous young artist who didn’t have the benefit of a tertiary fine arts education,” he says. “At the time I had no idea what she would be painting, or that her paintings would be as good as they are, I just offered what I could: advice born of my own experience.”

ellie-kammer-paints-pain-perserverance-adelaide-reviewRobin Eley with Ellie Kammer

Tempted by oils since a Bouguereau viewing at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Kammer previously avoided such paints due to low self-esteem.

“Robin taught me the foundations of oil painting, built my self confidence with his unwavering support and then set me free to explore and make my own decisions,” says Kammer.

Set for an artist residency with Eley this year, Kammer declined because of how progressive her endometriosis had become.

“As residency drew nearer I was becoming more and more sick and Robin and I agreed that it wasn’t the best time for me to head overseas,” Kammer says. “I ended up having urgent surgery in January when the residency would have taken place so I definitely don’t regret my decision to put my health first. Robin has graciously kept the invitation to work alongside him in LA open.”

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Nearly half a year later, Kammer’s relationship with endometriosis has proven even more precarious with pain levels soaring, seven emergency room visits (three with ambulance standby), repeated bloody urination with the progonosis of a new disease all amounting to a near death.

“My symptoms seemed to intensify quite a lot in a few short months and I started developing new symptoms such as urinary frequency and blood in my urine,” she explains. “After many frustrating visits to the ER I took myself to my surgeon to ask her what could be going on. She told me I needed to have surgery straight away, so three days later I had surgery to excise the endometriosis, fertility testing, widening the urethra, inserting the merina and dilatation and curettage.”

Despite successfully removing all endometriosis (at the time), the surgery revealed a new calamity: adenomyosis.

Much like endometriosis, adenomyosis breeds painful and profuse menses, coupled with a dragging sensation down the thighs and legs. The only solution for the unremitting disease is permanent removal of the uterus.

“I think about having a hysterectomy all the time. I think about the positives and the negatives every single day. It’s plaguing my mind… Every night when I’m kept awake by the pain I make the decision to remove my uterus and then every day when I see children or I spend time with my partner who has a beautiful son, I make the decision to hold onto it for a few years… I’m feeling though with my symptoms becoming more violent, the choice may be made for me before too long.”

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Ellie Kammer, Endometriosis (Exacerbation)

To mitigate the symptoms of her endometriosis, Kammer follows a healing diet, sleeps longer and talks with those around her. But while endometriosis is in a state of remission, adenomyosis is a fresh discomfort for the artist.

“Aden keeps me awake for hours every night when I feel my uterus is swelling and putting pressure on my bladder as well as shooting heated pains down my legs and throughout my torso.”

Kammer says her adenomyosis symptoms are very similar to that of endeometriosis with bleeding, clotting, painful sex, dysuria and mental anguish being a daily game.

“For me the adenomyosis actually makes me dream of days when I will only have endometriosis, which when I say out loud is a little sad.”

Despite a dark and tumultuous year, Kammer has been titled Endo Champion by Endometriosis Australia, guest of honour at an annual High Tea and featured in an episode of Makers Who Inspire while waiting on forthcoming press events.

No longer demure about her illness, the artist openly discusses her experiences on social media.

“I thought my openness may not be well received and so I used to speak about endo carefully and without personal opinion. I got tired of filtering myself and just let it all out. The Endo community needs frankness and openness to tighten the camaraderie between sufferers.”

Nescience at the Light Square Gallery
Showing from July 6 until July 26
Opening July 6, 6pm-8pm

Free entry with donations accepted at door

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Photography: Caitlin Thomas