The walls of MS Rezny Studio and Gallery are lined with the stirring, sometimes otherworldly images of Melissa T. Hall’s conceptual photography. Between each painting are curious wooden boxes with curious objects and textures inside.
Hall calls these her chemo boxes — visual assemblages documenting her experience fighting uterine cancer, the same cancer that killed her mother.
There are 12 chemo boxes, one for each chemotherapy treatment Hall endured.
One box, titled “oh, my hair is giving up the fight” features old scissors and twine and evokes the vulnerability of Hall’s experience fighting for her life, a fight that began with a phone call from her dad in 2015, informing her that her mother was ill.
Just six weeks later, her mother died.
Hall had been deeply involved in her mother’s care during her final days, driving back and forth to West Virginia to help her father. She barely had the time to absorb the shock before she was struck with more bad news.
“I found out the week of her funeral that I had the same cancer she did,” says Hall, who quickly began treatment, enduring surgery, five rounds of chemotherapy and 27 rounds of radiation.
“I think it’s harder for the people around you,” she says. “Poor Dad had just gone through losing my mother, and now he’s looking at me going through the same thing.”
Six months after her treatments ended, the cancer came back.
“The second time around is when it hit me like a ton of bricks,” she says. “I was still in shock during the first part of it. I was still thinking more about my mother than I was me.”
To help her get through the process a second time, Hall turned her experience into an art project which culminated in the exhibition “Aggressively Fragile,” which will have a closing reception Friday at MS Rezny Studio and Gallery during Gallery Hop.
“’Aggressively Fragile’ is a reaction to the thoughts and chaos this intimate relationship with mortality has caused,” Hall writes in her artist statement. “As I was driving back and forth between Kentucky and West Virginia while my mother was ill, the art ideas started flowing. They were coming so quickly that sometimes I would have to pull over to write them down on my phone. My mother was my sounding board when it came to my concepts. I even had a chance to discuss with her the ideas behind a few of the images in this show before she was gone.”
“Examining my thoughts as artistic concepts has made them more objective and helped to remove the fear from them,” Hall wrote. “My faith in the universe has been bolstered by so many people who have gone above and beyond to help me continue to make art through this chaos.”
Working on the show gave her a purpose and unique way of focusing on her healing journey, and it it reconnected her with friends and loved ones.
“I didn’t know I had so many friends,” she says. “This show ended up being like a village. There were people modeling, people helping in the studio.”
“The week before I was supposed to be done, my dad came and stayed a week and helped in the studio,” she says. “It was amazing.”
Hall says the show’s reception has been moving.
“I’ve been kind of amazed at how people have connected to it,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s the subject matter or because I was more deeply into what I was making. I’ve seen people cry. It’s opened up an interesting dialogue for me to speak to other people who have been through the process.”
Hall said she hopes that her battle with cancer is over, and she is enjoying each day with renewed appreciation, but, “My diagnosis is extremely unclear at the moment. I’m totally in limbo.”
“Physically, I’m feeling pretty good. My energy is coming back slowly. “I think I worked a little too hard and was a little too crazy with the art stuff.” “My hair’s growing out and I’m feeling tired,” she says. “I’m pleased with what I did, but I can’t quite describe what’s next yet.”
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.
If you go
What: A self-guided tour of more than 50 open art venues
When: 5-8 p.m. July 21
What: Exhibit of photographs-mixed media by Melissa T. Hall
When: Noon-5 p.m. July 19, 20; Noon-8 p.m. July 21 (Gallery Hop closing reception 5-8 p.m.)
Where: MS Rezny Studio/Gallery, 903 Manchester Street, Suite 170