I arrived at Dana Heffern’s Vermont studio on a beautiful, sunny and quiet August Sunday morning. I was first greeted by the cheerful barks of Rosko, Dana’s peppy and tiny Affenpinscher puppy. Beyond the library and guest room, Dana’s cozy studio space is tucked away in a quiet part of the house. When a project calls for more space, Dana utilizes her sparse two-car garage. Although her workspaces are well established in her Vermont home after moving there from New York City over four years ago, she is no stranger to the ‘portable studio’ for on site work.
A recent example is the murals she painted on 3 different levels at Burlington College in Burlington, Vermont, where Dana is a professor in the fine arts department. Dana descended upon those halls during a quiet and brief break between semesters and committed a considerable amount of paint in a very short amount of time. When asked how she was able to complete so much work alone and so quickly, Dana points out that her many years working on numerous Broadway productions, as a Union, Local 829 scenic artist, has enabled her to work very efficiently under tight time pressures.
I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing Dana’s traveling installation and performative dinner called Antidote at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts this past summer and also at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont in 2011. This piece is particularly moving because the focal point is about breaking barriers regarding our fears of disease. Heffern places a spotlight with visual and audio installations that gives presence to the discomfort of discussing or hearing specific treatment/management procedures and also misinformation non-diseased people may offer to those living with a disease. The work included urchin like creatures made up of hundreds of syringes set atop the dinner table.
In Antidote the disease in question, or rather in answer, is type I diabetes. I say “in answer” because Heffern looks to debunk hearsay of do-it-yourself cures, treatments and management she has heard over the years from many people about how she can tackle and even overcome type I diabetes. However, it’s not only Heffern’s voice that echo’s through Antidote. Heffern spent countless hours interviewing, writing to and meeting with other type I diabetics and included their experiences in the installation.
When asked ‘what’s next’, Heffern said her conversation with dystopia is still ongoing and she is currently working on portraitures of affliction. To find out more about Dana Heffern, please visit her website at www.danaheffern.com