We had the good fortune of connecting with Siobhan Hebron and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Siobhan, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
I remember the poorly chosen words from President Obama in 2014 so distinctly: “A lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career, but I promise you, folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.” I remember hearing them on my commute home from my job as an artist’s assistant as I crossed the giant intersection of Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards, driving back to my apartment in the years following my graduation from art and art history undergraduate programs. The long-smoldering fear flared up again for a moment; had I made a huge, life-altering mistake, as relatives and friends and now the president was saying I had? Within four months of that comment I would find myself diagnosed with brain cancer, facing the financial reality of my new situation, and deeply regretting my naive optimism of a career in the arts. Still, as I went through treatment I was drawn back to making work in a new way. Art history taught me that “to be modern is to know what is no longer possible,” translation: to move forward is to accept that my life has changed forever. And art taught me how to think differently, with purpose and intention; so I committed to approaching my cancer with a realistic but inquisitive perspective. On artists, David Bowie once said: I think the difference that most artists have, […] we tend to think our opinions are a lot more important than other peoples’ in some way. Often we feel as though we have the key to something. I don’t think that we do at all, I just think we dwell on it more. We tend to look at the world as some usable substance, more than a non-artist would. I think for many people, just getting through life is enough. That’s a big enough task, let alone having to look at the world and the universe and say, “Now if I had my way… you know?” I think the reason my current work has any impact on people is because we are desperate for a better way to approach illness. Too many people are thrust into illness without access to any variety in the rote narrative, much less any incentive to do so, no thanks to the antagonistic nature of our healthcare “system.” I’ve been lucky enough with my own diagnosis remaining stable, and privileged enough via my education to see what else exists. That being said, it still took me close to four years after my diagnosis to discover the social model of disability, even though that’s how I’d been wanting to think about and approach my cancer; I simply didn’t have the language. So I try to apply this theoretical model in real life. Cancer and most accounts of illness are incredibly binary: you get X diagnosis, and then you ‘beat it’ and live or you ‘lose’ and die. That’s just not the case with so much of cancer, especially younger patients who will live longer with more side effects, or frankly anyone with a chronic illness. I think Bowie was right, that artists reimagine the world as they’d like to see it, and I think disability advocates would agree that that’s a foundational premise to their activism around accessibility and destigmatizing illness. This foundation gave me authority to demand respect throughout treatment, including the very basic but often overlooked assumption of life ahead; an assumption I’ve come to learn anecdotally should not be taken for granted from the medical profession. All of that needs to be a part of the incredibly hard conversation to have when faced with life changing circumstances. But I happen to believe that that’s what makes it all the more critical to introduce to the integrative care of illness, and creativity is maybe the best way I know to begin to explore and embrace new ideas. Without art and art history I would not have had access to the shift in perspective towards illness that allowed me to survive, dare I say even thrive in my new normal. And I know there’s no tangible monetary figure that can be attached to that, but I also know it’s invaluable. The arts provide a unique blend of pragmatic problem solving and creative existentialism that maybe flirts with hopeless optimism at times, but that’s precisely what patients and conversations around illness need. That’s where I want to come into play. I know the arts provide unique tools that can directly and positively impact people’s and patient’s lives. That’s why I am moving my life forward with art and illness by pursuing a creative-track career within the field of patient advocacy, because the need for that combination is there and it is desperate.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I graduated from UCLA in 2012 with a B.A. in both Art and Art History. My work takes from my personal diagnosis of cancer and broader dialogues of illness, chronic conditions, disability and ableism, and the sick female body. My visual work engages in feminist social practice, directly embracing community and collaboration. My writing explores these same topics and functions within the idea that a radically honest dialogue is needed to change the socio-cultural norms around health and illness. My most recent project was a 45 minute collaborative video piece that draws from art history, from queer history, from my personal history, and from our collective Covid-19 history. I am currently pursuing a Patient Advocacy certificate, and plan to continue exploring and making work about illness to advance conversations between the artistic and medical communities.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
It’s Covid season, so I’d hope no friend was visiting me, even though I’d desperately like to see them. Assuming an alternate reality however, I might take someone to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, maybe the Velaslavasay Panorama. We’d look to see what was at the Hammer, at the Broad, and various niche alternative art spaces. Might be fun to drop in on a local comedy show as well. The Ivy in Santa Monica makes an especially delectable gimlet… maybe we’d have a snazzy happy hour cocktail there. Food might include Stella Barra in Hollywood, Kyochon in Koreatown, or Sanamluang in Thai town. Jeni’s ice cream or Urth Caffe brownies for dessert!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
To my family, my friends, my care team and their assistants, to the patients and people dedicated to them, to my care facilities and organizations. And for Thuy Thanh Truong, Roy Arredondo, Beth Brunelle, Jacqui Hoang, Naomi Sichler and Anise Stevens.
Myself, Allison Le, Suffering the Silence, and True North Treks