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The Cultivation Syllalbus

During this time of global isolation, we are embarking on a project of cultivation, looking to our artists for guidance in new knowledges, new skills, and new preparations for an unknown future. Once a week for three weeks, join us for an expanded syllabus of lessons running the gamut from the practical to the absurd.

April 28 - May 12, 2020


Joel Kyack

In Preparation for Right Arm Loss

I am right-handed, and I have injured that hand so as to be unable to use it. I am using voice recognition to dictate this text to a computer.    

When I was a young kid my mom was the Safety Coordinator at the French's Mustard plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania. One part of her job was to drive bloodied people to the hospital after they had injured themselves at the plant. There was one guy who worked there who had taught himself how to do most everything with his left hand. He had done this as a precaution, in case he were to lose his right hand. He would then be able to seamlessly continue to lead the life he was leading without any downtime.

When my mom told me this story as a child it struck me as such a weirdly pragmatic approach to life, like this guy must be crazy. But there was also something so universally poignant and tragic about the effort – it felt like a stand-in for the frailty of the body and the ease with which it comes apart, especially when pitted against machines and systems of mechanical advantage.

Fast forward to my mid-30s and I'm in graduate school at USC. I've injured my left hand in a way so as to be unable to use it, putting an immediate hold on large sculptural work that I was hoping to complete in the coming months. I began to do small drawings with my right hand, and continued on in whatever way I could to make work.

Out of this was born a project called In Preparation for Right Arm Loss - Work Week Jerseys, 2008. I sewed the right arm to the body of five long sleeve T-shirts, so that when you wear one your right arm would be out of use due to the fact that it is sewn to the body. Using each one of these shirts, worn Monday through Friday, would, in theory, train you to be proficient with your left hand.

In the present it’s 2020 and I’m 47, stuck at home, and in a situation where my right hand is injured in a way so as to be unable to use it. It has been this way for roughly 3 months now. I have been forced to change the way I do everything, and when the gallery asked me to provide something for their Cultivation Syllabus project, I thought that the piece I made back in graduate school would be interesting in conversation with something I would make now. So I started making left-handed drawings with sumi ink and brush, illustrating how you, as the viewer, might participate in making your own long sleeve T-shirts with the right arm sewn down for your own left hand training.

But once I finished several of these drawings – trying to find the appropriately expressive one for the intended project – I spread them out on my kitchen table along with all the other shit that is spread out on it. I noticed the size of the shirts I was drawing in relation to the size of the pepper grinder and the empty wine bottle. I quickly tore the tops off of the paper and set them up against the two objects and thought yes. Everything I was originally going for in the planned instructional document was instead perfectly summed up in this improvisational, fleeting gesture.


What I'm after is adaptation, and the willingness to change as quickly and gracefully as possible. There are no guarantees, yet I've been living like there are.

Not any more.



The Cultivation Syllabus