Everyone copes with a hearing loss diagnosis in different ways. When BC artist Kelsie Balehowsky’s son was born with hearing loss, she turned to art to help spread awareness on the importance of better hearing. This passion inspired her to create the art exhibit, Sensorineural, which is now displayed at the Kelowna Art Gallery.
Read more about Kelsie’s exhibit and her son Elliot’s story below.
How did you go about creating this exhibit? What was your inspiration?
Kelsie -Art can be used as a powerful tool for education and communication. My artistic practice is a means to observe, express, interpret, and process the world around me, so I knew that if I was to create a body of work about hearing loss, that it would also need to have an educational aspect to it.
Sensorineural is a mixed media installation that is inspired by my son who was born with moderate bilateral sensorineural hearing loss.
This body of work focuses on some of the anatomy in charge of hearing health and the installation consists of 3 parts. The first being four sculptures of the bones located in the middle and inner ear (the bones integral to processing sound: the malleus, incus, stapes and cochlea). These bones are constructed at a large scale using a variety of materials. The bones have a metallic gold finish, giving the impression of rich, grandiose importance.
The second component of the installation consists of the painted purple walls, floor and ceiling, and activating the glass window. It’s covered in a frosted vinyl impacting a clear view of the sculptures inside. This initial lack of transparency mimics the lack of sound clarity one may experience with hearing loss. Sound waves have been cut out of the vinyl, so the viewer has a chance to peer inside to see the sculptures/space only through the vertical lines of the sound waves.
The final component of the installation is the two discreet QR codes installed in one of the corners of the space. Scanning the QR codes brings you to Starkey’s hearing loss simulator and Starkey’s resource that helps you find a local hearing health professional. This exhibition offers an uncanny, contemporary interpretation of hearing loss which aims to spread awareness of hearing health and reduce stigma.
How does it feel to share something so important to you?
Kelsie -Sharing something that means so much to me is always a vulnerable act, but through vulnerability one can create understanding, empathy, and connection. I am a firm believer that the visual arts should create dialogue, promote critical thinking, and be used as a tool to communicate ideas, so vulnerability is a must.
How has hearing loss affected your family’s daily life?
Kelsie -“Did I plug in the mic last night?” “Don’t forget to put his hearing aids in the dryer!” “Do we have lots of batteries left?” “Time to get new ear molds made!” “Who is taking Elliot to his hearing test next week?” “Hmm.. that restaurant is too loud, let’s go somewhere quieter..” “You can ask them to repeat themselves if you didn’t hear”
In all seriousness, having a son with hearing loss has really brought to light the ways that our world and systems are built for only a specific demographic of humans, and we have a lot of work to do in terms of accessibility.
Kelsie & Elliot creating Sensorineural
What ways have you provided support to your son on his journey to better hearing?
Kelsie - I feel so grateful to live in British Columbia, Canada where our early intervention program is 10/10. As soon as our son was identified with a hearing loss, we were connected to so many community supports and professionals to ensure that both Elliot and our family were educated and supported. For the first couple years of his life, there was a lot of appointment juggling; Speech and Language (SLP), Audiology, child development, ASL, etc. Now we are finding more of our time is spent connecting with other hard of hearing people, learning more about Deaf culture, and how we as hearing people can tackle misperceptions and make our community more accessible.
Thank you to Starkey for supporting this exhibition and for providing their hearing loss simulator and health professional QR codes. Their involvement and resources has added another layer of education to the exhibition/public and for that I am grateful!
You can visit Kelsie’s exhibit, Sensorineural, at the Kelowna Art Gallery until the end of August and you can find her work on the following platforms :