In Conversation with Peter Kozak and Savannah Jarvis
PK: The first thing I’m curious about is whether or not there is anything in the book
that you can relate to from your own experience, if you feel like talking about it?

I think for me the way you portrayed the interior world was resoundingly clear -
when you are dealing with discomfort, especially chronic pain or illness, I feel there is
often a resounding social split. There is the person that is standing present and in
conversation and there is the interior experience. That experience is uncomfortable
and chaotic in a very private and tangible way. As much as you want to keel over
and box breathe at an event sometimes, you are in a public space. There is
something very disconnecting about having a shadow start unravelling the weave of
your organs as you discuss the cost of groceries. For me there is a conversational
and kind of comedic reality in the way you choose to portray these things - is comedy
or light-heartedness something you choose to emphasise in your works?

Yes. For me, focusing on the comic aspects of stressful health-related
experiences is a way of being able to talk about some of the things that I personally
struggle with in a way that’s also hopefully fun for people to engage with. My
circumstances can be both really upsetting and also very funny - like taking the
wrong painkillers before a show and almost ending up in the emergency room -
that’s just really funny! It’s fucked and it’s funny. It’s both things at once.

I think as an artist when you’re dealing with an intensely personal subject like chronic
pain or illness there can be a temptation to think that the best way of approaching
this subject is to be really head on - like to focus on those alone in the dark at 5am
staring at the ceiling kind of moments or to make work that’s like ‘this is what my
illness looks like’ (I’m describing some of my own past work here btw). However, I
think that sort of approach can often limit what an audience can get from the work
and how much people might want to engage with it.

By focussing on some of the absurdly funny experiences resulting from having a
chronic health condition or by approaching the subject of chronic pain or illness in a
playful, light-hearted way, I think the work has the potential to function more like a
Trojan horse - where people might not fully realise what they’re getting into from the
outset, or might be more open to it because it looks fun. What do you think? Is this
something that you think about in your own work?

Absolutely - I have always found that focusing on the funny is one of the best
ways to mediate fucked. In your work you are quite concise with language and the
stylisation of the imagery, it actually reminded me of the Guerrilla Girls Dearest Art
Collector, made a year after the groups foundation which was funnily enough one
turning point in their approach to communication - an approach that favoured
comedy. In their reflection upon an early protest, they stated:
the only thing that we accomplished was to anger visitors to the museum…
Everyone was willing to excuse the art world, so we decided that day that we had to
figure out a way to make people care. The only thing you can do to a system that
oppresses you is to make fun of it… We figured out this formula that if you make
people laugh, and if you use information, you can actually change people's minds.
Resoundingly clear, unabashed, and outstandingly cheeky. All at once! They
demonstrate very clearly how humour doesn’t shy away from making your point, it
just makes your point a more enjoyable punch. And when something is bigger than
you, kicking at its feet does nothing but frustrate you. At the end all you can do is
make fun of it. This is something I can see in your work, a sort of tongue-in-cheek
reflection on the absurdity of existing within a chronically ill body.
I do believe that complaining at someone turns them away or alienates them,
whereas aestheticising and fun can lure them in. Discomfort becomes a denominator
when you are chronically ill, and whilst I think that sticking with the discomfort or
recreating the circumstances of it can be quite impactful, and have proven so in
many artworks, I have always favoured a little levity. It brings people inside, humour
is so disarming and social that to me it breeds the perfect comfortable ground to
actually have a discussion on the topic at hand.
The Trojan horse approach to meaning making is definitely something I attempt in
my own work. In researching chronic illness, specifically in women, and the varied
artistic representations online I witnessed a lot of backlash from people assuming
women to be exaggerating or that it was in some ways a duty to endure pain quietly.
Upon observation of this response I began to feel that the issue of “women’s pain”
was so historically entrenched in a certain stigma that the conversation couldn’t be
had without people whose mind’s I might want to change already boarded up, so to
speak. So the best thing I could think to do was to trick them into having the
conversation without prejudice, only to later reveal that we had been discussing the
suffering uterus the whole time. The prestige! Tools like metaphor, aestheticisation
and punch-line titles are my preferred way to go about these little tricks.
You referenced some of your older work that was a little more literal in its
representation of your experience and I wanted to ask about the moment this
switched for you - why did you change your approach to representation? Were the
any particular artists, art movement or art theories that swayed you this way?

It's a little bit complicated to explain but I'll try! When I first came up with the idea
of making a comic about the intersection between my health issues and art
making/the art scene I experimented pretty wildly to try to figure out the best
approach and right tone for the work. I had just read Adrian Tomine's 'The
Loneliness of the Long Distance Cartoonist', which was a really big influence on the
early ideas for my book, in its honest depiction of the absurdly funny/humiliating
things that have happened to Tomine over his career, but I was also reading other
things that seeped into my work as well (at least aesthetically), such as Osamu
Tezuka's comic 'Buddha', which reimagines the story of Siddhartha Gautama, the
founder of Buddhism, amidst a fantasy world of thieves, sorcerers, ascetics and
royalty. These combined influences led me to do a drawing of myself wearing a
crown, climbing up the side of a pyramid, dripping with sweat, yelling "Haha! Fuck
you haters! I'm the KING! I'm the KING!"; as a metaphor for/joke about the feeling you
get when you get an opportunity to advance your art career.
Although this drawing doesn't make specific reference to illness, I think it was
definitely a turning point for me because it opened up a new approach for
representing personal experiences in a less literal way. Prior to this, most of the
things I had drawn were one to one representations of personal, health-related
experiences that were kind of dark and heavy because I thought this was the best
way to get them off my chest. However, when I started playing around with different
ways of representing these types of experiences, like in the style of the pyramid
drawing, or by focusing on their absurd/funny side, I realised that in terms of
catharsis - this approach worked better.
As for artists who have swayed me, there are lots of comic artists who approach
personal experiences and serious themes in lateral ways that have been really
helpful for me to look at. Simon Hanselmann is a good example, in the way that he
uses fantasy tropes to talk about things like drug addiction and mental illness. I've
also been thinking a lot about this comic by Sam Alden called 'The Worm Troll',
which uses a playful, shifting sense of reality to deal with themes of pain and loss.
In terms of artists making work specifically about chronic health conditions, I hope
you don't mind me saying this, but I found your show at Stable Art Space last year
really helped sway me! It was a fun to look at, but at the same time I was acutely
aware of what the work was about. I found that tension really interesting and I left the
show wanting to see more work like that.
How about you? Are there any artists that have influenced your approach to
representing personal health-related experiences in your work?

I absolutely love that the specific range of references you mentioned led to what
sounds like a wonderfully deranged pyramid image. And I definitely know the

With regards to humour as a more effective form of catharsis: same! I looked into
why it is so cathartic when experiencing it, and found there is a plethora of research.
The fields of psychology and neurology advocate humour as a powerful method of
processing and reconciling with negative circumstances, and even as a true physical
(chemical) relief. For the purposes of your work, I do believe there is something
powerful for you in the impact of reframing your illness, in these works, as something
comical. In that space you are in control of the narrative, and it is lighter in that
space, potentially even a bit silly (in the best way). So often the only part of our
circumstance we have control over is our reaction, and when your reaction is positive
I believe it bleeds into a better overall experience for you. It makes tough situations
manageable. “Laughter is the best medicine” - the heavy makeup and sweaty wig
costume clown is probably better situated to deal with duress than I am. And in these 
images, your depiction of your own narrative is honest and funny which makes me
really want to spend time with the ideas you are communicating. 

Simon Hanselmann is a fantastic example! The comic “Hot Shave” is such a good
example of navigating darkness and humour: the cheeky owl onomatopoeia joke and
bright colours in the middle of what is, big picture, a really upsetting portrait. And
thank you for your reference to my show! I was worried it was too much of a
narrative/visual leap so it is very comforting that the way I began viewing my own
body, as this silly sentient haunted house that wants to play trickster with me, was
something you found recognition of any form in. I appreciate it. In terms of artists that
have influenced my work - it is largely video game developers! I found the medium is
rich with body horror in a way that steers away from gore and towards engaging
methods of exploration. I often find myself playing through Kitty Horrowshow’s
‘Lethargy Hill’ when I am in need of inspiration. For artists specifically: Caitlin Keogh
and her beautiful treatment of histories of violence against women and Thomas
Jeppe’s text ‘Abstract Journalism’ were definitely influences in methodological
approach to art making. 
Beautiful and lateral approaches to meaning making. 
This body of images you have made explores pain and embarrassment and their
endurance with humour and in a medium with a fantastic contemporary precedent for
exploring these themes with comfort. I hope you continue to let us in on your
experience with the continued cheekiness and comfort you have offered your
audience here.