Lynn Schirmer

Seattle City Hall Talk

Lynn Schirmer at Seattle City Hall

On Friday, February 27, in conjunction with the exhibition The Incredible Intensity of Just Being Human, Brian Moss, MA, LMFT and I gave a talk at Seattle City Hall about some fairly incendiary topics. This is my Opening Statement:

I’m an artist, curator, web developer, and activist. I did my first show on child abuse over 25 years ago. It was a little solo exhibition in conjunction with a performance piece by another artist. There were certain incidences of abuse that I never dissociated, that is, I did not develop amnesia for them.

Despite our growing estrangement, and not having invited them, my mother and father decided to attend the opening. They mingled with the crowd and introduced themselves as the proud parents of the artist. They looked a little confused at the sideways glances and awkward silences this provoked. The show was about incest. As we left the venue, my father approached me and said, “Just make sure you tell them it wasn’t me.” Well, it was you dad, and mom, and our extended family, and the men at the corner bar, and the wealthy general and his house guests, and the countless others to whom you sold my body. And it wasn’t just rape, it was torture.

I’m going to say something now that gave Kate a little start the first time I said it. I don’t have a mental illness. This exhibition was organized to help combat stigma. I contend that the source of stigma is not so much the fear of encountering anti-social behavior or odd symptoms, it’s the fear of what they represent.

Depending on the study, between 89 and 98% of people receiving mental health care services have a history of trauma. The recent, and massive, Adverse Childhood Experiences study determined that a history of child abuse significantly increases the probability of a range of chronic and serious health issues in adulthood. Other researchers are discovering that psychotic delusions have meaning and can be decoded. They are attempts to both communicate and defensively contain, through non-arbitrary systems of symbols, the pain of a primal wound.

I don’t think that mental illness is the central problem, I think violence is the problem. A large majority of the people who are diagnosed with mental illnesses represent walking, talking reminders of our failure to place stigma where it truly belongs, on the behavior of human beings who resort to violence as a strategy of control, and the failure of our culture to address this all too common human frailty. It is easier to make into scapegoats and pariahs the victims of violence, to label our normal, adaptive responses to trauma as illnesses and disorders. It is easier to create this great distraction rather than to confront the fear that some of the humans on whom we depend in society are quite dangerous.

To quote a friend of mine, Jeanne Sarson, “When people talk about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we say no, we disagree, you might have traumatic stress responses, but we are unwilling to say you have a disorder. What are people expecting of someone who withstands torture, to come out of it laughing? That’s the insanity of calling these responses a disorder.”

So today I will say, I have Dissociative Identity Response. It is not a disorder. It is not a chemical imbalance, or a genetic defect. It is not a bizarre set of symptoms to be fascinated with or sensationalized in the media. On the contrary, if I hadn’t been able to dissociate, I would not be standing here speaking to you. It saved my life. Where all eyes should be focused is on the violence that caused it. That violence, and my condition were utterly and completely preventable.

However, my case is a bit complicated.

All humans have some ability to dissociate. To dissociate is to remove oneself mentally from the immediacy of an experience, to not stay fully attentive to what is happening in the moment. If there is no escape from ongoing violence, one may mentally remove oneself from the experience to the degree that there is amnesia for the experience later.

My family was part of a network of people who trafficked children. As you might imagine, it would be highly beneficial for child traffickers if their victims couldn’t remember what had happened to them. If you can’t remember, you can’t tell. So from an early age, my natural tendency to dissociate from the violence was encouraged, but it got worse than that. The trafficking network had connections with personnel running Cold War initiated human experimentation programs. Around the age of 4, I was tested and inducted as a subject. My family was rewarded. They were told that they were doing their patriotic duty, and that I would be set for life. I have not been set. In one way or another, my entire life, I have been working to recover from what was done to me.

Throughout my childhood, 4 to 5 times per year, I was sent to hospitals and military bases where I was subjected to torture. The torture consisted of food, water, sleep, and sensory deprivation, confinement, mock drowning, sexual assault, electric shock, drugging, and sensorial trickery using movies, sound, mirrors, medical equipment, and other apparatuses so diabolical, a Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t imagine them. The torture was used to force me to dissociate, and then as aversive conditioning if I did not dissociate in the correct way. If you can imagine the impact of using torture-based aversive conditioning on a growing mind, the behavior and thought patterns have been very difficult to undo. It’s the weight of the grief however, that cannot be undone. I feel my soul is not wide or tall or deep enough to ever encircle it, and so I will always be divided, …and, I make art.

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

TK Art of the City

I live in an artist colony, a government sanctioned one – tax-credit, low income housing for artists. We have 50 residential (live-work) units here at the Tashiro Kaplan, as well as 25 or so arts related commercial spaces, including several studios and galleries. The building was created in response to the usual cycle of artist driven gentrification, and every year it comes closer to becoming a lonely island of affordability in a neighborhood that was once dominated by artists. This neighborhood, Pioneer Square, was the first in the nation to establish a monthly art walk, ongoing now for nearly 35 years. With the demise of other nearby art colonies, some rather notorious and sorely missed, our TK has become a hub of activity on First Thursdays.

The building opened to great fanfare in 2004, but some of the resident’s expectations were dashed once the reality of legal living set in. There would be no free-for-all on artwalks, indeed, after the first year, residents who weren’t visual artists eschewed public openings, so we acquiesced to having an annual Open House. As the years wore on, an idea floated around, “What shall we do for our 10th anniversary?” “Let’s close down the street!” I can’t remember the original source, but talk of putting a water slide down steeply sloped Washington St. almost always followed immediately.

In the end, we did neither of those things. We didn’t have to. Whatever the origin of the art street fair idea, it stuck with me, like an annoying sliver under the skin I couldn’t extract, so I lobbied, pleaded, and persuaded until the community here came together, and we had critical mass to put a plan in action. The most gratifying development early on was that the City decided to give us our first permit option, closure of Prefontaine Pl. S. Prefontaine is wide, tree-lined, relatively flat, and right outside our front door, perfect for a festival. However, it is also the main egress for the majority of public transit buses servicing downtown from the south. I don’t know how it happened, there were no back room machinations involved that I could discover, they just said yes, well, after a bit of seemingly obligatory protest. The victory was magical, and that magic helped spur the community effort. After a few stumbles and minor glitches, completely expected when an ad-hoc group comes together to do something none of us had ever done before, we made it happen, and it was an absolutely glorious day. I’m not being hyperbolic, it truly was one of the most joyous days I’ve experienced in several years.

We put together a stellar program, some of the best bands in the Northwest played on our main stage, a variety of performers activated spaces inside and out, and hundreds of visual artists filled every nook and cranny of the building. Here are some highlights…

Tk Art of the City

Tk Art of the City

Tk Art of the City

Tk Art of the City

Tk Art of the City

Tk Art of the City


Everyone involved, from attendees, to artists, volunteers, sponsors, and community partners was pleased, and many have asked to make Art of the City an annual event. And so we shall.

Toronto Island in the Sun

In the midst of the massive job of coordinating the efforts to bring about the street fair, only 3 weeks away, I left the country. This was my first artist residency, and scheduled long in advance of securing the date for the TK event, so off I went. It took 3 planes to get me to Toronto, but it was a lovely day for flying, clear skies almost all the way there. I got great shots of the Cascadia volcanos, Chicago, Detroit. I was to spend two weeks on Toronto Island, at the Artscape Gibraltar Point facility.

There’s too much to detail of the difference in culture, especially as regards to artists. Yes, I realize most folks think, “It’s only Canada”. Only Canada, where they have an artist union that managed to get legislation in place guaranteeing the payment of artists – for simply exhibiting their work. Only Canada, with its national health service… but we’re (we in the useless, or perhaps pejorative sense, as if we citizens have any real impact on national policy) are busy mucking up universally beneficial social policies with various influences, seen and unseen.

The impact of this culture is that artists take their work more seriously, and they are afforded greater respect – if my short stay could in any way give me some small insight.

The facility itself would never pass code in the US, but that didn’t matter. I walked into a place where my every want and need as an artist was met in every way. There were 16 of us, all producing work related to the figure. Facilitator Teresa Asencao did a masterful job of “curating” the various personalities. The mutual support was remarkable. Social time was wonderful, we built bonfires in the backyard in the evenings, and told stories until it was too late for all else but sleep. I was one of two artists from the US. The Canadians embraced us. They arranged for critics and academics to visit and give personal feedback. I felt like I was on a different planet, where cooperation and mutual respect replaced ego-driven competition. Again, this was a short stay in a specialized environment, nonetheless, the differential treatment I experienced evinced tears at parting, along with the sadness of concluding connection.

Despite having to tend to numerous erupting issues back home via my laptop, I was highly productive in that nurturing place. I produced 4 new large scale drawings:

Reach, acrylic, pastel on paper

Reach, acrylic, pastel on paper

Mathas, acylic, pastel on paper

Mathas, acylic, pastel on paper

123, pastel on paper

123, pastel on paper

Mengele's Infinity

Mengele’s Infinity, pastel on paper

I hope to go back, to replenish all that is squashed and withered in the harsh day to day at home, to feel welcomed again, for a short while anyway. If I had any extra energy I would lobby for an artist’s union to establish pay as a standard for us here, like this group, but other tasks take precedent. This is a project for the future perhaps, something I hope to implement for the next street fair, if it’s feasible.

Call for Art: Undissembled

I’m curating an exhibition in conjunction with the Trauma and Dissociation 2014 Conference to be held in Seattle, October, 2014.

Undissembled: An Exhibition of Artworks by Survivors of Trauma

Seeking 2D and 3D artworks by survivors of extreme trauma. Submissions accepted from artists of all levels and ability. Space is limited however, submission does not guarantee inclusion.

To apply, please email the following items to:

1. Images

Up to 5 digital images, as .jpg files, maximum 1920 pixels on longest side, minimum 72 dpi resolution.
(If you do not have high quality photos or scans of your artwork, ask someone to assist you. Use a digital camera or phone to shoot the work in even lighting, on a neutral background. Ideally, exclude any background if possible.)

2. Image list

Include Title, Medium, Size, Year completed, and Retail Price if for sale.
Optional: a short description of what the works mean to you.

3. Biography and/or Artist Statement

Write a short description of yourself and/or your art practice and its meaning to you in your healing process.
Professional artists: please include a current resume or CV.

Deadline for submission: July 1, 2014
Accepted artists will be notified by: August 1, 2014
Ship by or drop off deadline: September 15, 2014

All accepted work must be delivered in ready-to-hang condition: canvases must be framed or have painted edges and be wired on the back, drawings must be framed and wired or have hanging hardware affixed. Accepted works must be shipped to or dropped off in Seattle no later than September 15, 2014. Artists are responsible for shipping and insurance costs. Artists are not required to attend the conference to participate in the exhibit.

Questions? Contact Lynn

Alternate Dualities at Angle Gallery

Alternate Dualities will extend through First Thursday, October 3, 5-9pm.

The Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts is also having its annual Open House.  It will be an eventful night, with music, performances, and impromptu happenings throughout the building. More info…

From the press release:

Alternate Dualities New work by Lynn Schirmer

September 5 – 28, 2013
Artist’s Reception, First Thursday, September 5, 6 – 9 pm

Angle Gallery
Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts building in Pioneer Square
312 S. Washington St.
Seattle, WA 98104
Open Saturdays, Noon – 5 pm

In Alternate Dualities, Lynn Schirmer presents a new series of paired, tiny drawings on white and black paper.  The works on white paper were created spontaneously in public spaces, while those on black paper were drawn some time later in direct response to the former. Each pairing provides a psychological snapshot of a state of being together with a symbolic, and/or narrative representation of its likely source. Schirmer will also present a selection of new large scale work on black paper.

Here is a sample from the tiny drawing series:

Pair 1: Twinning devices

Pair 1: Twinning devices

Pair 2: Yes, No

Pair 2: Yes, No

Pair 3: Ralph takes over from Poor Horsey at 28 degrees

Pair 3: Ralph takes over from Poor Horsey at 28 degrees

Pair 4: Radioactive Wheelchair Coupling

Pair 4: Radioactive Wheelchair Coupling

This new series specifically relates to my condition, Dissociative Identity Disorder. In other words, the spontaneous drawings on white paper reveal what I want to say to myself about which alter or alter grouping is “out” (or inhabiting the body) at the moment, and why.  The drawings on black paper, created later, explore the origins of the alter configurations, or the instances of abuse that created them. If all of this sounds completely obtuse, please see my activist site: or read the fabulous article by Brian Moss on the DIDiva site.

Summer 2013 Shows

My work is included in two upcoming shows this summer.

CoCA Collision

This spring I joined the board of the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), Seattle. CoCA is in the midst of an exciting resurgence, with new gallery space, renewed energy, focus, and personnel. This July, we are presenting our annual member’s show. Board members are encouraged to participate, along with all of our artist members. Come see my work, together with that of over a hundred artist-members of CoCA. This will be a great party, a chance to meet and greet, and to see CoCA’s beautiful Georgetown space, if you have not already done so.

CoCA Collision: Past, Present, & Future Members Show

Curated by Shawn Ferris, Joseph Roberts, and Chris Crites

Artists’ Reception:
Thursday, July 18, 5-9pm
CoCA Georgetown Gallery
Seattle Design Center, Suite 258
5701 6th Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98108


Lady Parts

Seattle artist and curator, Siolo Thompson has gathered work from Seattle artists on the theme of “Lady Parts”. Given the depth and breadth of her selections, this promises to be an intriguing collection. Please join us at the opening on Capitol Hill, August 8, 6 – 10pm.

1525 Summit Ave, Seattle, Washington 98122

This August, True Love Art Gallery will be taking a wild and raucous romp into Ladyland. We will be featuring a salon style exhibition of work that celebrates the beauty, mystery, and allure of the female form. Expect to see master paintings, erotic illustrations, sculpture, photography and performances.

The artist reception will be on August 8, 6 to 10 P.M. and will be sponsored by the very fine folks at the Ninkasi Brewing Company.

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