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Tree, Broken Tree

Updated: Mar 12, 2019

"Tree, Broken Tree" is an Open Spaces exhibit by Kansas City artist Dylan Mortimer, who recently moved with his family to Brooklyn. Dylan, like me, lives with cystic fibrosis (CF). His sculpture and collage art is a representation of his experience with CF and transplant (he underwent a double lung transplant in 2017).


Dylan's work is inspiring, especially to those of us affected by cystic fibrosis. I am amazed at Dylan's manic-like ability to crank out works of art, travel across the country, and be present with his family, all while functioning on a small fraction of normal lung capacity. He is currently awaiting another double lung transplant due to rejection, and has been seemingly working harder than ever with an unrelenting drive to reach people through his art and his words.

Mine and Dylan's journeys with CF are different from each other, as is the case for most people living with this disease. Cystic fibrosis seems to have a mind of its own and makes erratic decisions on how it will manifest in each individual. Despite the ways CF separates us, I think it also has a knack for bringing us together. There is a comfort in community and knowing that others know what you're going through. Dylan's art speaks to me because I also experience the damage that CF does to our lungs, and his work is an expression of that damage. His work also depicts the healing that happens during transplant. My lungs are still relatively healthy, but transplant is something I have always feared, so seeing Dylan's optimism about transplant through his art, even as his new lungs are failing and he is being considered for another new pair of lungs, gives me immense hope. I feel a sense of security in knowing that he thinks it's worth it, even after all he's been through. His art is a physical representation of his gratitude towards his old lungs that got him so far in life, to science and his doctors, and especially to his donor.

"Tree, Broken Tree", as I understand it, is a visualization of Dylan's dead, broken bronchial tree, filled with mucus, now cut from his body and no longer supplying life-sustaining oxygen to his body. It is his old lungs. This tree was literally dead. A dead tree serving as a metaphor for what Dylan experienced. But, you will notice in the photos, the tree has sprouted brand new branches! And in the spring those branches will sprout leaves. This dead tree was somehow brought back to life, perhaps by sealing it with paint - just as in Dylan's life, life happened out of death. He was able to continue living through the death of another, through his selfless donor.

Going to Swope Park last night and taking these photos was therapeutic for me. I have been feeling stuck and frustrated lately, trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. Sometimes the pressure to 'live a life I'm proud of' becomes crushing in a way that paralyzes me like a deer in the headlights. "Which way should I go? I don't know. There are so many options, and how do I know which one is the right way?" Slowing down, getting outside in the cold air, slipping and walking my way down the slope of ice-crusted snow to Dylan's tree centered me. Getting to the tree was the reward (especially since I'm chronically late and directionally challenged, making it very uncertain that I would even get there before sundown), and it was so calming to take my time considering the tree, looking at it from different angles, and taking photos at my own pace. I was surrounded by snow, trees, and cold air, making art out of art.

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