Katina Bitsicas’ piece How Long After This Before I’m Gone? resonates with me. Bitsicas created an interactive augmented reality project showcasing a digital illustration of mantle cell lymphoma cells, the same cancer that her father passed away from. Each section of the digital cell can be activated by the user through tapping, playing a recording of Bitsicas’ father’s voice. The compilation of recordings was made during his illness, and the distortion of the audio reflects the progression of his illness.
When I initially engaged with this project, I was apprehensive about listening to the final moments that Katina shared with her father before his passing, because it forced me to think of the moments leading up to the death of my friend Jane. I’ve suppressed emotions associated with her death, and I was determined that this piece was not going to surface that emotion. I failed. It was not long after listening to the first few recordings that my mind began to think of DIPG, the form of brain cancer that took one of the greatest people in my life. Listening to this piece was not only hard and mentally exhausting, but it was also a beautiful moment to remember the life of a friend. I was not with Jane during the months leading up to her passing, but this piece got me thinking of what that time was like. Although I will never know what that time was like, interacting with this piece brought me to remember all of the beautiful moments Jane and I shared together.
As someone who has spent so much time suppressing emotions related to Jane’s death, I find How long after this before I’m gone? an extraordinary way to process emotions related to death. It takes great strength to revisit those memories of a loved one, let alone turn them into a beautiful work of interactive art. There are moments in the piece where you hear laughter and moments where you hear the reality of cancer’s effects taking over her father’s mind. It is the range and honesty of emotions that is both difficult to experience and compelling.
My first time interacting with the work was through a YouTube video. Since the video was prerecorded, I observed someone click through the various lymphoma cells and listened to the audio associated with each cell. After watching the video, I decided to use the AR feature on Instagram to experience the piece for the first time. By using AR, I was able to click each lymphoma cell individually and listen to the audio recordings at my own pace.
The first cell that I clicked on was a clip of Batsicas’ father saying “How long after this before I’m gone?”—the title of the piece. Previous to clicking on this cell, I was curious as to why the artist chose that name, but after listening to the recording it began to make more sense. In addition to audio recordings of his voice, there are a few clips with sounds from what I presume to be taken in his hospital room. The first non-verbal clip I listened to sounded like someone drinking out of a straw, and the second sounded like feet dragging on the pavement. To me, these clips sound like ordinary moments in life, but given the context of the work, I would assume that these moments are special to Katina and her memory of her father.
As you click through the cells, you can hear, through his language, his mind’s deterioration. Some of the recordings start out with Bitsicas’ father speaking, but a few words later, you notice that what he is saying does not make sense. By including these clips of his scrambled thoughts, it gives the viewer a better understanding of what that time in his life was like. Being able to hear the progression of his cancer through his mind helped me feel more connected and intrigued by the piece.
I honor the courage Bitsicas shows for honoring her father in this way, and for all of the other pieces she has created in his memory. Interacting with How long after this before I’m gone? is a profound experience, and I am thankful that it brought me to remember and appreciate the life of a close friend.
Check out How Long After This Before I’m Gone?
Check out our Q + A with Katina Bitsicas.
Jax Donohue is a senior at the University of Richmond, majoring in Business Administration with a concentration in marketing. She is also a member of the Women’s Lacrosse team.