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Krista Sheneman: Turning Diabetes Into Art

Krista Sheneman poses with her Glucose Landscapes project
Photo: Scott Galvin.

First-year MFA student and type 2 diabetic Krista Sheneman was taking a walk when she glanced at the 24-hour glucose level graph produced by her continuous glucose monitor. She saw ups and downs in the levels – a reminder of the difficult disease she faces. 

But after looking at the graph, Sheneman soon began to visualize landscapes, such as mountains, valleys, and hills within the data. Inspired by her own body and motivated by technology at Stamps, Sheneman has created a wooden sculpture that captures her glucose landscapes.” 

In this Q&A, learn more about Sheneman’s journey and her goals for the project. 

What mediums of art do you typically work with? Is this project different from your usual practice? 

I typically make sculpture work. I started labeling my work as time-based sculpture” because I realized that many of my processes and interests involve labor and collection – both take up much of my time! Through this work, I explore my identity using health, collection, memory, and labor. 

Krista Sheneman with her project, Glucose Lanscapes - an image showing wooden representations of her blood glucose levels over time, lit from below.
Photo: Scott Galvin.
Cutting Landscape
Krista used a CNC router at Stamps for the project. Photo: Krista Sheneman

Your project centers on diabetes. Could you talk about your journey with this disease? 

I was diagnosed at 29, and it was a shock. At the time, I didn’t know I had a family history of diabetes and wasn’t given a lot of information during that first office visit. I later connected with a wonderful diabetic community in Cincinnati that helped me understand my diabetes. 

Chronic illness isn’t linear, so my feelings and tolerance levels change daily. Some days are awesome, and I can accomplish everything on my crazy long to-do lists, but others aren’t. You just have to be kind to yourself.

Your glucose landscape project is incredible. What gave you the idea? 

The idea came when I was walking. I could see a 24-hour graph on my Dexcom app, and they always looked like landscapes to me. Sometimes, they were mountains and valleys; other times, they were soft hills. I ended every day with a screenshot of these glucose landscapes to mark the passing days. Before this project, I had tried many things with these landscapes, but they never felt right. I have stickers, etched glass, metal, wire, quilts, ceramics, and hand-sewn maps. 

This piece was made using the CNC router at Stamps, housed in the DigiFab lab. It took seven hours to cut two 8×4 foot pieces of oak plywood. I did this project for a critique within the program, showing all the different ways I have tried to visualize these landscapes. 

Krista on her walk from Ohio to Tennessee in 2022. Photo: Krista Sheneman.

You’ve mentioned your Walking Home 2022 project, which has received national attention. Why did you embark on this 500-mile journey?

I walked from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Memphis, Tennessee, to investigate concepts of home – which I talk a lot about within my work and research. It became this undefinable idea. It’s something that could be a feeling, a person, a thing, or a place all at once. I needed the time to find out how other people view what home is/​can be. I felt I needed to exert my body, so my mind could work out why I obsessed over this idea. I feel like home is a simple concept until you try to define it. This concept was the backing of the walk, but along the way, it became harder and harder to ignore the labor of walking versus the labor of caring I was partaking in. This initial exploration of labor and care has greatly impacted the research I am doing here at Stamps. 

The walk was a WILD time. I cried, I laughed, and most importantly, I walked. It really taught me about dedication and resilience. It was a rough month, but I was determined to complete it, and because of that, I know my limits and appreciate the things my body can accomplish even on my less productive days.

How does it feel to transform something as difficult as diabetes into art? 

As an artist, I am interested in highlighting and elevating the mundane. For me, this means the daily task of caring for my diabetic body. I think this piece can show what care might look like during a certain amount of time.

CGM Data
Krista analyzed data from her continuous glucose monitor to create the sculpture. Photo: Krista Sheneman.

What do you want people to take away from your project?

I think the best outcome for this work would be inclusion. Making this project has helped me facilitate conversations with people about what diabetes care could look like. This project has allowed me to visually convey the craziness that happens within my body at any time.

Is your project complete?

I think this piece is complete, but I don’t think this concept will ever be complete. Every day, there is a new landscape, and every day, I collect it. I feel like these landscape experiments will be something I will do for the rest of my life.

Glucose Levels Landscape sculpture by Krista Sheneman (2023). Photo: Krista Sheneman

To keep up with Sheneman and her journey, visit her Instagram at @khellzbells and portfolio at kris​tashen​e​man​.com.