Cincinnati-based artist Krista Sheneman recently embarked on a journey that took her from her undergraduate alma mater in Cincinnati to her childhood home in Memphis, Tenn. The 470-mile walk across three states was also the inspiration for her latest art project, “Walking Home,” which was recently displayed at Pique Gallery in Covington, Ky.
“As an artist, my goal is to document my life and my body, and how it fits into this world. I do that using health, memory and collection,” said, Krista Sheneman. “Currently, I identify as a time-based artist, because that’s the most used media that I’m working with.”
Sheneman recently graduated with a BFA in Sculpture from the Art Academy of Cincinnati. She said she’s done performance walks like the one she recently completed for a long time. In addition to art, Sheneman is a cake decorator and a butcher at a local grocery store.
“I utilize my body in my art. A really great example is this walk. I used my body to walk, and to take time to think about my identity and home, and how far I’ve come from when I left home and what that means to me now as an artist, as a woman, and as a diabetic, or a person with diabetes. So, I’m constantly doing performances, or small art pieces with my body, because it’s my most readily available resource,” Sheneman said.
On her 23-day journey, Sheneman examined the idea of what “home” stands for by staying with family, friends and strangers, memorializing the experience through photography and other items she picked up along the trek.
“After you graduate, everyone asks, ‘What’s next?’ and I didn’t know. I knew I wanted to go to art school, honestly, the majority of my life, and I didn’t think it was an achievable goal, and by the time it was over, which it’s crazy to think that four years could pass so fast, I didn’t know quite what to do next. And that meant figuring out who I was outside of art school, and academia. I thought this would be a really good time to return to my roots,” Sheneman said.
In the process, Sheneman looked at things like why she still calls herself a Southerner even though she’s been gone from the South for more than a decade, or why she still identifies with Southern food.
“I had all of these things swirling around in my work, as an artist and as a human, and in my identity, and I needed to take a moment and figure out why I’m constantly going back to my home, and the place where I grew up, and that mindset,” Sheneman said.
After graduation, she proposed a grant, and received the funding to complete the walk. She took about a year to prepare her body and train for the walk. She also planned the route and raised additional support.
When Sheneman, 33, was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes several years ago, she decided to reprioritize her health. In addition to the training, she educated herself on how to live a healthy lifestyle.
“I wanted to make sure everything was safe for me, which meant getting control of my diabetes, and understanding how being a diabetic fit into this huge plan, and it kind of evolved more into being a person with diabetes and wanting to do this thing and the ramifications that came with it. So, it was walking despite being diabetic, and how I accomplished that walk, and how I’m constantly doing things that are more difficult for someone that has diabetes, but here are the ways that I’m doing those things,” Sheneman said.
One game-changer for her was the Dexcom G6 Continuous Glucose Monitor which is a small, wearable device that monitors her glucose levels in real time. The device sends data to Sheneman’s smartphone, and she can monitor if her levels are too high or too low. This remote monitoring device gives her peace of mind that her diabetes is under control.
Sheneman walked on U.S. highways, instead of interstates. She said she drove the route several times before she walked it. However, there were some unexpected hurdles she had to face along the way. Even though it was tricky at times, Sheneman said she was really invested in finishing the walk and sticking to her itinerary.
“Ultimately, I found out that driving it first, or mapping out the route didn’t mean anything. Typically, within the walk, I discovered that my route would be changing almost daily. Things just weren’t as safe as I thought they would be while in the car. In Kentucky, there was a landslide situation that closed my main route, very early on. I arrived in Kentucky on day three and the original route I planned on wasn’t viable anymore,” Sheneman said.
Her detailed itinerary outlined when she would start, end, and where she would have lunch. She also wanted to make sure she was safe and that her glucose levels were okay.
“It was hard. It was a difficult journey. It was laborious, but I needed to busy my body so I could internally think these things through that I had been mulling over for a long time,” Sheneman said.
Typically, Sheneman woke up between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. She would review and finalize her route. She would also check her email and get ready for the day, and at about 8 a.m., she would start her walk. Then, she would break for lunch and snacks as needed. One day, she might walk 27 miles, and another day, she might travel 15 miles on foot. Sheneman walked from April 1 through April 24.
“I wore the Dexcom G6 CGM, which allowed me to absolutely know what my glucose levels were. So, I was constantly checking that, and I shared it with a lot of people, and they were constantly checking that,” Sheneman said. “I tried to end the day between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., so that I gave myself a lot of time to rest.”
Even though she trained on the treadmill, it wasn’t the same as some of the hurdles on her real-life route.
“My whole goal in this was to find out what home meant for me, and ultimately, I thought I would figure it out, but I didn’t. I felt like it was a number of things, and it had a number of definitions. I was always pleasantly surprised at how much the communities, who had never met me, anytime I arrived in a town or a city, people were overwhelmingly positive,” Sheneman said.
They wanted to talk to me about being diabetic, their hurdles, and how I’m overcoming mine, she said. They constantly were willing to help me out.
“Some people randomly stopped and gave me food. It was a bizarre experience, humbling really, to have that much support from people who didn’t know me. That was the biggest takeaway for me, because I went into this really reserved, and not wanting to talk to people face-to-face, and I found myself talking to more people in person, which was interesting,” Sheneman said.
I was just looking to have conversations with people who had similar issues, like crowdsourcing what they did, she said.
“I would hope people see how I’m handling diabetes and come up with different ways with how they can come at being a diabetic,” Sheneman said.
Her “Walking Home” works include more than 100 Polaroids, postcards that were made during the walk and ground scores/things collected along the road as well as some of the data collected on the journey. Sheneman’s hand-written itinerary was on view, and she had sewn her glucose levels over the itinerary. Her treadmill was also transitioned into an “artmill” for the show.
See Krista Sheneman’s art and hear more of her story online at kristasheneman.com/walkinghome.