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Olea Nova

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia
Graduate of University of Humanities and Social Sciences in
St. Petersburg and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

In February of two thousand eleven I received an e-mail from Claudio Geraci, Founder of the Arte Cluster Projct and coordinator of Al. Ce. Cluster Europa. He inquired if I would be interested in expressing what happens to headache sufferers during a cluster headache attack and their feelings in a painting. He mentioned that such work could help show the world what cluster headache sufferers must endure because art can express more than words.

Not a headache sufferer myself I could only imagine how such pain might feel. As with my previous artwork on the subject of migraine headaches, while making work on cluster headaches I relied on stories and testimonials of cluster headache sufferers and literature on the subject. Most background materials I received from Mr. Geraci, a chronic cluster headache sufferer since 1997. He said about his experience: "there are chronic sufferers like me, which don't have any break, having attacks every day and night for years - a never ending story. Like in the movie "Groundhog Day" where the same story starts all over again every day. Like getting tortured every day and night for years, knowing that it can happen every second (because these attacks hit you all of a sudden)."
Sufferers, medical professionals, and the media, often call cluster headaches "suicide headaches" because of the reported cases of suicide and attempted suicide during the headache attack. The cause of such headaches is currently unknown and they happen up to eight times more often to men. According to Dr. Peter Goadsby, whose major research interests are in the basic mechanisms of headaches, said: "Cluster headache is probably the worst pain that humans experience. I know that’s quite a strong remark to make, but if you ask a cluster headache patient if they've had a worse experience, they'll universally say they haven't. Women with cluster headache will tell you that an attack is worse than giving birth. So you can imagine that these people give birth without anaesthetic once or twice a day, for six, eight, or ten weeks at a time, and then have a break."

In my artwork I wanted to visually describe the experience, feelings and visualizations of sufferers: excruciating pain behind the eye, which feels as if an eye has been stabbed with a sharp knife repeatedly, the sensation of heat and burning on one side of the head and/or face, and such descriptions as 'the beast had taken his tail … to liberate my left eye from my face.'

Artworks "Clustertime" and "Mono" are renditions of the same pencil sketch I made after considering all the materials. "Clustertime" is a refined version of the initial sketch and "Mono" is a 'broken down' version of it. The subsequent pieces ("Protein", "The Beast" and "Victory over the eye") are more subjective interpretations. While making the artworks, I relied on my conceptions, which stemmed from the descriptions and testimonials that I received.

According to Claudio Geraci: "For sufferers to have a better chance of access to the necessary medications, raising awareness of cluster headache amongst the medical profession and the public, is of paramount importance. Showing Cluster Headache artwork to the world is a way to raise awareness, a try to show the immense degree of pain and ...a cry for help."

Olea Nova

Logo Arte cluster

"Canzone per Claudio”
©Giuseppe Capobianco

My Cluster Headache
Android Application

Thanks to Christophe Delage