Pamela Kleemann-Passi
Photographer & Visual Artist

Too Sick to Work


Created for the exhibition Body Object 

For this group exhibition, curated by Megan Evans and held during Occupational Health and Safety Week in 1998, six visual artists were paired up with six injured workers to visually represent their stories. Body Object artists: Pamela Kleemann, Louise Paramor, Jan Parker, Paul Quinn, Bernhard Sachs and Lisa Young.

Kleemann was paired up with a nurse who had been exposed over a long period to the hazardous chemical Gluteraldehyde, used to develop X-ray films.

For Too Sick To Work, her aesthetic approach was from the point of opposites – dream career/health nightmare; germ-killer/lifesaver; cleanser/poisoner; visible/invisible injury; inner/outer body state; active/passive lifestyle; sensitive/insensitive reaction and attitude in the workplace; positive/negative image in society as well as photography.

The nurse/care-giver is presented as the patient, rendered supine, exhausted, a shadow of her former self. The hands represent the caring, healing profession. They are also the parts of the body in immediate physical contact with, and at highest risk of contamination/absorption by this hidden pervader.

The patient is flat and two-dimensional, rendered in monochrome, her colour drained, her body illuminated – shedding light on the subject… seeing the light a little too late at the end of the inadequately ventilated tunnel… but as the saying goes, where there is light, there is hope for the future…

From the Body Object Catalogue essay by Tim Sowden:

“If the problem facing many of these workers is that their injuries are not readily apparent to others, Pamela Kleemann invites us to look underneath the surface of their complaints. Her installation juxtaposes external normality with internal aberrations. Hands emerge supplicating from a bed offering X-rays over an image of a clothed woman, as if this were the only way of properly understanding her plight; the whole is suffused by a hospital-like aura. The light box on which the image of the woman rests lends a clinical sharpness to the scene. The façade of exterior normality is pierced and the injury exposed, chiefly by way of modern technology. Here then, is the disputed territory between employer and employee, for the body in cases like this is much more than just a receptacle for pain. It is also evidence that needs to be probed, examined and contested by both parties. Kleemann thrusts her sculpture, with all its personal connotations, into the public glare of the art gallery much in the way that courts elevate the internal operations of injured workers’ bodies into matters for public discussion.”

Mixed media – metal hospital bed, light box, cotton fabric, plaster cast hands, X-ray films, Lambda digital print originally shot on B/W Fuji Neopan film

Body Object Catalogue
Body Object Press Coverage


2000 – Summer Salon Exhibition, Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Melbourne, Australia

1998 – Body Object, Steps Gallery, Melbourne, Australia

All works copyright the Artist 1998