What Can a Body Do? Inscribing and Adjusting a Disabled Experience in Contemporary Art By Amanda Cachia
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Masters of Art in Visual and Critical Studies, California College of the Arts Date of submission: ______Thesis Director Signature: ______Dr. Susan Gevirtz Program Chair Signature: ______Dr. Tirza Latimer Internal Advisor Signature: ______Dr. Stephanie Ellis New Ó Amanda Cachia, 2012 page TK TABLE OF CONTENTS 4 List of Figures 6 Thesis Dedication 7 Acknowledgements 8 Thesis Abstract 9 Prologue 14 Introduction: What Can a Body Do? A Multiplicity of Challenges 20 Disability and Reassigning Meaning in Visual Culture
30 Chapter Outline & Key Terms
36 Chapter I: Grappling with a Disabled Identity and Theme in Curatorial Practice 48 Chapter II: Disabled Bodies in Visual Culture: Past, Present, Future 51 Dismantling Historical Representations of Disabled Bodies 64 Complex Embodiment: A Place for Disability in Contemporary Art Discourse 69 “Heightened” Perception 77 Coherence and Incoherence of the Body 83 Ordinary Objects, Ordinary Bodies 85 Chapter III: Anthropomorphic Ficus Trees 87 The Anthropomorphic Imagination in Art History 93 TOGETHER together 103 The Fallen, Hybrid Garden Gnome 108 Chapter IV: Stainless Steel Lines of Flight 113 Please Adjust 130 Conclusion: Disability as Generative, Dynamic Physiology 135 Epilogue 137 Bibliography LIST OF FIGURES 81 Figure 3.27 Gary Hill, Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place, 1990 82 Figure 3.28 Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document, 1973-79 1 BwO diagram drawing by Amanda Cachia 82 Figure 3.29 Corban Walker, Please Adjust, 2011 Introduction 82 Figure 3.30 Laura Swanson, TOGETHER together, 2009 15 Figure 1.1 Laura Swanson, Double Portrait, 2007 84 Figure 3.31 Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917 84 Figure 3.32 Laura Swanson, Untitled, n.d. Chapter I 38 Figure 2.1 Medusa’s Mirror: Fears, Spells and Other Transfixed Positions, 2011 Chapter III 38 Figure 2.2 Medusa’s Mirror: Fears, Spells and Other Transfixed Positions, 2011 87 Figure 4.1 Doris Salcedo, Untitled, 2007 39 Figure 2.3 Medusa’s Mirror: Fears, Spells and Other Transfixed Positions, 2011 89 Figure 4.2 Louise Bourgeois, Cell: You Better Grow Up, 1993 39 Figure 2.4 Medusa’s Mirror: Fears, Spells and Other Transfixed Positions, 2011 90 Figure 4.3 Louise Bourgeois, Femme maison, 1946-47 40 Figure 2.5 Installation of Neil Marcus drawing, Medusa’s Mirror, 2011 92 Figure 4.4 Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970 42 Figure 2.6 Ryan Gander, The Artwork Nobody Knows, 2011 93 Figure 4.5 Laura Swanson, TOGETHER together, 2009 42 Figure 2.7 Marina Abramović, Thomas Lips, 1975 94 Figure 4.6 Laura Swanson, TOGETHER together, 2009 (lampposts) 42 Figure 2.8 Chris Burden, Shoot, 1971 95 Figure 4.7 Laura Swanson, TOGETHER together, 2009 (ficus trees) 96 Figure 4.8 Marina Abramović & Ulay, Imponderabilia, 1977 Chapter II 102 Figure 4.9 Doris Salcedo, Widowed House IV, 1994 52 Figure 3.1 Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656 104 Figure 4.10 A typical garden gnome 54 Figure 3.2 Circus World Museum, Baraboo, Wisconsin, n.d. 105 Figure 4.11 Santiago Forero, A Story About Gnomes, 2009 54 Figure 3.3 Diane Arbus, A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, 106 Figure 4.12 Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Grass on Woman), 1972 N.Y.C., 1979 56 Figure 3.4 Walker/O’Neal logo for Size DOES Matter, 2010 Chapter IV 59 Figure 3.5 Munchkins, The Wizard of Oz, 1939 113 Figure 5.1 Corban Walker, Please Adjust, 2011 59 Figure 3.6 Oompa Loompas, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971 114 Figure 5.2 Sol LeWitt, Cube construction, 1971 60 Figure 3.7 Katarzyna Kozyra, The Midget Gallery Goes to Frieze, 2009 114 Figure 5.3 Agnes Martin, Tremolo, 1962 60 Figure 3.8 Katarzyna Kozyra, The Midget Gallery Goes to Frieze, 2009 117 Figure 5.4 Robert Morris, Untitled (L‑beams), 1965 62 Figure 3.9 Freaks, theatrical release poster by MGM, 1932 119 Figure 5.5 The Dogon Egg from Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus (1987) 62 Figure 3.10 Peter Dinklage in GQ Magazine photo shoot, 2011 120 Figure 5.6 Corban Walker, Please Adjust, 2011 (detail) 67 Figure 3.11 Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Architectural View, c. 1490-1500 122 Figure 5.7 Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man, 1487 71 Figure 3.12 Joseph Grigely, Songs Without Words (Eartha Kitt), 2009 122 Figure 5.8 Le Cobusier, Modulor, 1943 72 Figure 3.13 Christine Sun Kim in her studio, 2001 124 Figure 5.9 Corban Walker, Mapping #4, 2000 72 Figure 3.14 Christine Sun Kim, Seismic Calligraphy, 2008 124 Figure 5.10 Corban Walker, Mapping #4, 2000 72 Figure 3.15 Christine Sun Kim, Seismic Calligraphy, 2008 126 Figure 5.11 A viewer circumnavigating Corban Walker’s Please Adjust, 2011 72 Figure 3. 16 Park McArthur, Mobility: New York, 2010 74 Figure 3.17 Rebecca Horn, Finger Gloves, 1972 74 Figure 3.18 Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle – CCA, 2012 75 Figure 3.19 Ann Hamilton, body object series #17 – toothpick suit, 1984-2006 75 Figure 3.20 Ann Hamilton, body object series #5 – bushhead, 1984-1993 75 Figure 3.21 Carsten Höller, Upside Down Mushroom Room, 2000 76 Figure 3.22 Félix González-Torres, “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991 78 Figure 3.23 Laura Swanson, Revelation, 2009 78 Figure 3.24 Corban Walker, TV Man, 2011 80 Figure 3.25 Carolee Schneemann, Interior Scroll, 1975 80 Figure 3.26 Yayoi Kusama, Untitled, c. 1970 6 7 Acknowledgements The development of my thesis for my Masters in Visual and Critical Studies is one of the most profound years of my life. My encounter with disability in all its forms permeated many levels of my thesis year: socially, professionally, academically. I came to understand the world in new, rich ways thanks to my new friends and lover in the world of the disability community.
None of this would have been possible without my friend Joseph Stramondo. It was Joe who first got me thinking about the contribution I could make to the disability studies field, and how I might marry my passion for contemporary art with an area of my life that is so personally and socially significant.
My thanks go to my new friends, Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi, Sunny (Sunaura) Taylor, Carmen Papalia, Sadie Wilcox, Neil Marcus and Bethany Stevens. Without your powerful, beautiful bodies, I could not have had the courage to move forward in this community. Thank you for nurturing and encouraging me.
This thesis is dedicated to my parents, Joe and Frances Cachia, Thanks to my thesis committee: Susan Gevirtz, Thesis leader, Stephanie Ellis, my internal thesis advisor (who recommended Laura Swanson to me,) Tirza Latimer and Joseph Grigely. I also wish to thank Judith Serin for helping me to become a better writer and to my late fiancé, Cory Malone, for making all this possible. during my Fall writing mentorship and to Vivian Bobka for being an incredible editor in the spring. Also thanks to Julian Carter and And to Ryan: my body without organs. Michele Carlson for Sightlines and Thesis Symposium work and to Defne Beyce for the design of the poster. Shawn Hibmacronan and Adrien Segal, thanks for a lovely custom-built podium (and to Alison Smith for recommending Shawn). I’m also grateful to Susan Weiss and Barbara Templeton for helping me with transcribing all my lengthy interviews and with additional editing.
To the incredible disability scholars in Berkeley and across the USA, I owe my gratitude: Katherine Sherwood, Ann Millett- Gallant, Georgina Kleege, Catherine Kudlick, Petra Kuppers, Anne Finger, Carrie Sandahl, Riva Lehrer, Ann Fox, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson and Tobin Siebers.
To VCS: Tirza Latimer, Kate Moore, Lindsey Westbrook, Jim Norrena, Melanie Corn and ShawnJ West, plus Indira Allegra, Patty Lessard, Ric Owen and to all who supported my round-table event on Feb 17. I also thank VCS for the research grant to attend the Venice Biennale for the Vernissage and opening reception of the Irish Pavilion and my fellow class-mates for their general support.
In assisting with Corban Walker’s work, I thank Emily-Jane Kirwan, Pace Gallery, New York, Eamonn Maxwell, Lismore Castle Arts, Ireland and Sarah Goulet, Press Officer, Pace Gallery. I also thank Stephanie Roach, Director of the FLAG Art Foundation in New York for her generosity in sharing with me information about Size DOES Matter.
To my sweetheart Ryan Gambrell: thanks for listening and for being such an integral part of this process. You were on this journey with me in equal measure.
Last but not least: Laura Swanson and Corban Walker. Thank you for our rich and detailed conversations. You inspire and give me the conviction and the courage to move forward in my vocation to inject the art world with a heightened, complex visibility of disability. I am deeply grateful to both of you for your trust, commitment to and belief in my project.
9 Thesis Abstract Laura Swanson and Corban Walker challenge dominant culture’s perceptions of scale, size and proportion as they inscribe their site-specific sculptures with their experience of dwarfism. In doing so, they adjust and destabilize an often reductive representation of the disabled body as they move towards complex, embodied forms. The artists move away from problematic figures such as the midget or the freak as portrayed within historical and contemporary Western visual discourses, particularly in popular culture, the entertainment industry and canonical art history. Instead, their work emphasizes that many embodiments are each crucial to the understanding of humanity and its variations, whether physical, social, or historical. Complex embodiment gives Walker and Swanson greater knowledge and control over their bodies. It offers layers of inquiry so that categories of difference, identity and disadvantage in relationship to disability can no longer be essentialized. My application of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the “body without organs” (BwO) and Mieke Bal’s “anthropomorphic imagination” investigate this complex embodiment, as they provide an opportunity to re-conceptualize the assumptions and practices of the visual representation of disability. The BwO and the anthropomorphic imagination destratify individual understandings of body and identity in order to make connections with other bodies and other entities to open up the conversation about representations. These theories remain an inspiration as we aspire to adjust and inscribe disability as an essential aspect of human diversity rather than a pathological aberration within contemporary art.
11 Prologue others could, and friends I could lean on through challenging times. Most importantly, I could finally achieve a level of My work here all began after two critical events changed my life forever. First, when I was 11 or 12 years self-acceptance and feel comfortable with my identity as a dwarf. old, my naked body was put on display for the gaze of a white, male doctor. He wanted to inspect it for its irregular I also wanted to contribute on a deeper level to LPA’s vision and objectives, so I became the DAC Chair. In this shape and size. I was a curiosity because I was born with a rare form of dwarfism named brachyolmia. Conditions of role, which I continue to fill, I organize a small exhibition of art work by amateur artists ranging in age from children my dwarfism include 4’3” stature, faster bone degeneration than per normal, spinal stenosis and scoliosis.While I’ve and teenagers to adults that is mounted in the hotel that hosts the annual LPA convention. The exhibition provides a never had to have any surgery as an outcome of my dwarfism, I have had to deal with the social and cultural stigma space where little people artists can showcase their talents and take pride in their identities. In the summer of 2007, I set attached to having a body that is considered atypical and startlingly noticeable in the public eye. As a consequence, I up the display in Seattle. 18 people from various walks of life participated and it was wonderful. The best part for me, often have to negotiate the challenges of staring, occasional comments and questions and living in a world that has been however, was engaging with an eight-year old girl named Arianna. She submitted a self-portrait – a line drawing of a
architecturally designed for the “average” six foot man.1 smiling girl, printed with pink and green ink. It was titled “Happy To Be Me.” I was so rapt with the print that I bought The doctor hadn’t figured out my rare form of dwarfism yet, when I was 11 or 12, on that day I was asked to go it. I was impressed with degree of self-acceptance and assertiveness of Arianna, expressed in her art. In her simple print, behind a curtain and take off my clothes in his office. My parents were sitting at his desk, looking worried. I vividly an inscription of her body, she poured out her identity creatively and proudly. recall standing behind the curtain, after removing all the garments from my body, and feeling mortified. I didn’t want to I tell the reader these stories because these experiences have shaped the person I am today. Feeling denied of go out there, in front of my parents, and him. He summoned me to come out though. So I slowly came out from behind my privacy and stripped (no pun intended) of any dignity in the doctor’s office, I told myself that I never wanted to be the curtain. I remember the simultaneous sensation of my cheeks burning and the cold wooden floorboards gripping put in that position again. But it took me a long time to get there. For awhile, I just didn’t like my body. Societal images at my feet and legs. On this stage, exposed to the medical gaze, apart from his stares, my parents looked at me. But I of bodies had a powerful impact on me. In the first story, the doctor’s gaze on my naked body was one that emanated couldn’t look at them. I could tell they felt bad. Embarrassed for me. I can’t remember what the doctor said then. But from medical privilege and authority. He felt he knew what was “normal” and was attempting to detect my so-called after a few minutes, I was asked to go back and change. “abnormality.” And of course, I felt disempowered and vulnerable. In my second story another little girl had feelings The second event was when I became the Chair of the Dwarf Artists Coalition (DAC) for the Little People of the opposite of mine. Arianna was completely empowered, through her art. Her image was one of self-acceptance, America (LPA) in 2007. This is a non-profit organization that provides information and support to people and families without any trace of notions like “midget” or “freak.” She had control over how her body looked, and projected imagery with children of short stature. In 2006, I attended my first LPA convention, where I met hundreds of short-statured to others that emanated confidence and radiance. I was glad thatArianna’s body wasn’t put under the same scrutiny as people from across the United States and the world. I was inspired by how these people went about their daily lives, mine when I was close to her age. achieving success and recognition in a variety of careers and lifestyles. It was the first time that I came literally face – Affected by these two critical events, I became a person who is interested in changing perceptions and opening to – face with other people of short stature, and by taking such an important step, I was able to find like-minded people up conversations about what a body can do. Back in that doctor’s office, all those years ago, I was made to feel that my who shared the same challenges as me. I could finally turn to new friends who could understand me in a way that no body was wrong, that it was limited. Finally, I am now able to identify personally as disabled. It took me a long time
1 This blueprint for urban design goes back to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and Le Corbusier’s Modulor Man, to be discussed in more detail in the thesis. 12 13 to get to that point, because I never thought I was disabled. While it is sometimes difficult to reach items on a top shelf before asking Handler point blank: “Would you ever do a little person?” Handler’s quick response: “No, that would in a grocery store or see a bank teller over a high counter, I saw these challenges as easy to overcome. I have come to be child abuse. I’d never do that.” “That’s half my issue,” O’Donnell said. “The problem with me is I can’t put the see that I am disabled because I believe I share common characteristics with others who are disabled, whether they are two things together. This is an adult person, a little person . . . it’s so hard for me.”5 While O’Donnell’s comments deaf, blind, or paralyzed from the waist down and use a wheelchair for mobility. For me, the label “disabled” means are perpetuating a fear-based attitude (which she blames on her grandmother who was afraid of the munchkins from identifying with feeling socially and culturally marginalized because my body is atypical or “other.” Additionally, The Wizard of Oz), Handler’s comments were arising from a pity-based rhetoric. Either way, each of these women’s experiencing unequal opportunity in employment and feeling physically challenged by the urban environment are also comments is shocking and deeply problematic. The adage, “Two steps forward, one step back” comes to mind. shared characteristics. Despite these obstacles, not succumbing to a victim mentality is paramount. And thus, the adage holds for my own work in this thesis, for this is a sign of the times in which I live. Progress, Since my time working on this thesis, a process which began in April, 2011, several events occurred that moments of change, are in our midst, but there are still problems that must be worked through. This is why I begin my provided both incentive and fuel to my words. On Sunday September 18, 2011, dwarf actor Peter Dinklage won an thesis with a question: what can a body do? I want to talk about the positive work that disability does, rather than what Emmy award for his role as Tyrone Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones television series. This was the first time it is. that a dwarf actor has won such an accolade, a significant achievement demonstrating that a person with a disability is
being recognized for their talent. While the role Dinklage plays is specifically a medieval dwarf character, the role is not the stereotypical elf or munchkin depiction.2 On January 15, 2012, Dinklage won the Golden Globe award as Best Supporting Actor in a Mini-Series for the same role. In his acceptance speech, he mentioned Martin Henderson, a victim of dwarf-tossing.3 This was an important turning point in little people’s rights – not only that Dinklage became the first dwarf actor to be recognized with such awards, but that he put dwarf-tossing in the spotlight. This gratifying and jubilant moment, full of words of praise for Dinklage all over Facebook (he’s my “Friend”) for both his award win and his political statement, soon turned to a moment of outrage and disgust, when, during an interview with Chelsea Handler, Rosie O’Donnell spoke of her fear of little people on The Rosie Show on February 9, 2012.4 “I’m a little ashamed about it [but] I have a mild fear or anxiety around little people,” O’Donnell confessed
2 For more information, refer to Dan Kois, “Peter Dinklage Was Smart to Say No.” New York Times Magazine. 29 Mar 2012. Web. 31 Mar 2012. < http://www.nytimes. com/2012/04/01/magazine/peter-dinklage-was-smart-to-say-no.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Martin%20Henderson&st=cse>. 3 As reported in NPR’s blog, a Florida legislator tried to legalize dwarf tossing once again. Bill Chappell.“Dwarf-Tossing, Long Banned, May Return in Florida.” The Two-Way. National Public Radio, 6 Oct 2011. Web. 5 Mar 2012.
16 Left: Laura Swanson, Double Portrait, 2007, IKEA Basisk desk and floor lamps, Red Ink Studios, San Francisco What Can a Body Do? A Multiplicity of Challenges a strong, luminescent glow in the center of the gallery whose walls are filled with a variety of art works.The light
Disability is the attribution of corporeal deviance – not so much a property of bodies as a product of emanating from the two lamps overpowers the track lighting installed on the ceiling. cultural rules about what bodies should be or do. I ask, “what do the lamps do?” One might read the lamps anthropomorphically as bodies, erect like human (Garland-Thomson 7)6 figures. A double portrait, the desk lamp stands in for the four foot tall body of Swanson, and the floor lamp stands in We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in other words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body, either to for her six foot tall partner, Greg. Most important to my discussion, despite their difference in height, the lamps are destroy that body or to be destroyed by it, either to exchange actions and passions with it or to join with it fundamentally the same: they are both functional and provide light. The height of lamps serves a variety of purposes and in composing a more powerful body. (Deleuze and Guattari 257)7 locations, none really better than the other. A difference in the height of the two objects simply makes some function more efficiently in a specific situation. One wouldn’t judge the smaller one negatively or as “defective.” However,
value-ridden binaries such as tall/short, good/bad, sexual/asexual, normal/pathological strongly inform our view of people with varying bodies.8 Therefore, I argue that Swanson’s lamps pose objects as human surrogates to challenge dominant culture’s perception of scale, size and proportion. Swanson inscribes a counter perception that bodies may be different but equal in her installation. In doing so, she adjusts and destabilizes an often reductive representation of the dwarf body and its relation to other bodies, to move towards more complex concepts of embodiment.9 Here, Swanson presents us with a doubling in the lamps that defies the so-called “defective” identity of one or the other because what the viewer can see are simply lamps. The measure of a lamp is not its height or size, but its brightness. Lamps do not have prejudicial associations with binaries in the same way that the human corpus does. These lamps are non-threatening; rather they are Figure 1.1–Laura Swanson, Double Portrait, 2007, IKEA Basisk desk and floor lamps, Red Ink Studios, San Francisco warm, as the lit bulbs create a strong, luminescent glow in the center of the gallery. Visitors, drawn to the installation, gathered around the glow like a campfire. Click. Click. Two identical IKEA lamps are turned on. They stand on a low-lying white pedestal in the middle French philosopher Gilles Deleuze asks, in the title to his essay, “What Can a Body Do?” (Deleuze 226).10 To of an art gallery. In this art installation, Double Portrait (2007) by Laura Swanson (fig. 1.1), both of the lamps have rephrase Deleuze’s question in my own terms, I ask what can the disabled body do? Throughout this text, I shall also matching “bodies”: circular cream and brown bases, vertical steel tubes for necks, and white glass lamp shades. One raise the question of what it is to inscribe a contemporary work of art with a disabled experience? And what shape or
resembles a floor lamp and one a desk lamp, only differing in height, one short, the other tall. The lit bulbs create 8 Among , mid-century Americans [and arguably today as well], smallness signified qualities of inferiority, lack of intelligence and degeneration and bigness represented progress, grandeur, superiority. Michael Tavel Clarke, These Days of Large Things: The Culture of Size in America, 1865-1930 (Ann Arbor:: University of Michigan Press, 2007). 6 Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Disability, Identity, and Representation: An Introduction” in Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture 9 Little People of America (LPA), founded in 1957, defines dwarfism as “a medical or genetic condition that usually results in an adult height of 4’10” or shorter, among and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 7. both men and women, although in some cases a person with a dwarfing condition may be slightly taller than that.The average height of an adult with dwarfism is 4’0, but typical 7 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal,” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Trans, Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: heights range from 2’8 to 4’8.” Little People of America, “Frequently Asked Questions,” 5 Mar 2012
Baruch de Spinoza that “We do not even know of what a body is capable of” and “We do not even know of what Swanson and Walker greater knowledge and power over their own bodies, instead of being victims of essentialism.19 affections we are capable, nor the extent of our power” (Deleuze 226).12 In other words, Spinoza is saying that we Complex embodiment offers layers of inquiry to de-essentialize the categories of difference, identity, and disadvantage haven’t even scratched the surface of knowing our bodies! We know even less about the disabled body. Asking what in relationship to disability. the disabled body can do helps us to understand what it means to think and be through the variant body. The disabled My application of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the “body without organs” (BwO) and Bal’s experience has been a subjugated knowledge, which was a term originally developed by Michel Foucault to describe “anthropomorphic imagination” to Swanson and Walker’s work provide means to re-conceptualize the assumptions knowledge and ways of knowing that are left out (Foucault np).13 But what if disability could become an epistemic and practices of the visual representation of disability. Roughly speaking, the BwO is the “body freed from its organic, resource and an embodied cognition embedded with politicized consciousness? (Scully 84)14 Or more simply, a productive functions.” 20 For Deleuze and Guattari, every “actual” body has (or expresses) a set of potential traits, habits,
way of knowing the world? For example, for me, the strategic installation of the lamps illuminate the way for new movements and affects. This collection of potentials is what Deleuze and Guattari call the BwO. interpretations and possibilities. I will prove to the reader that installations such as Double Portrait offer other ways of Bal’s anthropomorphic imagination acknowledges inner projected bodily states as well as offering an alternative looking at explorations of scale that hold more critical and political promise.15 to literal representation. Anthropomorphism is any attribution of human characteristics to animals, non-living things, Through their art practices, contemporary artists Laura Swanson and Corban Walker demonstrate some phenomena, materials states, objects, or abstract concepts. Artworks become figures of anthropomorphic appearance 16 In Chapter I, I elaborate in another footnote on why the word “midget” is considered offensive for little people. 11 Jackie Leach Scully, “Thinking Through the Variant Body” in Disability Bioethics: Moral Bodies, Moral Difference. (London: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008) 17 There is a plethora of literature and scholarship that analyze the reductive representation of the disabled figure, particularly within the tropes of the cripple, invalid, 84. monster and freak. For examples, see: Rachel Adams, Sideshow U.S.A.: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 12 Gilles Deleuze, “What Can a Body Do?” in Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (New York: Zone Books, 1990) 226. 2001); Leslie Fiedler, Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self (New York: Doubleday, 1978); Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability 13 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage, 1994). in American Culture and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (ed.), Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body 14 Jackie Leach Scully. “Thinking Through the Variant Body,” Disability Bioethics: Moral Bodies, Moral Difference, (London: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008) (New York and London: New York University Press, 1996). Also the freak has origins in important figures such as Hottentot Venus, when the so-called pathological body was put on 84. She says that embodied cognition is where complex mental processes are founded on the physical interactions that people have with their environment; this is contrasted with the display. Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez Pena critique this notion of looking at the exotic “other” in their performance The Couple in the Cage (1993). Refer to Coco Fusco, “The classic or first-generation view of cognition as essentially computational or rule-based. Other History of Intercultural Performance,” The Drama Review 38. 1 Spring, 1994, 143-167. 15 Artists have skillfully combined found objects and light sources as a political tool for illumination of serious subjects. Mona Hatoum’s installations, such as Current 18 Tobin Siebers, “Disability and the Theory of Complex Embodiment,” The Disability Studies Reader 3rd Edition, ed. Lennard J. Davis (London and New York: Disturbance (1996) and Sous Tension (1999), mimic Swanson’s Double Portrait, demonstrating the potent combination of found objects (the kitchen utensils in Sous Tension are Routledge, 2010) 317. from IKEA), light bulbs, embodiment and revelation. Use of light as a means for metaphor, symbolism, memorial and reflection is indebted to the work of contemporary French 19 Essentialism is a noun that means to extract or express the essential form of something. For example, a dwarf body cannot be reduced to a simple equation such as lack artist Christian Boltanski, in installations such as Lessons of Darkness (1998). Boltanski’s work, revolving around haunting vignettes and pays tribute to the thousands of Jewish of height means lack of intelligence. lives lost in the Holocaust. Felix Gonzales Torres has used light bulbs frequently, such as Untitled [Lovers – Paris in two parts] (1993). Torres is interested in the poignant tension 20 Michael Davidson, “Organs without Bodies” in Concerto for the Left Hand: Disability and the Defamiliar Body (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, between light’s capacity for revelation and transcendence and its inevitable dimming over time. 2008), 202. 20 21 because they exist, act, and appear. Bal says that the anthropomorphic figure communicates between the artwork and (Linton 234-5).24 She goes on to say that disability has now come to be used arbitrarily, although it is a word meant to the viewer who engages with the work through the act of looking and reading. The viewer accomplishes this through signify something concrete. For example, even though dominant culture may wish to designate the word to anyone with the transformative work of the imagination, which is key to my thinking. Together, the BwO, the anthropomorphic physical and mental “handicaps,” given that so many people have many visible and invisible impairments from a wide imagination and Swanson and Walker’s work challenge understandings of body and identity in order to foster new spectrum of ages, classes and ethnicities, that are either congenital or newly acquired, it is hard to affix “disability” to modes of approaching these subjects. any one particular type of person or group. This introduction will first provide some historical background around the roots of the word “disability” and In general though, historical definitions were multiple and often contradictory, and reveal the contestation around how the term evolved over time. This leads to an outline of the fraught relationship of visual representation to identity, the label. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the year 1545 as the first time disability was used in application to the in “Disability and Reassigning Meaning and Thinking in Visual Culture.” I also discuss the relationship of dwarfism to inability to learn. In the Western medieval period, people with so-called “defects” were often considered as miracles
disability with particular attention to undermining the categorization of the latter, followed by a survey of the field of or prodigies, divine signs from God. The origin of a defect or a deformity in the 17th and 18th centuries could be man- disability studies. The chapter outline includes detailed articulation of key terms. In rehearsing the above information, I made, accidental (for example, by injury) or occur naturally at birth. In the early 1900s, “unusual” beings provoked hope to furnish the reader with important background information for the text ahead. other problematic interpretations. A multitude of disabled figures became associated with abjection, inferiority and weakness in the figures of the freak, monster, midget and cripple. According to Michel Foucault, the middle classes Disability and Reassigning Meaning and Thinking in Visual Culture began to regulate the body into various conceptual clusters (of which disability was a part) in order to control and
25 The word “disability” is freighted with negative associations in most Western cultural discourses. Laura harness the life force of a population. In the extreme, eugenic stratification of bodies in Nazism found disabled
26 Swanson says, “It’s the way people talk about it and the language that people use to frame it. And that language and people, among others, incarcerated and exterminated. As this cursory historical review shows, the status, value and the baggage that those words have – that’s what I think complicates it.”21 “Disability” signifies such a generalized significance of disability is absolutely reliant upon cultural and temporal contexts. notion that it almost ceases to signify anything. Marjorie Garber notes how unsatisfactory and contested terms are often The Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) was a landmark civil rights legislation passed on July 26, 1990,
27 simultaneously empty and loaded: “empty because they can mean so many different things in different disciplines, wide-ranging in that it prohibits discrimination based on disability. It acknowledges that “disability depends on practices, and semiotic schemes. Loaded because they are stuffed, even overstuffed, with meanings and implications” 24 Linton, Simi, “Reassigning Meaning,” The Disability Studies Reader 3rd Editiom. ed. Lennard J. Davis. London and New York: Routledge.2010) 234-5. Linton (Gerber 618).22 elaborates: “The prefix has various meanings such as not, as indissimilar ; absence of, as in disinterest; opposite of, as in disfavor; undo, do the opposite of, as in disarrange; and deprive of, as in disenfranchise. The Latin root dis means apart, asunder. Therefore, to use the verb disable, means, in part, to deprive of capability of effectiveness. The prefix 23 creates a barrier, cleaving in two ability and its absence, its opposite. Disability is the “not” condition, the repudiation of ability.” The word “disability” has a long lineage. In tracing the etymology of the word, Simi Linton states that the 25 Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” Critical Inquiry 8.4 (Summer 1982): 777-795. 26 Eugenics,the biosocial movement that was popular with Nazism,advocates the use of practices aimed at improving genetic composition of a population, usually referring basis of the prefix ‘dis’ “connotes separation, taking apart or sundering in two, rooting negativity within its etymology to the manipulation of human populations. The movement follows after physiognomy that emerged in the 19th century, which was a classification process that helped to assess a person’s character or personality from his or her outer appearance, especially the face. Disabled people (and other minority subject positions) were marginalized by this process. Physiognomy was popular with the police in criminal profiling. To learn more, refer to Alan Sekula, “The Body and the Archive,” October 39, Winter 1986: 3-64, and also Robert N. Proctor, “The Destruction of Lives Not Worth Living,” Deviant Bodies, ed Jennifer Terry and Jacqueline Urla (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995) 170-196. 21 Laura Swanson, telephone interview, 19 Sept 2011. 27 The ADA is similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in that it protects people against discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin and other characteristics, 22 Marjorie Garber “Loaded Words,” Critical Inquiry. 32. 4 (Summer 2006): 618. although as Joseph Grigely points out, unlike the Civil Rights Act, the ADA requires that disabled people need to be accommodated only when the accommodation is deemed 23 For more information, consult “Disability History Timeline,” Disability Social History Project. 2 June 2009. 23 Oct 2011.
Given that the adversity surrounding the concept of disability arises in the realm of representation both in the even though this is much-contested terrain.36 There are blurred boundaries that give dwarfism as a disability its own everyday, historically entrenched world and the collective imagination, it is also no small feat to “reassign meaning” added layer of complexity. There is great debate around dwarfs’ adoption of the term “disability” in application to and now thinking through the variant body through the representational practice of contemporary art. Richard Dyer themselves. Many dwarfs will experience some form of temporary or chronic back pain throughout their lifetimes, and highlights the subjectivity of representation, and how it is open to error: “Representation is the organization of the some will have more serious mobility problems where they must rely on wheelchairs, crutches and scooters or undertake perception of [actual bodily differences] into comprehensibility, a comprehensibility that is always frail, coded, in other multiple surgeries. Yet, in my conversations with my dwarf colleagues and friends, they don’t necessarily identify with words, human” (qtd in Garland-Thomson n.p.).32 Rosemarie Garland-Thomson writes then of “a critical gap between the mainstream definition of a “disabled person.” In other words, they don’t feel their bodies are “impaired.” While disabled figures as fashioned corporeal others whose bodies carry social meaning and actual people with atypical bodies dwarfs can have full function of their physical and mental capacities, leaving them without any impairment, they are socially disabled because their bodies look so different from the supposed “normal.” As Garland-Thomson points
28 Simi Linton, “Reassigning Meaning,” The Disability Studies Reader 3rd Edition, ed. Lennard J. Davis (London and New York: Routledge, 2010) 224. 29 Disability as a political movement lags behind civil rights for people of color and women, as disability has not yet established a common cultural language. To be clear, out, “A disability’s visibility also affects social relations . . . formal conditions such as facial disfigurement, scarring, the civil rights and feminist movements realized the fallacy of identifying as homogenous, and soon after recognized the importance of intersectionality. But different “disabled” 33 Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Disability, Identity, and Representation: An Introduction” in Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture communities, such as those that are hearing or visually impaired or short-statured. traditionally have seen themselves as independent of each other, and have had difficulty finding and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997) 15. commonalities amongst themselves such as societal stigma, even while recognizing intersectionality. They are only now just beginning to forge relationships. 30 Lennard J. Davis, “Why Is Disability Missing From the Discourse on Diversity?” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 24 Sept 2011, 25 Oct 2011, <
take comfort in knowing they are not like the “other” because they are acutely aware of the stigma associated with living meaning. While one word has been dis-enfranchised by the more powerful term (eg. “able” trumps “disabled”), it is inside such bodies. Julie Kristeva summarizes that disabled people actually the minor term that is the larger term because without the minor, the supposedly more powerful term would not confront each of those not suffering from these disabilities with the anxiety of castration, the horror of narcissistic wounding and, what’s more, with the unbearableness of psychical or physical death, have meaning. This means that the minor term also has agency. 40 deepening therein the most intractable kind of exclusion suffered by the disabled person. (Kristeva 223) The power of this agency alongside co-productions of meaning through displacement and inversion, have Dwarfs in particular instill the fear of never growing up in people’s minds. As the reader can observe, anxieties and fears been promoted, deconstructed, and theorized at length by post-structural thinkers such as Judith Butler and Elizabeth are complicated emotional reactions without rational explanation. Grosz. Co-productions of binary identities create divergent, complimentary subject positions, revealing how linguistic Grosz continues to say that there is a “horror at the possibility of our own imperfect duplication, a horror of structures play a role in constructing the self. Butler’s theory refuses a stable and coherent gender identity, articulating 41 submersion in an alien otherness, an incorporation in and by another” (Grosz 57) This fear of becoming a freak – of that gender is performed, a repetition of acts of the dominant conventions of gender.48 This performance of gender becoming disabled through the act of looking, involves viewers who are really looking for reassurance of their normality identity is therefore destabilizing because it shakes up a very foundational belief that gender categories are somehow 42 in culture in general, and by extension, in works of art. In reality, anyone could become disabled at some point, or as natural or built into our bodies at birth. Similarly, Linton, I and other disability studies scholars, reject a so-called Helen Deutsch and Felicity Nussbaum say, “the body . . . makes potential monsters of us all” (Deutsch and Nussbaum centered and stable position of disability for the benefit of the unmarked. Disability too, is performed socially according 43 16). Given these points, art by disabled artists throws out a challenge to the ontological security of those who find to the conventions of our time, and might be destabilized. I suggest that Swanson and Walker aid in this process.
37 Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Disability, Identity, and Representation: An Introduction,” Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997) 138. 44 Colin Cameron, “Disability Arts: From the Social Model to the Affirmative Model,” Parallel Lines Journal, In the Ghetto, ed. Aaron Williamson, 2011, 5 Mar 2012 38 Elizabeth Grosz, “Intolerable Ambiguity: Freaks as/at the Limit” in Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body., ed. Rosemarie Garland Thomson (New
49 it. Critical race theorist Darby English suggests that this trajectory by contemporary artists “recommends a turn toward of the exceptional anatomy. There are only a handful of exhibitions, organizations, curators, international festivals and the subjective demands that artists place on the multiple categories they occupy, and that we grant this multiplicity right scholars exploring such themes.55 While these recent exhibitions and texts are important contributions to the field,
50 of place in our methodologies.” Viewers are encouraged to view the world from the vantage of the disabled experience. their arguments are limited to making a case for disability’s visibility in traditional representational form. They are still Such an expansion of experiential positions moves towards a recognition of intersectionality. As Tobin Siebers fighting for recognition at a most fundamental level. Herein lies the tension in this historical moment: on the one hand, says, “analyses of social oppression take account of overlapping identities based on race, gender, sexuality, class, and there are innovative artists like Swanson and Walker making progressive art imbued with a complex, unique experience
51 disability” (Siebers 317). Intersectionality replaces monocausal paradigms that only considered, for example, blackness of disability, while on the other hand, they are living in a time where derogatory, representational frameworks around
at the expense of feminism or vice versa. Usually these paradigms implied a normalizing white female subject within disability stubbornly persist. feminism or a heterosexual black male subject within the discourse of race. Such normativities occluded subjects As a scholar and curator who identifies as disabled (as mentioned in the Prologue, I was born with dwarfism),
52 from accessing other modes of identity to which they may have also belonged. While intersectionality was initially I am uniquely positioned to contribute to a re-imagining of disability’s relationship to social and cultural frameworks. conceived by Kimberlé Crenshaw using a triad or matrix of identity categories – race, class and gender - today, there are 56 My personal and professional life experiences and relationship to the challenges of scale and perception go hand
53 many more categories, such as disability, that are incorporated into analyses of social oppression across the humanities. in hand with my deep interest in uncovering how other dwarfs, especially Swanson and Walker, are developing a Artists such as Swanson and Walker engage with an intersectional approach and similarly, viewers must consider their representational mode about our shared experience in ways that can indicate this paradigmatic shift. In my concern
54 work with an intersectional perspective. over the limitations of ableist thinking towards disabled bodies, I hope to ensure that Swanson’s and Walker’s work At this time, there is a dearth of scholarship bringing together the fields of disability studies, art history, and/ show how being associated with a “disabled experience” offers the opportunity to “reassign meaning” and thinking to or visual culture to examine significant art practices exploring physical differences. Thus, I draw critical frameworks disability. from scholars in the fields of feminist studies, and race studies for these fields deeply interrogate embodiment. I also draw insight from artists who are disabled and, foremost, disability studies scholars including Kuppers, Linton, Davis,
49 Ibid. 55 Katherine Ott is a Curator at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and who is one of the few curators I’m 50 Ibid. aware of dedicated to regularly researching and curating exhibitions pertaining to disability and its various histories. Dr. Ann Fox and Jessica Cooley have curated two excellent 51 Tobin Siebers, “Disability and the Theory of Complex Embodiment – For Identity Politics in a New Register,” The Disability Studies Reader 3rd Edition, ed. Lennard J. exhibitions exploring the intersection of disability and contemporary art: Re/Formations: Disability, Women and Sculpture, 2009, and STARING, 2009, both at Van Every/Smith Davis (London and New York: Routledge, 2010) 317. Galleries, Davidson College, North CarolinaNC. VSA (formerly Very Special Arts) in Washington D.C. has also has curated a number of disability-related exhibits over the years. 52 Jose Esteban Munoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis, MN and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1999). See their the VSA website: www.vsarts.org and also visit www.dadahello.com/dadafest and www.bodiesofworkchicago.org. See also the Dutch exhibit, Niet Normaal: Difference 53 Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43. 6 July 1991: on Display at www.nietnormaal.nl. Recently, two important scholars active in disability studies, art history. and English, language and literature have released two important books 1241-1299. Reprinted in Identities: Race, Class, Gender, and Nationality, ed. Linda Martin Alcoff and Eduardo Mendieta (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003). regarding the intersection of disability and contemporary art. Tobin Siebers argues in Disability Aesthetics (2010), that there has always already been a type of “disability aesthetics” 54 For example, Walker’s upbringing in Dublin, Ireland (born to a famous Irish architect, Robin Walker, and a celebrated art historian who co-founded Dublin’s Museum of in art history. Ann Millett-Gallant’s new book The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art (2010) makes a similar point, although she incorporates a more rigorous analysis of images Modern Art, Dorothy Walker) has played a formative role in the development of his thinking around contemporary art. Walker has incorporated many formal architectural methods as one trained in art history. in his work, such as a minimalist aesthetic and heavy attention to light. He recalls how the Dublin sky was often grey (NOTE: US spelling is gray, if it matters) when he grew up and 56 There are over 22 forms of dwarfism. Both Swanson and Walker have the most common form of dwarfism: achondroplasia. I have an extremely rare form of dwarfism noticed how the light affected peoples’ moods. Swanson was given up for adoption by her Korean birthparents when she was a baby, and was raised by Swedish-American parents in in which all my limbs are in proportion. This is called brachyolmia, as mentioned in the Prologue. Often in conversations with my friends, I will discuss with them how I am often a white, middle-class neighborhood in Minnesota. She grew up with nine brothers and sisters, several of whom were also adopted and with various disabilities, particularly cerebral stigmatized within the little people community by female dwarfs who are shorter than me. Because I am taller, and in proportion, I am considered “superior.” In other words, I am palsy. These facets of their lives contribute to these artists’ art-making process. Relationships, politics, class, race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender also belong in the dialogue. None not considered a true dwarf as my limbs are in proportion and I am taller than most of the female dwarfs. (I am 4’3”. It is interesting that “proportion” and height are once again of these variables are mutually exclusive – they are intersectional. ironically seen as indicators of superiority, beauty and perfection even within the little people community.) 28 29 Chapter Outline & Key Terms Schizophrenia, aids in my reading of Walker’s work.58 The BwO rewrites, subverts and disrupts oppositions. It offers a In Chapter I, I recount my own professional experiences in “Grappling with a Disabled Identity and Theme in model for the visual representations of disability that, according to disability and performance scholar Petra Kuppers, Curatorial Practice.” I offer this to suggest a way of expanding new meaning and thinking around disability that is both can “hold a wide variety of experiences and structured positions in moments of precarious productive imbalance.”59 Phil critical and generative. I also indicate some of the challenges and problems with my current attempts at bringing these Bayliss, Dan Goodley and Kuppers have drawn upon Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy to theorize the intersection ideas into the curatorial realm by incorporating various artist responses about what it means to be a “disabled artist.” of disability with performance, poetry and pedagogy. They employ the BwO for “what it does rather than what it is” In Chapter II, I analyze historical and contemporary representations of atypical bodies in art using Garland- (Kuppers and Overboe 217).60 I aim to apply the theory to Walker’s work in similar ways.61 Deleuze and Guattari’s Thomson’s visual taxonomy. To again provide a context for Swanson and Walker, I group images that highlight how theory also is regularly cited by artists, architects, curators and critics. According to Grant Kester, there exists a the trope of differently statured bodies appears in visual culture over time in three ways. In the second half of Chapter Deleuzian aesthetic. He argues that terms such as rhizome and body without organs, among others, function based on
II, I elaborate on my understanding of “complex embodiment,” an idea coined by Tobin Siebers. Complex embodiment a “visual/intuitive ‘logic.’” Kester notes that the Deleuzian aesthetic often is applied literally in art and architecture, so explores varied and multiple forms of incarnation. I examine complex embodiment in the work of other modern and that the shape, marking or line of a sculpture or building can be taken directly to convey a political expression. I follow contemporary disabled and non-disabled artists alongside Swanson and Walker. Thereby I attempt to outline an aesthetic Kester’s assertions and proceed with finding literal and metaphorical connections between Walker’s work (in Chapter II)
space for the work of artists with disabilities. and the BwO. While Deleuze and Guattari’s theory has been widely adopted in education and feminism, the application In Chapter III, I use Mieke Bal’s concept of the “anthropomorphic imagination,” applying it to the work of Laura of it in disability studies remains nascent.62 Swanson. Bal argues that sculptures imbued with the quality of anthropomorphic imagination are proof that mind and Deleuze and Guattari published their first text,Anti-Oedipus, in French in 1972, which articulated semi-fantastic body cannot be separated.57 While Bal focuses on the anthropomorphic imagination in the sculptures of Doris Salcedo, theories of liberated subjectivity, such as the body without organs.63 The philosophers were writing in France during the dynamics of this theory can also be read in relationship to Swanson’s work. Swanson employs the anthropomorphic a period of political revolution throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Analyzing hierarchies of power, social and political imagination in ways that inflect her objects (lampposts, ficus trees, garden carts) with qualities of embodiment. authority was traced back to the father, as in Freud’s Oedipus complex. Viewing the patriarchal family structure as the Swanson’s objects are “recognized as” just objects and the body’s surrogates. In this way, her objects move the viewer false paradigm upon which all regimes of power and oppression were based, Deleuze and Guattari sought to rupture both physically and cognitively, becoming an important means for political affectivity in relationship to disability. it with the BwO. In Ronald Bogue’s words, “Deleuze and Guattari argue that all desire is social rather than familial, In Chapter IV, I present the concept of the “body without organs” (BwO) conceived by Deleuze and Guattari. and that the best guide to social desire is the schizophrenic id rather than the neurotic ego” (Ronald Bogue 83).64 They This idea, together with their notions such as lines of flight, function as critical tools for analyzing the art work by 58 Dan A. Goodley, “Towards socially just pedagogies: Deleuzoguattarian critical disability studies,” International Journal of Inclusive Education 11.3, 2009: 1-25. 59 Ibid. Corban Walker. Poststructuralist theorists such as Haraway, Foucault and Butler brought legitimacy to the claims of 60 Petra Kuppers and James Overboe, “Introduction: Deleuze, Disability and Difference,” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 3.3, 2009: 217. 61 From Grant Kester, “(Not) Going with the Flow: The Politics of Deleuzian Aesthetics” in Politics and Poetics: Radical Aesthetics for the Classroom., ed. Amitava marginalized subject positions. Nevertheless, the destabilization of the centered subject sustained by Deleuze and Kumar (New York: St. Martins Press, 1999). 62 Other disability studies scholars such as Carrie Sandahl have also been usefully applying philosophy from Haraway, Derrida, Merleau-Ponty to disability studies theory and discourse. Refer to Carrie Sandahl and Philip Auslander, Bodies in Commotion: Disability and Performance (Corporealities: Discourses of Disability) (Ann Arbor, MI: Guattari in their two-part work, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia and A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and University of Michigan Press, 2005). 63 Anti-Oedipus was followed up by A Thousand Plateaus, published in France in 1980, and translated into English in the same year. 57 Mieke Bal, Of What One Cannot Speak: Doris Salcedo’s Political Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). 64 Ronald Bogue, “Anti-Oedipus: Nietzschean desiring-production and the history of representation,” Deleuze and Guattari (London and New York: Routledge, 1989) 83. 30 31 sought to replace psychoanalysis with “schizo-analysis” and explore a multifarious, ever-changing subjectivity borne of or not? Further research, beyond the scope of this project, may yield answers, but for now, I am excited by the potential a network of flows and desires. Manuel DeLanda says Deleuze and Guattari are exemplary for creating such maps: advantages of considering the body in this light, particularly in application to Walker’s work discussed in Chapter IV. They show how our lives may be viewed as a composite of rigid structures (family, school, military My focus throughout this thesis will suggest that Swanson and Walker encourage viewers not simply to look at service, office, marriage), supple structures (temporary alliances, transitory love affairs, loosely knit groups) and, finally, “lines of flight,” the bifurcations that could allow us to change our destinies as bodies, but to contemplate what it is to live one’s body. Perception is not just about the body receiving information about defined by those two types of structures.65 (DeLanda 155) the world, but about how the body inhabits it. Embodiment and the disabled experience are simultaneously subjective and objective; an assemblage of materialized capacities and agency, a sensual and sensible form, that can make sense of, The schizophrenia that Deleuze and Guattari embrace differs from the pathological condition in that it is a voluntary and to, ourselves and to others.68 state chosen for subversion. In the philosophical context, the schizophrenic circumvents known limits, ushering a proliferation of concepts.66 Therefore, Deleuze and Guattari open up new possibilities for all bodies, disabled and non-disabled alike. Their bodies operate outside the constraints of what is expected or defined, such as family and state.They ask, What can a body do? They re-think the body and how it works, obliterating any power-directed pressures on it. Ranging from my encounters with Walker’s work to my phone conversations with Swanson, the philosophers have helped shape my thinking, my writing and even my curatorial practice. “What Can a Body Do?” has spread to quarters already far beyond the life of this thesis. It is also a question I now ask myself every day, and it is an enjoyable, palatable supposition to roll around my tongue. While I do not profess to be a Deleuze and Guattari expert, I attempt to engage the basics of their work that are relevant here.67 Further, using Deleuze and Guattari is like walking a fine tightrope: while the gesture of erasing difference that my thesis promotes is utopian and holds promise, we also must keep watch that we don’t lose our balance in the ecstasy of such goals. Incoherent, destabilized bodies are acceptable and possible, but just as realistically, do we want to “lose a limb” in the process? In other words, does moving toward an incoherent form of the body mean the body will lose any coherence, or can the body be both? Or is any body actually stable and coherent regardless of its visibility as normative 65 Manuel DeLanda, “Inorganic Life,” Incorporations, ed Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter (New York: Zone Books, 1992) 155. 66 Swanson’s and Walker’s work connects with Deleuze and Guattari’s work by offering a visceral, substantive strand of disability, namely dwarfism, which moves beyond the schizophrenic alone. How does dwarfism look when it meets the schizophrenic, both real and imagined? 67 I am aware that the BwO has potential limits. While Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts were developed within what quickly was critiqued as a “master discourse” of French, white, male intellectuals disregarding identity politics – the empowerment of women, people of color, a queer population, or even a disabled one, like other scholars before me who turn to the philosophers’ work such as Petra Kuppers and Dan Goodley, the BwO has been adapted and appropriated to suit the goals and objectives of my study. It is also certainly worth considering if viewing a work of art from a destabilized perspective is the only perspective, or even right perspective, to grasp a new perception of the disabled body. In sum, Deleuze and Guattari’s theory is just one tool among many that either already exist or are yet to be formed to examine this relatively new field. 68 Vivian Sobchack, “Introduction,” Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004) 2. 32 33 chapter i
Left: Installation of Neil Marcus drawing, Medusa’s Mirror: Fears, Spells and Other Transfixed Positions,2011 Grappling with a Disabled Identity and Theme in Curatorial Practice I believe one important way a viewer is able to “reassign meaning” to disability is by engaging with exhibitions that explore disability as a generative critical theme. It is time to think about what the disabled body can do and I argue that contemporary disabled artists are demonstrating this through the inscriptions in their sensorial art practices. This is automatically and refreshingly moving away from binary constructs. In this chapter, I provide an example of an exhibition I recently curated that engages with the ideas I outline above. After this, I unravel some of the problems I am grappling with in my curatorial work by invoking various artist opinions and positions. In 2011, I curated my first exhibition exploring themes of disability where I attempted to create new meaning. Medusa’s Mirror: Fears, Spells & Other Transfixed Positions was held at Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland from September 13 – October 20 and included eight disabled artists challenging the gaze of the non-disabled subject (fig. 2.1 – 2.4). In
Greek mythology Medusa was viewed as a monster, and gazing directly upon her would turn onlookers to stone. In Figure 2.1–Medusa’s Mirror: Fears, Spells and Other Transfixed Positions, Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland, CA, Sept 13 – Oct 20, 2011 many ways, the disabled subject has similar stereotypical qualities to Medusa – that of being monstrous, and transfixing viewers with fear, curiosity or wonder. This exhibition’s agenda was to shift Medusa’s position, and thus make unstable the disabled subject as agent and cause of fear, spells and transfixed positions. This gives reason for able-bodied viewer to reflect on their own frameworks. I wanted viewers to learn that the disabled body is anything but transfixed.The exhibition gave artists agency to make bold aesthetic statements about their bodies and their lives. Artists included Joseph Grigely, Carmen Papalia, Neil Marcus, Katherine Sherwood, Laura Swanson, Sunaura Taylor, Sadie Wilcox and Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi and various media were represented.
Figure 2.2–Medusa’s Mirror: Fears, Spells and Other Transfixed Positions, Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland, CA, Sept 13 – Oct 20, 2011
36 37 Figure 2.5–Installation of Neil Marcus drawing, Medusa’s Mirror: Fears, Spells and Other Transfixed Positions,2011
Briefly, I want to spend time talking about this installation photo of two calligraphic ink drawings by Neil Marcus (fig. 2.5). Marcus uses a wheelchair for his dystonia, a neurological movement disorder in which sustained Figure 2.3–Medusa’s Mirror: Fears, Spells and Other Transfixed Positions, Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland, CA, Sept 13 – Oct 20, 2011 muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements or postures. He is also an internationally recognized central figure in the development of disability culture. As a writer, actor, dancer, philosopher, and visual artist, Marcus constantly pushes the boundaries of dominant culture’s stereotypes regarding the disabled figure in a wheelchair. Instead, he uses his wheelchair for dancing, cavorting and flying through space, as these untitled calligraphic drawings show. In an artist statement about these drawings, Marcus says “My ‘calligraphy art style’ was inspired by Fred Astaire who danced with a broom, Gene Kelly who danced with a mop, a wonderful taiko drummer from Japan who drew with a mop onstage, and from my understanding that life is a dance as the world is a stage.”69 I installed the drawings directly above the wheelchair ramp in the gallery, as I wanted viewers to make a connection with the physicality of access and movement and how a disabled artist is thinking conceptually about mobility in unconventional, powerful ways. Many visitors noticed and commented on my fortuitous juxtaposition, saying that as they walked down the wheelchair ramp, they imagined being on dancing on wheels like Marcus in his wheelchair, or that they were on roller blades or a skateboard, gliding from one elevation to the next. In this
69 Neil Marcus artist statement, 2011. 38 39 Figure 2.4–Medusa’s Mirror: Fears, Spells and Other Transfixed Positions, Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland, CA, Sept 13 – Oct 20, 2011 phenomenological process, in their minds, the visitors’ feet turned into other objects and forms that Marcus proved can have as much dexterity, skill and possibilities for movement. In this exchange of physical and conceptual imagining, viewers were able to experience another way of being and literally moving in the world without reducing it to simplistic stereotypes of Marcus’ marginalized subjectivity as a disabled person and artist in a wheelchair. Medusa’s Mirror was just the beginning of what I believe can be successful ventures into curatorial work involving disability. But I have found myself encountering resistance to the category by many artists, some of whom may and may not identify as disabled as I continue to push these ideas further. Many artists are unsure if they wish to be associated with a theme or label that has traditionally been limiting for their practices given the unfortunate perception
of disability. Some just downright refuse. Figure 2.6–Ryan Gander, The Artwork Nobody Knows, 2011, Venice Biennale For example, I invited well-known British artist Ryan Gander to be a part of my upcoming exhibition, “What Can a Body Do?” to be held at Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College in Pennsylvania from October – December 2012. In an email dated November 17, 2011, Gander stated, “Sorry I can’t do this show, I strongly disagree with the grouping of artists with disabilities, but thanks for the invitation and good luck with it.”70 Among subsequent email exchanges, on November 18, 2011, he said:
I’ve made over 2000 works and you’ve selected the only one with a wheelchair in it? (fig 2.6) Of which the subject doesn’t relate to the body or disability, but more to the subjects and narratives of scale and tragedy . . .? Your show isn’t about what can be done with the body because if it was, Abramović (fig. 2.7) and Burden (fig. 2.8) would be in it for example, to offset all the disabled artists. Your show is in fact Figure 2.7–Marina Abramović, Thomas Lips, 1975, performance Figure 2.8–Chris Burden, Shoot, 1971, performance a show about disability, and it does group disabled people together, something in the history of the world, Here Gander is saying that disabled artists shouldn’t be grouped together under one exhibition as this is something he in all sorts and parts of society, humans have again and again fought to make sure isn’t forced. I’m not a disabled artist, I’m an artist that happens to use a wheelchair, in the same way I use glasses, or a car or a views as limiting and “forced.” He is also strongly denying the label of “disabled artist” as part of his identity. cup.71 From conversations with other artists who know Gander and from my reading and research about him and his work, I also believe his reaction stems from his desire to be recognized as a “good artist” rather than a “good disabled artist.” He believes that physical difference has no overt relationship to his practice, therefore he doesn’t want it to be part of public consciousness either.
70 Ryan Gander, email message to author, 17 Nov 2011. I wonder, though, if the art world has let him forget his difference? Even though Gander’s desires may be logical, 71 Ryan Gander, email message to author, 18 Nov 2011 40 41 deaf artist and critical theorist Joseph Grigely finds that art has increasingly become “about the presence of the artist, identify, I am an “insider” and will not allow any patronizing tones to seep into my projects. On the flip side, I have had and this is where the body of the artist becomes part of the body of the work.”72 Grigely continues that making art and artists question why I put work by artists who were clearly not disabled in my curatorial ventures/exhibitions. Every being an artist are not the same thing, because “being an artist is largely about bringing work to the public.”73 Whether possible positioning has risen to the surface. Admittedly, the category “disability art” can be limiting because it fails one likes it or not, artists are “constantly subject to the gravitational pull of rationalizing about [difference]” although to place artists with disabilities within more general art discourse; nevertheless, the theme of disability can become some artists have been more or less successful at avoiding this, or at least forgetting their subject positions.74 an important paradigm for curators of contemporary art and an empowering concept for all artists. Why not bring Gander’s strong comments also shed light on Darby English’s claim that work by black artists, and similarly, these dilemmas into the exhibition space rather than trying to resolve them with re-enfranchisement? Curators can do any token group, is seldom the subject of rigorous, object-based debate.75 The reasons for this are, firstly, as Aaron this without having to rely on established names such as Abramović or Burden to safeguard against accusations of Williamson says, “the idea that disability comes lowest in the pecking order of identity communities is reflected in pigeonholing artists with disabilities.80 Likewise, to generalize notions of the body without getting into the specificity
disability art’s standing as a critical category.”76 of disability such as blindness and what its experiences might look or feel like maintains its invisibility. After all, there Visually impaired, Portland-based artist Carmen Papalia also blames this on some disability-arts-based are artists like Swanson, Walker, and others I explore who are tackling the critical theme of dwarfism and their personal organizations that have limited inward-looking vision statements driving their missions (Papalia 8).77 While these associations with it. organizations were important in establishing support systems to allow participation in art-making activities by disabled Artists with disabilities have a desire to set the terms of their individual practices, as indicated in Gander’s artists, they also “fail in bringing artists with disabilities in dialogue with the world of mainstream contemporary art” response. In further examples, during my lengthy interviews with Swanson and Walker in 2011, they both told me they (Papalia 9).78 English and Papalia both indicate that due to these limiting frameworks in the discourse around token don’t necessarily identify with the word disability. They’re interested in moving beyond the label without being overly identity groups, artists of their ilk have been unable to contribute much to the art world, or even be taken seriously. didactic or political in their intent. As Walker outlines: My work is not so much categorized in that way [in terms of disability] . . .it’s kind of developing in a Officially sanctioned “disability art” then, is funded only for its uncritical, unchallenging nature, for its empowering way that’s beyond . . . and it’s releasing into other fields . . .it isn’t really about trying to break the ceiling. “celebration” of a minority identity.79 [The work] is very personal to me in terms of who I am and how I’m recognized and how or where . . . I perceive what’s happening in this building or in or around me. But I don’t necessarily just confine it to . Sometimes I have had to articulate my own position or relationship with disability to gain the respect and the . . my disability. I like to keep it open . . . this is really about showing a good piece of work.81 It’s not so much about I’m trying to make a point or something.82 trust of the artist. I venture into thinking that if I am seen as a curator who intimately understands disability because I 72 Joseph Grigley, “Beautiful Progress to Nowhere” in Parallel Lines Journal, In the Ghetto, ed. Aaron Williamson, 2011, 5 Mar 2012
Walker’s and Swanson’s comments point to many similarities, as they each want to move beyond the labels, but they strategize differently: Walker is taking a direction that is trying to “release into other fields,” while Swanson is “putting it out there” in a more confrontational way. Artists with disabilities, such as Swanson and Walker, may question culture and environment through the lens of disability in their practice, but this is not just a means to an end. This is a compelling piece to my argument because it demonstrates the destabilization and de-centering of disability. If disability is not at the center, first and foremost, for artists with disabilities, why should it be at the center for those perceiving representations of “other” subject positions? But now the reader may ask, “How is it possible to move beyond disability, and yet feel empowered by it at the same time?” These goals may seem contradictory. For example, while I believe in how empowered one can be by embracing disability, I am concerned with wanting to avoid any ghettoization that may occur from my association with it as a curator as well as the potential ghettoization of my curated artists. As Linton notes, we are currently deficient in our language to describe disability in any other way than as a “problem,” so the defining is simultaneously a challenge and a curse. However, what happens if we think of this challenge or curse as the opportunity to articulate a richer and more complex language or just thinking about an experience of disability? Feminist and disability studies scholar Barbara Hillyer says, “Instead of creating dichotomies between good and bad words, we can use accurate descriptors . . .we can struggle with distinguishing our own definitions . . . the process is awkward; it slows down talk; it is
uncomfortable [but] it increases complexity.”84 Ultimately, as a curator who just happens to have dwarfism, who works with artists who may or may not have disabilities or identify, I must take great care to note the intersectional specificities of their gendered, cultural, racial and generational contexts and avoid the reduction that I work against in this thesis. In spite of these challenges, Swanson’s and Walker’s work deserves to be placed within a general field of art practice so as to integrate the emergent discourse of complex embodiment with critical art discourse. How might this 83 Laura Swanson, Telephone interview, 19 Sept 2011 84 Barbara Hillyer qtd in Juliet Robson’s “Ten Years On: Re-Presenting Vital, Problematising Playing Fields,” Parallel Lines Journal, In the Ghetto, ed. Aaron Williamson, 2011, 5 Mar 2012
Left: Figure 3.1–Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656 (detail) Disabled Bodies in Visual Culture: Past, Present, Future Bishop and Amelia Jones in relationship to art genres and artists who engage successful strategies in de-centering. I’ve divided Chapter II into two major sections, “Dismantling Historical Representations of Disabled Bodies” Importantly, I attempt to define a critical space for the work of artists with disabilities by laying out established and “Complex Embodiment: A Place for Disability in Contemporary Art Discourse.” The first section provides some theoretical, art historical parameters to situate their practice, using many examples of artwork by non-disabled artists. historical background to contextualize the Double Portrait work by Swanson described in the Introduction. I explicate Finally, I grapple with how to articulate the process that is unfolding in their work as I attempt to sift through and locate three series of images, including: (a) work by Diego Velázquez, Diane Arbus, a sideshow photo, and the O’Neill/Walker it within the fields of inquiry around me. While my attempts at lining up (what I claim to be useful) theoretical and logo from the exhibit Size DOES Matter in the first set; (b) Oompa Loompas, Munchkins and work by Katarzyna art historical lineage with such a category of art are not exhaustive, they provide a starting point that indicates further Kozyra in the second set; and (c) thirdly, a poster for the Freaks (1932) film juxtaposed with new photography of dwarf possible later research. Ultimately, I endeavor to carve a space for the difference of disability in the manner of other actor Peter Dinklage for GQ. Through my critical analyses, utilizing categories suggested by Garland-Thomson, all of minority subjects.86 these images show how the disabled body – particular the dwarf body – has been represented problematically in popular
culture and canonical art and how the trope of difference has been perpetuated, up to the present day. Dismantling Historical Representations of Disabled Bodies An array of scholarship exists on the iconic works and their artist’s oeuvres in this first major section. The history of disabled people reads as a history of being on display in venues ranging from medieval courts While it is unwise and impossible to flatten these images and consider them in isolation or reduce them to mere to P.T Barnum’s freak shows. The disabled population were stared at for entertainment and profit during the 19th and visual representations of atypical bodies, I am interested in the depictions of different bodies and whether they are 20th centuries (Garland-Thomson 56).87 In her historical overview, retired psychologist Betty Adelson acknowledges simplistically celebrated or problematized. To be clear, while it is not my goal to track chronologically how dwarfs (and that “long before any writing appeared about dwarfs, they could be found in art work created in every culture and in the related figures of giant, freak, monster, etc.) have been portrayed in Western visual discourses, the reader can get a every time period” ranging from Egyptian stone carvings and sculptures to Greek vases, ceramics and prints in Asia, and sense of how such representations are critiqued in Swanson’s and Walker’s works.85 Context is important here because it Indian stone reliefs (Adelson 139).88 The ancient Greeks believed dwarfs possessed magical qualities and elevated them also gives the reader a sense of what is at stake and the urgency of my claims to adjust problematic representations. to almost god-like status. Their divine origin was thought to be reason for their atypical bodies. Subsequently, “lucky” The second section, “Complex Embodiment: A Place for Disability in Contemporary Art Discourse,” has been charm garden gnomes appeared in folk art as an outgrowth of the ancient perceptions of dwarfs.89 Early on in her study, divided into three sub-sections. First, I briefly describe Swanson,Walker and their contemporaries, with attention Adelson remarks that there are very few respectful portraits of dwarfs. to the non-representational kind of work they produce. I aim to situate their work in the field of installation art, and And what of dwarf artists? While there have undoubtedly been a number of accomplished dwarf artists tangentially, social practice, and articulate how many of the goals and functions of these genres are analogous to those throughout history, often the dwarf artist remains marginalized, or simplified within the pathologized binary of heroic or 86 I’ve decided not to include an extended discussion on identity politics as a historical moment in art history and visual culture because I see complex embodiment as the of disabled artists. For instance, such qualities as complex embodiment, de-centering and fragmentation are found in next iteration, moving beyond identity politics and pushing the frameworks further. However, for a good overview of the main challenges and debates around identity politics in relationship to art history and visual culture, see Derek Conrad Murray and Soraya Murray, “Uneasy Bedfellows: Canonical Art Theory and the Politics of Identity,” Art Journal both installation art and art by many artists with disabilities. Next, I discuss the thinking of art historians such as Claire 65.1 Spring, 2006: 22-39. 87 Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Politics of Staring: Visual Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography” in Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities, Sharon L. 85 Scholars such as Robert Bogdan and Elizabeth Grosz have provided in-depth surveys of the visual representations of the freak or the monster across a broad array of Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (eds.) (New York: The Modern Language Association, 2002) 56. cultures. Leslie Fiedler, Betty Adelson and Ann Millett-Gallant have looked closely at how dwarfs have been depicted. Also see: Robert Bogdan, Freak Show: Presenting Human 88 Betty M. Adelson, “Art,” The Lives of Dwarfs: Their Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Oddities for Amusement and Profit (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1988); and Elizabeth Grosz, “Intolerable Ambiguity: Freaks as/at the Limit” in Freakery: Press, 2005) 139. Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body, ed. Rosemarie Garland Thomson (New York and London: New York University Press, 1996). 89 Refer to Chapter III for a deconstruction of the gnome through the work of Santiago Forero. 48 49 tragic as in the case of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. The painting represents the oldest mode of visualizing the dwarf, the “wondrous” genre that capitalizes on extreme Garland-Thomson theorizes that there are four primary visual rhetorics of disability: the “wondrous,” the physical difference, particularly, miniaturization, in order to elicit amazement. By contrast with average-sized children “sentimental,” the “exotic” and the “realistic.” Rhetoric is the art of discourse, which aims to inform, persuade or and adults, or with “animal pets who were their rivals,”92 the diminutive scale of the dwarf was defined for their master’s motivate particular audiences in specific situations. Garland-Thomson’s rhetorical template complicates the notion of attention and amusement. This is a condition that still persists in visual culture today. In addition, Infanta Margarita is these images as either being positive or negative, or as being oppressive stereotypes. Still, the first three of these image placed in the center of the painting, while the dwarf and the dog are at the side. This indicates hierarchy of status and categories function for the non-disabled population, assuring them of their “safe” non-disabled status.90 In the following importance. series of images, I have juxtaposed the old with the new to trace a lineage of Garland-Thomson’s visual rhetoric. In further tracing how Las Meninas’ “wondrous” portrayal of dwarfs evolves into the modern era, the sideshow Leslie Fiedler points out how in 17th century Renaissance paintings such as the canonical Las Meninas (1656) by looms especially important. For example, below (fig. 3.2) is a black and white photograph from a 1930s sideshow book,
Diego Velázquez (fig. 3.1), dwarfs were strategically placed to serve “as foils to set off the grandeur and magnificence of which depicts both an over-sized and miniaturized body side by side.93 They both stand in front of what looks like a their benefactors” (Fiedler 70).91 The painting shows a large room in the Madrid palace of King Philip IV of Spain, and circus tent. The dwarf man sits between the legs of the giant figure, coming half-way up to his legs, to emphasize the presents several figures, most identifiable from the Spanish court.The Infanta Margarita is surrounded by her entourage, contrasting size between the bodies. Both stand with hands at hips, looking proud and confident to show off their bodies. including chaperone, maids of honor, bodyguard, two dwarfs, and a dog. Just behind them, Velázquez portrays himself Garland-Thomson’s caption for the image reads, “By juxtaposing the very large with the very small, freak exhibitions working on a large canvas. created wondrous giants and midgets” (Garland-Thomson n.p.).94
Figure 3.1–Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656 Figure 3.2–Circus World Museum, Baraboo, Wisconsin
92 Ibid., 69. 90 Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Politics of Staring: Visual Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography,” Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities, ed. Sharon L. 93 Sourced at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (New York: The Modern Language Association, 2002) 58. 94 Rosemarie Garland-Thomson “Theorizing Disability: Feminist Theory, the Body, and the Disabled Figure” in Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in 91 Leslie A. Fiedler “Dwarfs: Changing the Image,” Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978) 70. American Culture and Literature. 50 51 unprecedented participation as curator. I interviewed Roach to uncover why they were interested in mounting an exhibition about size. Both Fuhrman and Roach knew O’Neal’s drawing power and wanted to put the Foundation in the spotlight.98 They were aware of O’Neal’s huge celebrity status, and that his great height has often been a source of fascination and awe.99 The Foundation strategically used O’Neal’s great stature as a means of gaining exposure.100
Figure 3.3–Diane Arbus, A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y.C.1979
In the 1979 Diane Arbus photograph, A Jewish Giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y.C (1979) (fig. 3.3), the enormous man’s parents stand next to him in their family home to emphasize the difference in stature.95 The three people in the image are confined to the small living room, to further accentuate the son’s “freaky” large size. The
mother and father, half his size, peer up at the son, almost afraid, as he looks down on them, shoulders hunched. It is an Figure 3.4–The Walker/O’Neal silhouette logo for Size DOES Matter exhibition at FLAG Art Foundation, New York, 2010 odd juxtaposition, as the giant seems out-of-place beside them, a foreign, intimidating body that looks awkward.96 The trope of extreme body-size difference served as the reference point when, in 2010, the core logo for the On the surface, the logo asserts that the giant and the dwarf both matter in the same way. After all, what’s wrong exhibition Size DOES Matter showed the silhouettes of Corban Walker (4’) and Shaquille O’Neal (7’1”) back to back with asking people to revere dwarfs and giants the way they revere O’Neal for his celebrity status and pro sports ability? (fig. 3.4).97 The FLAG Art Foundation’s founder, collector Glenn Fuhrman, and director of the Foundation, Stephanie Scale carries status connotations that this show seems to have hoped to circumvent. But if we think about the title, it is Roach, had invited famed basketball player Shaquille O’Neal to curate the show by selecting objects associated with a double entendre that not only has phallic, sexual and racial implications, but also raises sensitivities around the power
the theme of size. The exhibition garnered attention from the public and the media, who were engaged by O’Neal’s 98 Fuhrman happened to have a lot of related work in his personal collection. As well, he and the gallery had networks that facilitated obtaining loans from other gallery dealers of works about the nature of size. 95 Leslie A. Fiedler Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self (New York: Simon and Schuster ,1978);, Betty M. Adelson, “Art,” The Lives of Dwarfs: Their Journey 99 Giants also were considered freaks and put on display with midgets in the freak shows. The same texts referenced in the Introduction can be referenced here, particularly from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press, 2005) 139; and Ann Millett-Gallant, The Disabled Body in Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, ed., Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body (New York and London: New York University Press, 1996). Contemporary Art (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010). 100 Corban Walker was one of the selected artists in the exhibition, as the FLAG Art Foundation has a good relations with Emily-Jane Kirwan, Director of Pace Gallery 96 For an interesting account of Arbus’ work in relation to disability, see this essay: Frederick Gross, “Madness, Disability and the ’Untitled’ Series,” Diane Arbus’ 1960s: and, as Walker’s dealer, is familiar with his practice. The Foundation felt that Walker’s work would be a good fit, and his proposal for a site-specific sculpture was selected. Walker Auguries of Experience (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2012) 133-156. created a piece entitled Off the Glass, 2010, which engaged with the staircase of the gallery, tracing the variation in scale and movement of O’Neal’s body against Walker’s as they 97 The image was based on a real-life photo of the Walker and O’Neal, who happily agreed to take this picture when they were hanging out and clowning around in moved up or down the stairs. Walker had the opportunity to meet with O’Neal, and according to Roach, the two hit it off very well. Roach felt that they shared a common bond – of Cleveland, Ohio. Walker had gone on a trip to watch O’Neal play a game, alongside staff from the FLAG Art Foundation and several other artists in the show who were making new what it means to live inside an atypical body, and of dealing with public stares every day (albeit more intensely perhaps for O’Neal, being in the media glare). Walker admitted that works featuring O’Neal in some shape or form. the exhibit was a good professional opportunity and a lot of fun – certainly also one of the objectives of the project. 52 53 of height in the world, particular as an attribute for enhanced masculinity.101 The logo feeds the already existing negative Further, the wording of the logo refers to a familiar adage which really suggests that one size ranks higher than the other, social constructs around the characteristics associated with the giant or the dwarf. Typically, giants are “marvelous” and not equally. Swanson’s lamps suggest that size doesn’t ultimately matter: both of the lamps provide light. superior in strength and ability because they are grander in height. Conversely, the giant can be associated with stupidity Atypical bodies have often been portrayed as great fictional characters in stories and plays. Quasimodo from and violent tendencies. Dwarfs are to be pitied or feared by a non-dwarf dominant culture because they have not “grown the Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Frankenstein (1818) and Erik (the phantom) from Phantom of the Opera (1909) up” into adults and again, are asexual. They are considered inferior in intellect, ability and normality. On the other hand, are prime examples. Dwarfs, particularly, tend to be viewed in relation to the single fact of their visible difference. the fairy tales always attribute huge dexterous and creative gifts to dwarfs. One observes dwarfs in popular culture, fictionalized as Munchkins inThe Wizard of Oz (1939) (fig. 3.5), as Oompa However, I believe this logo is a problem because emphasizing size difference has a long history of making Loompas in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) (fig. 3.6) as Mini-Me (Austin Powers movies in 1997, 1999 dwarfs seem “less than” in a number of ways, as I’ve demonstrated in the Las Meninas painting and sideshow and and 2002), and annually appear as elves during Christmas recitals and holiday movies. Disney’s Snow White and the
Arbus photographs. This image emphasizes the power of size difference through the visual trope of silhouette.102 The Seven Dwarfs (1937) is perhaps the most iconic animated portrayal of the dwarf. These images fall into the category viewer is privy only to seeing the outlines of O’Neal’s and Walker’s bodies, with their arms folded across their chests of “exotic,” according to Garland-Thomson’s taxonomy. In this genre, the disabled figures become alien and distant, to emphasize through body language their “proud” forms similar to the sideshow image. The silhouettes suggest that sensationalized, eroticized and entertaining in their difference. the outlines of the bodies are the most important and defining feature of these human beings and this is what must be focused on, given all other features of their bodies have been omitted. But why must different bodies be reduced to their difference? The silhouette defines but also reduces a very simple representation of complex people. The bodies of O’Neal and Walker side by side recall Swanson’s Double Portrait pairings. Yet, Swanson’s representations of size difference possess a criticality lacking in the Size DOES Matter work. First, Swanson replaces bodies with objects to remove bodies from the lens of objectification. Second, she deconstructs reductive representations
of the disabled body in her insistence on different but equal, whereas the Size DOES Matter logo exploits the spectacle Figure 3.5–Munchkins, The Wizard of Oz, 1939 Figure 3.6–Oompa Loompas, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971 of size to garner attention. Given “representation attaches meanings to bodies” (Garland-Thomson 5), the pairing of large and small body forms is deeply problematic for me, as the O’Neal/Walker logo feeds already existing negative In the screen versions of these tales, the dwarfs all dress alike in cute costumes (note the bright orange faces of the social constructs around the characteristics associated with the giant or the dwarf (as I’ve previously described).103 101 There is a stereotype that black men have larger penises, and that penis size does matter when it comes to vaginal intercourse. There is also a stereotype that the smaller Oompa Loompas). Without a sense of the dwarfs’ individuality, viewers are prevented from recognizing them as living, the man (and the whiter), the smaller the penis, so this image (and corresponding exhibition title) also suggests that African American O’Neal’s supposed penis size is superior to that of white Walker’s. This doesn’t exactly reflect well on the short statured male. So much of macho masculinity is formed around the male ability’s to sexually fulfill the woman breathing human subjects. Dwarfs are de-individualized by the virtually identical costumes, wigs and makeup, and any etc. 102 A silhouette is the image of a person or object consisting of the outline and a featureless interior. The silhouetted is usually in black, as depicted in the Size DOES Matter logo. The silhouette art form was most popular in the mid-18th century, but the tradition has continued into the 21st century. A silhouette emphasizes the outline of a person, but particular identity becomes lost. They become essentialized in subservient roles, meaning that in the public imagination, it also describes the sight or representation of a person that appears against a lighter background and thus describes the shape of a person’s body in more pronounced terms. See Desmond Coke, The Art of Silhouette (Charleton, SC: Nabu Press, 2010). the essence of the dwarf moves to one that is patronizingly dressed in a cute, strange or threatening costume, with 103 Rosemarie Garland Thomson, “Disability, Identity, and Representation: An Introduction,” in Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 5. 54 55 a high-pitched voice and little intelligence. Is it any wonder that, according to Betty Adelson, “among the daunting While Kozyra has developed a practice based on issues of identity, human nature and transgression, all within an obstacles that all dwarfs face are omnipresent stares, comments, and often ridicule” (Adelson 2)104 in addition to important framework of controversy and confrontation, I fault her ethical choices within this performance. The Midget heightism? Gallery attempts to critique power within the art world, and I appreciate her struggles, but it positions short statured To elaborate on these depictions with a personal anecdote, in 2010 I visited Disneyland with a friend. As I went people in a retrograde manner. Ultimately her use of short-statured people as props is exploitative – she garners into the bathroom, my friend waited for me outside, seated next to a young boy and his father. My friend’s short stature controversy and attention by infiltrating her “unusual protestors” into an art fair. Such a representational strategy caught the attention of the young boy. After staring at him for some time, the young boy finally asked my friend, “Do perpetuates the notion of atypical bodies as untoward outsiders. The artist wields this exploitation at the Frieze Art Fair, you live here?” The boy had mistakenly assumed that my friend was a Disney character. considered to be one of the most prestigious, high-profile events in the contemporary art world.What’s more, making The “Disneyfication” of little people is transferred into a contemporary art context in the performance piece a spectacle of the dwarf body occurs at an acute level of exposure, which is highly damaging for artists who identify as
named The Midget Gallery Goes to Frieze, (2006) (fig. 3.7-3.8), by prominent Polish artist Katarzyna Kozyra. Five disabled and seek respect and equal opportunity in this same art world infrastructure.107 “midgets” with signs and mini-projection screens attached to their backs, wearing matching “munchkin-esque,” Another recent image of the dwarf body in popular culture blends the genre of “wondrous” and “exotic” with traditional Polish folk costumes, attempted to squat within an exclusive art fair in Regents Park, London to sell the “sentimental,” and invites viewers pity the disabled figure. Peter Dinklage appeared with a naked woman draped “real art.”105 “Midget” is generally considered an offensive word by people of short stature and also within the LPA. across his legs in the December 2011 issue of GQ (originally Gentlemen’s Quarterly) (fig. 3.9).108 I have juxtaposed the Additionally, the word recalls putting little people on display and hence associations with the traditional “freak show.”106 Dinklage image with a promotional poster for the 1932 MGM film,Freaks , directed by Todd Browning (fig. 3.10).
Figures 3.7 and 3.8–Katarzyna Kozyra, The Midget Gallery Goes to Frieze, 2009
104 Betty M. Adelson, “Introduction,” Dwarfism: Medical and Psychosocial Aspects of Profound Short Stature (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2005) 2. Figure 3.9–Freaks theatrical poster by MGM, 1932. Figure 3.10–Peter Dinklage in GQ photo shoot, Dec 2011 105 Katarzyna Kozyra, The Midget Gallery: A Guide to the Art System and Art Market, ed. The Midgets and Hanna Wroblewska(Warsaw: Studio Blok, 2009). 106 The following excerpt from the LPA website explains why “midget” is an offensive word: “In some circles, a midget is the term used for a proportionate dwarf. However, the term has fallen into disfavor and is considered offensive by most people of short stature. The term dates back to 1865, the height of the “freak show” era, and 107 Unfortunately, Kozyra is not the only “mainstream” artist to expropriate disabled people for the sake of her own art. Artists such as Sophie Calle and Artur Zmijewski was generally applied only to short-statured persons who were displayed for public amusement, which is why it is considered so unacceptable today. Such terms as dwarf, little have used blind (Calle’s Blind series, 1986) and hearing-impaired people (Zmijewski’s Singing Lesson films, 2001/2003) to make artistic and political statements that ultimately end person, LP, and person of short stature are all acceptable, but most people would rather be referred to by their name than by a label.” Little People of America. “Frequently Asked up being quite one-sided. I wish to critique such practices more deeply in upcoming dissertation work. Questions.” 5 Mar 2012.
The similarities between the poster and the Dinklage image, however, are countered in GQ, as Dinklage’s humanities, has not accounted for the disabled subject and their accompanying bodies. A small amount of patronizing body is hyper-masculinized. In the modern-day Pieta-like image featuring Dinklage and a naked woman in high heels, and demeaning representations have appeared in art genres such as “outsider art” and in the monstrous and grotesque Dinklage holds the recumbant woman across his lap, instead of the reverse in the Freaks poster. GQ named Dinklage classification.111 Moreover, historically, derogatory constructs have failed to be challenged. My analysis undertakes to “Stud of the Year,” suggesting that Dinklage is now, through his fame, “worthy” of a young, sexually hot, beautiful, non- juxtapose disabled artists with: (a) artists who are redefining human perception, such as Rebecca Horn,Ann Hamilton, disabled woman, and so gets “re-masculinized.” 109 The image suggests that Dinklage can be normalized by his capacity and Carsten Holler; (b) artists who destabilize conventions of the body, like feminist Mary Kelly, and queer performance to possess a non-disabled woman. It hyper-legitimizes his maleness by using the same tropes that fashion photography art and media artist Gary Hill; and (c) Duchamp and other artists using found objects to suggest embodied experiences. normally employs to suggest that the models have been, are being, will soon be fucked by the male. Is this a moment of I begin my revision by situating the practices of artists with disabilities within the realm of installation art and irony or a joke at disability’s expense? Perhaps a disabled man such as Dinklage could not possibly be seen as attractive social practice and how they resonate with complex embodiment. According to Claire Bishop, a viewer physically enters unless we write STUD metaphorically and literally in a magazine. Disability is rendered “invisible” by invoking hyper- an installation in order to experience theatrical, immersive, or sensory encounters.112 Installation art works to heighten a masculinity.110 viewer’s awareness of how space holds objects in relation to bodies. As such, it addresses the viewer as a corporealized On many levels, Swanson’s and Walker’s work counters such problematic historical and contemporary presence. Bishop writes, “Rather than imagining the viewer as a pair of disembodied eyes that survey the work from representations. Their work creates new thinking about size by taking on Garland-Thomson’s fourth rhetorical type, a distance, installation art presupposes an embodied viewer whose senses of touch, smell and sound are heightened 111 The term “outsider art” was introduced in the early 1970s by British art critic Roger Cardinal, who promoted artists who were self-taught and socially marginalized or “realistic” representations. “Realistic” depictions minimize difference and distance. Instead, such depictions establish considered to be working outside the influence of mainstream contemporary art discourse. But it is over-generalizing to equate artists with little formal academic training with those who have either a cognitive or physical impairment or disability. It seems the contemporary art world has a great dearth of critical thinking about, intellectualizing and viewing of the disabled body in its own right. “Inside Outside: Martin Ramirez” in Peter Schjeldahl’s book Let’s See: Writings on Art from The New Yorker, argues that “outsider art” is a vapid a common border. While the “wondrous,” “sentimental” and “exotic” modes exaggerate the exceptional qualities of label and “comes from and goes nowhere in art history. . . It defeats normal criticism’s tactics of context and comparison. It is barbaric. Can we . . . regard Ramirez as an ordinary artist with extraordinary abilities?” (Schjeldahl 219). Further, in The Body in Contemporary Art, author Sally O’Reilly dedicates an entire chapter to “Monstrous Bodies.” Artists such as Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy and Jake and Dinos Chapman feature monstrous bodies, as they are trying to suggest that “the monster is us” in the same way that Helen 109 In an interesting comparison, in 2008 Vogue released an issue with the cover image a black basketball player gripping a seemingly helpless thin, white model. It had Deutsch and Felicity Nussbaum suggest in the Introduction Deutsch and Nussbaum 16). But perhaps this is a privilege of the non-disabled artist only. For example, I am interested allusions to King Kong and his kidnapping of a white woman. Condé Nast owns both Vogue and GQ ; the art directors know US movies and use them as resources. The Vogue cover in using Hal Foster’s “Obscene, Abject, Traumatic” in Octoberas a jumping off point to consider why artists such as Cindy Sherman associate “accidents of birth and freaks of had problematic associations for the issue of race, where an animal/beast/monster is linked to the character and physicality of a black man, etc. It also has interesting similarities to nature” (in other words, disabled babies) with abjection, obscenity and trauma. I’d like to think beyond this and suggest an examination of the monstrous with the interstices of the O’Neal/Walker logo, depicting a professional basketball player empowered by a so-called inferior subject. disability within a critical framework and how reductive associations can be replaced by more complex, empowering images by artists who identify as disabled. 110 These notes were derived from a Facebook “wall” conversation. Critical contributors included Jessica Cooley, Ann Fox and Jordan Reznick Renner. 112 Claire Bishop, “Introduction: Installation Art and Experience,” Installation Art: A Critical History (London and New York, Routledge: 2005) 6. 58 59 as is their sense of vision.”113 Installation art offers a way to contemplate the demands placed on the viewer when shortly. As I articulated in the Introduction, I too am interested in what the disabled body can do through the practice of encountering the work of Swanson and Walker. Contemporary installation art necessarily casts the viewer’s experience contemporary art, rather than simply what it is in traditional representational form.117 as that of the de-centered subject that I articulated in the Introduction. Representation was at its most conventional when Cartesian thought was formulated in relation to the rational, Arising from installation art, social practice or socially engaged artwork has emerged in the past decade as a self-reflexive subject. The art historian Panofsky argued that in the Renaissance, artists placed the viewer at the center of loosely defined genre that expresses the desire to make art that is living and action-based. Cuban artistTania Bruguera painterly worlds they created for their eyes (fig. 3.11). states, “I don’t want to make art that points at a thing, I want an art that is the thing,” where she emphasizes forms of art that involve the world.114 I mention this kind of contemporary art practice in the context of my argument because it allows genuine interpersonal human relationships to develop between artists and communities.115 As I will demonstrate
shortly through the Blind Field Shuttle work of visually impaired artist Papalia, who is completing his Masters of Fine Arts in Social Practice at Portland State University, relationships of trust and explorations of the senses unfold as the artist performs his/her walks with members of the public. Further, I believe that social practice as an evolving art genre has much potential for artists with impairments because it is new and can be molded according to the individual needs Figure 3.11–Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Architectural View, c.1490-1500 of the artist. Social practice also is embedded with an urgency to consider the lived experiences around us as art is called into life. While this type of artistic practice commonly has a performative, discursive (through conferences, talks, Artists have sought to disrupt this hierarchical model as far back as Cubism, and continue now, in installation art. symposiums etc.) and thus spatial dimension outside the traditional white walls of an art gallery or museum, it also This discourse of de-centering comes primarily from philosophy and has had particular impact on feminist, queer possesses a judicial and governmental dimension as well. This is useful for the political cause of the disabled artist’s and postcolonial theory, which argues that unified, self-knowing ideology is masculinist and racist. Such theorists integration into mainstream contemporary art discourse and of course, life itself. What kinds of social practices might argue there can be no one right way of looking or being in the world. Renaissance one-point perspective is ruptured be transformative for the disabled identity through these interpersonal human relationships and through conference by installation art’s denial of any one ideal position from which to look at a work of art. Installation elicits multiple discussions?116 Most importantly, with socially engaged work, the typical lens of artistic analysis – aesthetics – is perceptions of a single situation because there is more than one way to represent the world.118 replaced as a methodology by how a work approaches the social, as opposed to simply what it looks like. This In concert with seeking multiple perspectives, I argue that Laura Swanson and Corban Walker also incorporate characteristic seems to resonate most profoundly with the notion of complex embodiment, which I will also discuss 113 Ibid. complex embodiment in their work. Their work demonstrates how different embodiments contribute to the incredible 114 Nato Thompson, “Living as Form,” Living As Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, Creative Time Books, 2012) 21. 115 For more information on social practice, refer to Claire Bishop, “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics,” October 110 Fall 2004: 51-79; Claire Bishop, “The Social variation of human experience, giving us access to new understanding and sharpened awareness of multiplicities and Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents,” ArtForum, Feb 2006: 179-85; and Claire Bishop, Participation: Documents of Contemporary Art (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006). For what is considered one of the first theoretical texts exploring socially engaged art, akso see Nicholas Bourriaud,Relational Aesthetics, trans. Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods 117 Perhaps not coincidentally, another relationship with my work is where the art historian Claire Bishop, alongside the “father” of relational aesthetics, Nicholas with the participation of Mathieu Copeland (France: les presses du reel, 2009). Bourriaud, turns to the theory of Deleuze and Guattari in their thinking around this social practice because of the philosopher’s ideas about how a work of art should make an 116 I believe my roundtable discussion held at the California College of the Arts on February 17, 2012 is an important example of how a discursive format contributes to effective contribution to production. They too, enjoy the richness of possibilities in the Deleuze and Guattari toolbox. From Nicolas Bourriaud. Relational Aesthetics, trans. Simon social practice and its effects on the disabled identity in art. For video documentation of this event, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtSTRj2s9H8 (Part 1) and http://www. Pleasance, Fronza Woods and Mathieu Copeland (Paris: Les Presses du Réel, 2002). youtube.com/watch?v=DKwkawC-Zxw (Part 2). 118 Ibid., 35. 60 61 complexities of identity. Through their installations, a viewer may gain entry to varied modes of thinking and sensing. “Heightened” Perception The idea of complex embodiment was developed by disability studies scholar Tobin Siebers in reaction to the Tobin Siebers says that “the disabled body changes the process of representation itself. Blind hands envision limitations of the ideology of ability. He says: the faces of old acquaintances. Deaf eyes listen to public television . . . Mouths sign autographs . . . Could [disability Disability creates theories of embodiment more complex than the ideology of ability allows, and these 124 many embodiments are each crucial to the understanding of humanity and its variations, whether studies] change body theory [and contemporary art] as usual?” (Siebers 54). Imagine encountering a gamut of atypical physical, mental, social, or historical.The ultimate purpose of complex embodiment as theory is to physical experiences inscribed in a work of art. These experiences will range from blindness to deafness, from dwarfism give disabled people greater knowledge of and control over their bodies in situations where increased knowledge and control are possible.119 and challenges with scale to how bodies engage with the built environment as a paraplegic in a wheelchair or as an amputee with a prosthetic leg or arm. Other experiences will cultivate a heightened sense of sound, touch, smell, taste,
Complex embodiment can offer layers of inquiry and take us down an unconventional path, so that categories of hearing or body language.
difference, identity, and disadvantage in relationship to disability can no longer be essentialized. The perception and Artists along these lines, such as Joseph Grigely and Christine Sun Kim (both hearing impaired), Papalia. experience of disability is nuanced and contingent. Park McArthur (who has a degenerative neuromuscular disease and uses a wheelchair) and Santiago Forero (who Phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty calls the body a “grouping of lived-through meanings which move has dwarfism) radically open up the discussion about a body outside usual expectations.125 The artists use a blend of towards its equilibrium.”120 Merleau-Ponty’s work moved beyond empiricism and Cartesian dualities, such as mind/body representational and non-representational imagery, immersive environments, objects, performances, social practice or normal/abnormal. To describe how the presence of a human body, phenomena and space interweave and immerse in and phenomenology to explore non-standard perceptual and sensory experiences.126 How does it feel to move in a the world, Merleau-Ponty created the phrase the “flesh of the world.”He believed that consciousness, experience and wheelchair? When one is a dwarf, how does a pedestrian experience at the height of 4 feet define the survey of the thought lay in the merger of flesh and of world.121 A human being lives in an environment and is a part of it; he or she world’s terrain, as opposed to a height of the “average” 6-foot person? When one is blind, what does it mean to hear, feel does not gaze at the world as at a display or something that is distant from her. He or she touches things and regards and smell? When one is deaf, what does it mean to see music in a visual form? How does the shape and movement of them. In such a manner he or she is seizing them, they are becoming a part of him/her. Vivian Sobchack puts it this way: sound look on paper? Deleuze and Guattari reinforce these statements in their line of questioning: It is really so sad and dangerous to be fed up with seeing with your eyes, breathing with your lungs, “Embodiment is a radically material condition of human being that necessarily entails both the body and consciousness, swallowing with your mouth, talking with your tongue, thinking with your brain . . .? Why not walk on 127 objectivity and subjectivity, in an irreducible ensemble” (Sobchack 4).122 Further, in words that parallel Deleuze and your head, sing with your sinuses, see through your skin . . . Find your body without organs. (Deleuze and Guattari 151) Guattari’s mission, Sobchack says of phenomenology, “we matter and we mean through processes and logics of sense- making that owe as much to our carnal existence as they do to our conscious thought.”123 For example, Joseph Grigely creates works that explore the idiosyncrasies of language and the dynamics of
119 Tobin Siebers, “Disability and the Theory of Complex Embodiment – For Identity Politics in a New Register,,”,” in The Disability Studies Reader Third 3rd Edition, e 124 Tobin Siebers, “Body Theory,” Disability Theory (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2008) 54. Ed. Lennard J. Davis (London and New York: Routledge, 2010), 317. 125 See Christine Sum Kim, a Selby Film, at www.christinesunkim.com and Park McArthur, Presence Is Progress, at www.parkmcarthur.com, Forero’s work, in comparison 120 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans Colin Smith (London and New York: Routledge, 1962) 153. with Swanson, is discussed in more detail in Chapter II,. Also see
Figure 3.14-3.15–Christine Sun Kim, Seismic Calligraphy, 2008, Ink and powder-drenched quills on paper
In Park McArthur’s Mobility: New York (2010), the video casts images of burned-out crosswalk signs to a soundtrack of novice adult piano players singing The Beatles’ Across the Universe (fig. 3.16). The artist is interested in how public Figure 3.12–Hearing impaired artist Joseph Grigely, Songs Without Words (Eartha Kitt), 2009 signage excludes the disabled body and other forms of mobility. What does music looks like in Christine Sun Kim’s performances? The performance artist explores sonic media without the benefit of hearing. She finds how to make its presence more physical, to find greater dimensions of movement, and to make a personal connection beyond what most of us might find in the everyday sense. Kim has developed a practice of lo-fi experimentation that aims to reappropriate sound by translating it into movement and vision. Her performances usually are composed of field recordings of street sounds from her NewYork Chinatown 64 65 forth. The trip culminates in a group discussion about the experience. As a result of visual deprivation, participants are made more aware of alternative sensory perceptions such as smell, sound, and touch – so as to consider how non-visual input may serve as a productive means of experiencing place.
Figure 3.16–Park McArthur, Mobility: New York, 2010, NTSC digital video, 04:53 (still)
Miho Iwakawa proposes that Merleau-Ponty introduced “the innovative idea that the body ‘extends’ an object, for example a cane for the blind, so that it literally becomes a part of the body” (Iwakawa 78).128 Such bodily extension and scrambling of senses offer counter embodiments. In view of Merleau-Ponty’s theory of embodiment, objects or entities in the spatial field – devices to extend or replace the senses – mediate the experience of the self and world of the person who uses them. Figure 3.17–Rebecca Horn, Finger Gloves, 1972 Figure 3.18–Carmen Papalia, Blind Field Shuttle (guided walk) – CCA, 2012, In that vein, the German artist Rebecca Horn has deployed various mechanical constructions to extend her Photo by Jordan Reznick Renner body in space, which she enacted in filmed performances. InFinger Gloves (1972) (fig. 3.17), Horn explores ideas of touch and sensory awareness using prosthetic fingers that are exaggerated in length and attached to her hands. Ann Hamilton and Carsten Höller also seek to extend human perception in their highly sensorial works. In Similar to how prosthesis replaces and replenishes a human being’s natural leg or arm, eventually taking on sensory, Hamilton’s Untitled body object series #17: toothpick suit (fig. 3.19), the artist wore a used man’s suit covered with a physical experience equivalent to the existing limbs, or how a cane becomes a rolling eyeball for a person with a visual dense layer of toothpicks, turning it into an armored second skin. Hamilton was interested in learning the places and impairment, Finger Gloves can feel, touch or grasp objects from a distance.129 forms for live, tactile, visceral, face-to-face experiences in a media-saturated world, leading to an embodied knowledge. In comparison, Papalia leads a Blind Field Shuttle – a guided walking tour of the California College of the Arts Untitled (body object series) #5 – bushhead performs a similar function (fig. 3.20). San Francisco campus (2012) (fig. 3.18) as part of his social practice. The Blind Field Shuttle is a non-visual shuttle experience where participants tour urban and rural spaces on foot. Forming a line behind Papalia, participants grab the right shoulder of the person in front of them and shut their eyes for the duration of the walk. Papalia then serves as a tour guide – passing useful information to the person behind him, who then passes it to the person behind him/her and so 128 Miho Iwakuma, “The Body as Embodiment: An Investigation of the Body by Merleau-Ponty.” Disability/Postmodernity: Embodying Disability Theory, ed, Mairian Corker and Tom Shakespeare. (London and New York: Continuum, 2002) 78. 129 Armin Zweite, Katharina Schmidt, Doris von Drathen and Rebecca Horn. Rebecca Horn: Drawings, Sculptures, Installations 1964-2006 (Oshfildern, Germany Hatje Cantz, 2007). 66 67 Figure 3.19–Ann Hamilton, Untitled body object series #17, toothpick suit, 1984-2006 & Figure 3.20–Untitled (body object series) #5 – bushhead, 1984-1993
In Carsten Höller’s Upside Down Mushroom Room, oversized, spinning mushrooms hang from the ceiling, while lighting emerges from the floor (fig. 3.21). In the world upside down, Höller attempts to trigger hallucinations and perceptual alterations in the human brain. He has described himself as an “orthopaedist who makes artificial limbs
130 for parts of your body that you don’t even know you’ve lost.” Höller’s work awakens feelings of bodily strangeness Figure 3.22–Félix González-Torres, “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991 and dislocation upon interaction. A viewer’s own understanding of “the right way up” can become disorientating, as the
nature of reality is put into doubt. Madeline Schwartzman finds artists such Hamilton,Höller and González-Torres, and now Grigely, Sun Kim, McArthur and Papalia, proposing a reframing of the senses. “They yank us out of passive perceiving; they yell at the senses and demand of us to smell when we expected to see. They challenge our assumptions about our own embodiment, skipping norms to cut to some alternative truth about sensation” (Schwartzman 21).132 These artists complicate what the body can do and can be through objects, installations, performance and social practice. Conventional subject positions can be displaced by a complex embodiment that offers physical impairment as a means for illumination. Just as Swanson’s and Walker’s artistic practices deploy facets of the anthropomorphic imagination and Figure 3.21–Carsten Höller, Upside Down Mushroom Room, 2000 the BwO, the practices of other contemporary disabled artists working alongside them do as well. They show that what a body has the ability to be and do is uncertain and open to question. The body also can be perceived through taste and weight, even if the corpus is no longer present. Félix González-Torres’ “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) is an allegorical representation of the artist’s partner, Ross Coherence and Incoherence of the Body Laycock, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991 (fig. 3.22). González-Torres’ installation comprises 175 pounds of Swanson and Walker destabilize the normative corporeal representations seen in conventional art history. They candy, corresponding to Ross’s ideal body weight. Viewers are encouraged to take a piece of candy, and the diminishing replace these stereotypes with “realistic” imagery and situations, as defined in Garland-Thomson’s taxonomy. While I amount parallels Ross’s weight loss and suffering prior to his death. González-Torres stipulated that the pile should be will demonstrate how the two artists displace embodied experiences onto the ficus trees installation and stainless steel replenished continuously, thus metaphorically granting perpetual life. The piece also alludes to the notion of the body sculptural form, it is important to take stock of disabled artists’ bodily configurations in previous examples of their being substituted by the sense of taste.131 130 Claire Bishop, “Introduction: Installation Art and Experience,” Installation Art: A Critical History (London and New York, Routledge: 2005) 48. practices (especially in self-portraits) up until quite recently. For example, Swanson’s Revelation (2009) (fig. 3.23) 131 For more information on identity politics, the transformative power of food in contemporary art and the work of Félix González-Torres, refer to Sita Bhaumik “The thesis, 2012 Edible Body: Representational Strategies in Contemporary Art Practices.” San Francisco: California College of the Arts, Graduate Program in Visual and Critical Studies Masters 132 Madeline Schwartzman, “Reframers,” See Yourself Sensing: Redefining Human Perception (London: Black Dog, 2011) 21. 68 69 foregrounds the viewer’s reaction to portraits of asymmetrical body sizes and heights (the artist and her partner, Greg), performance art worked to critique the myth of neutrality, disinterestedness and universality held by a white, mostly especially combined with beauty and power. In Walker’s TV Man (2011) (fig. 3.24), the artist has created an exactly male, art establishment (particularly in art movements such as abstract expressionism and hard-edge abstraction). Jones life-size video replica of himself, standing at 4 feet tall, inside the monitor of a flat-screenTV that is larger in scale than argues that feminist performance artists such as Carolee Schneemann and Yayoi Kusama unhinge structures embedded Walker himself. Though the work is chiefly about the artist’s height, it is also about artist-audience conflicts in staring at in art history and formal art evaluation. atypical anatomy. These artists, then marginalized, are performing, through exaggeration and confrontation, the particularities Swanson and Walker acknowledge that using their bodies is a more confrontational strategy to gain recognition of their sex, gender or ethnicity. Specifically, Schneemann and Kusama exacerbate, through flamboyant, subversive of different embodiments. In some cases, artists such as Santiago Forero use the body as a hybrid form.133 The literal, images and performances, their exoticism and their sexuality, which are at odds with a white male position. In Interior coherent or hybrid representation of the atypical body in contemporary art has its place. It is a tool for promoting Scroll (1975) (fig. 3.25), Scheemann extracts a scroll from her vagina from which she reads a speech on feminism in a
visibility of a disabled body, which still warrants heightened attention and has transformational value. performance. Critics said that by placing the source of artistic creativity at the female genitals, Schneemann changes the masculine overtones of minimalist and conceptual art to a feminist exploration of her body. In Yayoi Kusama’s photograph, she poses nude on a plush cushion that contains repetitive protruding phallic shapes (fig. 3.26). She exposes the so-called “exoticism” of her nubile Asian form while greeting the gaze of the voyeur head-on, indicating power over it. Jones, Schneemann and Kusama “particularize their bodies/selves to expose and challenge the masculinity embedded in the assumption of ‘disinterestedness’ behind conventional art history and criticism” (Jones 7).135 The effects and the material enactment of the body, Jones says, “strategically unveil[s] the dynamic through which the artistic body is occluded (to ensure its phallic privilege) in conventional art history” (Jones 7).136
Figure 3.23–Laura Swanson, Revelation, 2009 Figure 3.24–Corban Walker, TV Man, 2011 These images function in a way similar to the self-portraits by Swanson and Walker mentioned previously. Their self-portraits resolutely confront the viewer’s gaze with the atypical materiality of their dwarf bodies, seen in tandem For example, a genre encompassing feminist and queer performance and body art arose in the 1970s, when once again with other people or objects to highlight their size difference so as to reclaim their bodies. a newly included group of artists sought to attack essentialist portrayals of feminine or queer existence, while still addressing the materiality of the body itself.134 Art historian Amelia Jones has theorized at length about the relationship between feminist body-engaged art and how it explodes definitions of bodily normativity and universality. Feminist
133 For more detail on Santiago Forero, turn to Chapter III. 134 For more texts on feminist performance body art refer to: Amelia Jones and Andrew Stephenson, Performing the Body, Performing the Text (London and New York: Routledge, 1999); Sue-Ellen Case, Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory & Theatre (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1990)’ Sue-Ellen Case, Feminist and Queer Performance: Critical Strategies (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Jill Dolan, Presence and Desire: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, Performance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993); Peggy Phelan and Jill Lane eds., The Ends of Performance (New York: New York University Press, 1998); and Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The 135 Amelia Jones, “Introduction,” Body Art: Performing the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998) 7. Politics of Performance (London and New York: Routledge, 1993). 136 Ibid. 70 71
Figure 3.25–Carolee Schneemann, Interior Scroll, 1975 Figure 3.26–Yayoi Kusama, Untitled. c.1970 Figure 3.27–Gary Hill, Inasmuch as It Is Always Already Taking Place, 1990
Jones also references the work of Gary Hill in her critique of art history and formalism. Hill, a pioneer of video Another de-centering of consciousness occurs in Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Documents (1973-79; fig 3.28). art, uses technology to multiply and fragment the body. Non-perspectival and anti-Cartesian, Hill’s body is projected as Over a period of six years, Kelly created 135 framed pieces consisting of pictures, text and objects (such as her son’s an identity in pieces, yet never fixed or secure. Jones says of Hill’s work that in Inasmuch as It Always Already Taking dirty nappies), as an investigation of motherhood and the mother/son relationship from infancy to childhood. The work Place (1990), “the video screen becomes the skin/the body” because the technological hardware, particularly the video unfolds cumulatively for viewers as they move from frame to frame, uncovering the artist’s non-normative narrative screen, takes on embodied characteristics (fig. 3.27) (Jones 50).137 Similar to Hill’s art, I argue in Chapters III and IV rather than viewing the work from a fixed, traditional vantage point. Considered a psychoanalytically influenced work, that Swanson’s and Walker’s work becomes images of an embodied, yet fragmented construct. Swanson’s ficus trees Post-Partum Documents draws the textual forms of conceptual art into feminist practice. Kelly’s array of diagrams, in TOGETHER together (2009) are anthropomorphic, displacing a human dilemma onto plants, while Walker’s work, information and images shows a dispersed body of desire, rather than an iconic female to be “mastered.” In turn, the Please Adjust (2011), reflects viewers’ bodies in its steel lines surfaces, and the 4 feet of Walker’s height(fig. 3.29–3.30). viewer is unable to “master” the female body in one glance (Bishop 36).139 Jones articulates Hill’s complex embodiment further: [Hill’s images] fissure the body/self/other relation in complicated ways: rather than asserting or reinforcing the “coherence” of the body as a repository for a unified cogito, Hill’s works scatter the body/ self across video screens. There is no graspable, coherent subject to be ascertained from Hill’s video installations, only fragmented bodily signs to be engaged by recognizing one’s own incoherence.138 (Jones 50)
137 Ibid, 50. 138 Ibid. 139 Claire Bishop, “Introduction: Installation Art and Experience,” Installation Art: A Critical History (London and New York: Routledge: 2005) 36. 72 73 of repetition and geometry, but he alters their neutrality by inscribing them according to his 4-foot height. Turning to Swanson’s objects – lampposts and garden carts – while “petite,” they are objects also attributed to the outdoor male domain, historically associated with labor and technology. Again, such fields have now been reclaimed not only by women, but disabled women too.
Ordinary Objects, Ordinary Bodies In a sense, both Swanson and Walker are contributing to a history of conceptual art going back to Duchamp. Joseph Grigely says, “Duchamp changed the rules by making the everyday object an object of art. The challenge today
Figure 3.28–Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document, 1973-79 is to turn this around: to admire the everyday object or the ordinary person precisely because they are not art, and don’t care to be” (Grigely 37).140 Swanson’s and Walker’s works engage the everyday object using materials such as glass and One could argue that Walker’s works have the monumentality of heroic Western sculpture (Please Adjust is steel, lampposts, trees, stones and rocks or red toolboxes (fig. 3.32). As in Duchamp’s urinal, Fountain (1917; fig. 3.31), 12 feet tall, in stark contrast to Walker’s height of 4 feet), which has traditionally belonged within the “male realm.” the quotidian item makes a political and/or aesthetic statement, whether placed in the context of a gallery or garden. Swanson’s works can be seen as domestic, humorous, petite and “feminine” (fig. 3.29–3.30). In particular, Swanson’s chosen, everyday objects stand in for dwarfs and medium-statured bodies (as possible works of art in real life that people stare at). Red toolboxes, one big, one small, standing side by side, challenge the viewer to recognize the translation between the ordinariness of the object compared to the novel idea of the ordinariness of the dwarf.141
Figure 3.29–Corban Walker, Please Adjust, 2011 Figure 3.30–Laura Swanson, TOGETHER together, 2009 140 Joseph Grigely, “Postcards to Sophie Calle,” Michigan Quarterly Review 37 2 Spring 1998, 206. Reprinted in Susan Crutchfield andMarax Epstein, eds. Points of Contact: Disability, Art, and Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press 1999 ) Yet, are these somewhat gendered objects of masculine and feminine only serving to reinforce limiting gender 141 Other artists have similarly replaced and fragmented the codes and markings of their unified raced, sexed or disabled bodies with unmarked objects inscribed with a stereotypes? How do their inscriptions of the disabled experience separate these objects from the authoritative canon? I particular embodied subjectivity. Examples include Doris Salcedo and Louise Bourgeois, discussed at length in Chapter III, and Robert Gober. He uses everyday objects, such as sinks (Corner Sink, 1984), doors, beds and playpens, and calls them into question in relationship to our bodies. Gober plays with the tension between the neutral forms of these objects and the strong emotional and physical connotations we attach to them. He transforms a viewer’s emotional and physical reality so that the uncommon becomes common, in synthesis believe that Walker’s artwork adopts the tropes of minimalism through his use of everyday materials and serial qualities with Duchamp’s urinal or Swanson’s red toolboxes. 74 75
Figure 3.31–Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917 Figure 3.32–Laura Swanson, Untitled, n.d.
I have attempted to convince the reader that historical representations of dwarfs in visual art have been reductive. I’ve then demonstrated that work by disabled artists, offering various complex embodiments and sensorial experiences, can be contextualized within established art genres. I do this to suggest ways of moving forward to place greater transformational value on the art of Swanson, Walker and other artists with impairments.
76 77 chapter iii
Left: Laura Swanson, TOGETHER together series, 2009, ficus trees Anthropomorphic Ficus Trees entitled Of What One Cannot Speak: Doris Salcedo’s Political Art.142 A contemporary Colombian-born artist, Salcedo Laura Swanson is an emerging Korean-American artist whose practice has been influenced heavily by her works with sculpture and installation to grapple with themes of memory, forgetting and violence. She transforms everyday experiences as a short-statured person. Swanson’s photographs of her site-specific installations question the ordinary household furniture, such as a chair, table or closet, into memorials for victims of Colombia’s civil war (fig. conventions of looking at bodies that are different in height and size. They also question the desires behind wanting to 4.1). look at difference. Swanson’s exploration of a space that might appear beyond difference and bodies is resolved in her use of objects. A series of anthropomorphized objects fuels a questioning of the perception of bodies. I adopt Mieke Bal’s theory of the anthropomorphic imagination to consider Swanson’s installations. As mentioned in the Introduction, Swanson employs the anthropomorphic imagination to offer embodied reflections on symmetry and asymmetry. The anthropomorphic imagination describes how associative connections to the body arise in the works of object-based artists. I begin with a detailed discussion of the term “anthropomorphic imagination” and then consider Bal’s readings of the work of several contemporary artists. I next elucidate parallels between these artists and Swanson. I also explore how these artists, together with the anthropomorphic imagination their works deploy, complement both complex embodiment
and the BwO. I then offer a detailed visual analysis of Swanson’s site-specific installation entitledTOGETHER together, Figure 4.1–Doris Salcedo, Untitled, 2007 (2009) coupled with Bal’s theory. To further explore Swanson’s work, I contrast it to a performance piece by Marina Bal was firstly interested in applying the theory of the anthropomorphic imagination to Salcedo’s work given the artist’s Abramović & Ulay, Imponderabilia (1977). While Imponderabilia draws attention to the conventions around public attempts to attribute human characteristics to her ordinary objects. Her armoires and chests are often cut in half, their reactions to otherwise private nude bodies, TOGETHER together disrupts stereotypes of body size. I introduce the work surfaces heavily scraped, hit and cut as though by the wear and tear of everyday life. While her chests and armoires are of Santiago Forero as a foil for both Swanson’s and Walker’s work. non-representational, one can easily equate the careless marks with a reference to the invisible suffering of Colombia’s Given that Swanson graduated in 2011 with a Masters of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design, her population. They evoke a violence that was done, but only indirectly represented by its traces. The missing bodies of work has not yet received the critical coverage I expect it will attract soon. I hope to offer a reading and a visual analysis the tortured and the dead are realized only in a subtle displacement of their horrors, now forgotten and silenced, onto of Swanson’s work here to reveal how it launches new possibilities for perceiving the dwarf body. the common furnishings. Thus, while these objects come to represent a metaphor for the violence inflicted on human subjects, the presence of the scrapes, hits and cuts on the furniture, though removed from the original horror of such The Anthropomorphic Imagination in Art History crimes, are haunting all the same. Salcedo smothers her objects with concrete, symbolizing the buried, silenced and The anthropomorphic imagination is a theory developed by Bal in her recent book on the work of Doris Salcedo,
80 81 painted-over voices of those lives gone forever. – that quintessential surrealist mode of collective production in which disparate elements are conjoined.”144 (fig. 4.3). The work of Louise Bourgeois operates in similar ways. In her series of Cells, the artist has created room-sized, These drawings show us the beginnings of the anthropomorphic imagination at the stage of half body/half house. self-contained units inhabited by an array of seemingly disconnected objects. The viewer must peer inward at the arrangement of Bourgeois’ sculptural items, ranging from articles of clothing to fragmented figurative casts that refer to bodies, tapestries and other wall decorations, to pieces of furniture (fig. 4.2).
Figure 4.3–Louise Bourgeois, Femme maison, 1946-47 Figure 4.2–Louise Bourgeois, Cell: You Better Grow Up, 1993
Given their interest in alternate representations of bodies, relationships, and violence, both physical and emotional, These found, charged objects carry strong emotional meaning for the artist. The cells also suggest psychological states, Salcedo’s and Bourgeois’ work strikes a chord with Swanson’s. nuanced feelings of love and hate, pleasure and pain. The installations position the viewer in the act of voyeurism – the Also in the camp lies Alfredo Jaar, who Swanson credits with influencing her practice. Jaar is a Chilean- thrill of looking. Reading the objects requires anthropomorphic imagination on the part of the viewer; nevertheless they born artist, architect and filmmaker based in New York. He is best known for creating installations that incorporate fail to serve up meaning into a coherent whole. The objects are fragments, bits and pieces, recalling a body that never photography and address sociopolitical injustices and war, foremost among them, the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Jaar becomes fully whole. The inside/outside of the cell is a metaphor for the ambiguous inner and outer space of self in contends: the world. It produces a tangle of ontological dimensions.143 Similarly, Bourgeois has produced many drawings of the There’s this huge gap between reality and its possible representations. And that gap is impossible to close. So as artists, we must try different strategies for representation. [A] process of identification is Femme maison (woman house) that conflates the female body with an architectural façade.Art historian Mignon Nixon fundamental to create empathy, to create solidarity, to create intellectual involvement. (Jaar, n.p.)145
says that these drawings “mimic the stylistic discontinuity of surrealist composition, parodying the exquisite corpse 144 Mignon Nixon, “Femme Maison: What’s So Funny about Fetishim?” Fantastic Reality: Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005) 53. 145 Alfredo Jaar, The Silence of Nduwayezu, videoclip from his 1997 exhibit on Rwanda, PBS Art21, 9 Nov 2007 YouTube 20 Feb 2012.
artists such as Gary Hill, Carolee Schneemann and Yayoi Kusama, each of whom is interested in the coherence and Figure 4.4–Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970 incoherence of the body or the body fragmented and split.146 While representation has traditionally “recognized” its
subjects, this recognition can be considered its drawback when it bases itself on simplistic and superficial reactions. Bal In turn, I argue that Swanson’s interest in making a “political” statement about the way we look at bodies surmises that contemporary political art is groping for new strategies to avoid such pitfalls. rests upon searching for a new language and strategy for de-centering. This tendency to think, feel and perceive As Rosalind Krauss points out in the large-scale earthworks of the early 1970s, “our bodies and our experience anthropomorphically could become a useful strategy to create art that is aesthetically as well as politically resonant. For of our bodies continue to be the subject of this sculpture – even when a work is made of several hundred tons of earth” example, Swanson’s sculptures invite a fresh take on the way art contributes to theorizing urgent contemporary issues (Krauss 279).147 Influenced by minimalism and conceptualism, earthworks were art forms created in nature using natural such as the operations of the gaze on the disabled body. Just as Bal argues that Salcedo’s work escapes the categorization materials such as soil, rock, logs, branches and leaves, concrete, metal and other pigments. Often these works were of such oppositions as abstraction versus figuration or representation, Swanson’s work evades binary categories. In the created outdoors and left to erode over time. Krauss elaborates on how even in a work such as Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, following visual analysis, I will use Marina Abramović & Ulay’s performance Imponderabilia as a departure point to (1970) (fig. 4.4), where one physically walks onto the sprawling pattern on sand and rocks, “the experience of the work illuminate some of Swanson’s ideas. is one of continually being de-centered within the great expanse of lake and sky” (Krauss 280).148 Thus, the de-centered subject Krauss describes in land art finds traction in a discussion of the representation of the disabled body. TOGETHER together In TOGETHER together, Swanson placed a series of three paired objects on display in the small space of the Radeke Garden at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum over a period of six months. The objects included a pair of lampposts, a pair of ficus trees and a pair of garden carts. In the image below(fig. 4.5) all three pairs of objects can be seen through the glass doors: the two carts are at the foreground, the two ficus trees in the center of the glass doors, and the two lampposts in the background. The next image (fig. 4.6) is a detail of the lampposts.
146 See Chapter II for full discussion. 147 Rosalind Krauss, “The Double Negative: A New Syntax for Sculpture” Passages in Modern Sculpture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977) 279. 148 Ibid., 280. 84 85 During the six-month period, viewers had opportunity to see the work through fall and winter only. People could see
these objects only at a distance during certain times of the year through locked glass doors. Swanson also selected objects that she knew would match the design and style of the New England garden, giving the garden a historical feel, particularly manifested in the lampposts. To begin my exploration of TOGETHER together, I will complete a visual analysis of the photograph of the pair of ficus trees that act as documentation(fig. 4.7). Even though this is a three- part installation and must be considered as three parts of a larger whole, I was mostly interested in the ficus trees given the analogy I was making between this work and Imponderabilia. I feel that my thorough visual analysis of the ficus trees juxtaposed with Imponderabilia will provide a powerful sense of the work Swanson is achieving in her three-part
Figure 4.5–Laura Swanson, TOGETHER together, 2009 site-specific temporary installation, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Figure 4.7–Laura Swanson, TOGETHER together series, 2009, ficus trees
One will note that to the left of the white wooden doorway stands a 4-foot ficus tree, while to the right of the doorway stands a 6-foot ficus tree. The base of each tree is placed inside a woven basket. A welcome mat covers the Figure 4.6–Laura Swanson, Untitled from TOGETHER together series, 2009, lampposts floor below them. The trees’ leaves are sunlit, revealing many shades of green. The leaves and branches sprout from a
86 87 central brown wooden stem that splits off in two directions at the base. Inside the doorway, and up a cracked marble People were confronted with the choice of entering the museum through this doorway flanked by Ulay andAbramović’s step, one finds a closed glass door with a shiny brass handle and a horizontal strip of shiny brass on the threshold. naked bodies. Then, if they did indeed decide to enter, they had to pass through these bodies and decide which way Outside, on either far side of the trees are tall, white columns. The colonial-style building, composed of neat horizontal to face – either toward the male or the female. All of these actions were videotaped. Imponderabilia was a work rows of red bricks, serves as a backdrop to the trees. intended to draw attention to the participants, as they inadvertently became part of the performance. Abramović and The trees appear to be placed in an un-peopled, peaceful setting. The leaves show no sign of movement, no Ulay were interested in the reactions from the people, and in the decisions they made as they passed through these rustle from the wind. All is calm. It is only the welcome mat and the cracked marble step that convey a sign of human nude bodies. Nudity is not a common issue one deals with in public, so reactions were prompted by uneasiness and presence. The mat contains dirty markings from the soles of feet stepping up and down, back and forth, into and out of uncertainty. The artists capitalized on this notion by calling the work Imponderabilia. An imponderable is defined as
the building. I would like to direct the reader’s attention to how Swanson has placed these unassuming ficus trees on a factor that is difficult or impossible to estimate or assess. The artists also left a text on the wall facing the entrance either side of the doorway. Despite evidence of human movement between the trees, they are unassuming and draw little that read: “Imponderable. Such imponderable human factors as one’s aesthetic sensitivity/the overriding importance of attention. Passersby probably don’t even notice the trees at first glance. imponderables in determining human conduct.”150 This is quite unlike the iconic performance piece, Imponderabilia, by Marina Abramović & Ulay (fig. 4.8), The title also suggests how points of view can be undecidable. It is clear that in this piece, viewers were which I will now use as a departure point for the ficus trees. In this work, the nude bodies of Ulay andAbramović stood unsure how to react because there was a deviation from the usual etiquette in the museum space informed by a general face to face, body to body, uncomfortably close, in a gallery doorway.149 consensus of what is considered “normal.” Many visitors chose to face Abramović’s nude body, possibly because women’s bodies are somehow less threatening than the nude male body. Visitors passed through the bodies quickly, avoided eye contact with the artists and rarely looked back after passing through. This study of public reaction to an unusual positioning of bodies exposed how people’s social reactions are ingrained. These instincts also shape the people who enter because their decisions define their own personas, or at least define who they appear to be.While many see this work as the staging of sexual difference, the artists considered it a “negation of the general idea of man and woman in an effort to create a more complicated notion of sexual difference”(Stiles et al.).151 Similarly, Swanson’s installation TOGETHER together complicates the notion of scale. But it is important to acknowledge the first obvious critical difference between the two works. WhileImponderabilia uses actual human bodies, the different heights of the ficus trees (one 4 feet and the other 6 feet) represent different versions of reality as Figure 4.8–Marina Abramović & Ulay, Imponderabilia, 1977, performance they stand in for the representation of Swanson’s dwarf body of 4 feet in juxtaposition with the body of her “average-
149 The performance was originally held in a gallery in Bologna, Italy. It ran for approximately 60 minutes before it was shut down by police. For more information on this 150 Rachel Douglas, “‘Imponderabilia,’ Marina Abramović & Ulay, 1977.” Art 129. An Exploration of New Media, 22 Feb 2011. Web blog. 20 Feb 2012.
Abramović’s and Ulay’s. TOGETHER together functions to resist representation. Typically, people would barely notice vocalized more slowly or more loudly, but they also could suggest scale – big letters and small letters, side by side, like the unassuming trees suggestive of a “normal” and dwarf body, as they pass through the door, in and out between the ficus trees, lampposts and garden carts. Swanson transforms the insult. garden and museum, unlike noticing the impossible-to-overlook nude bodies that must be passed in Imponderabilia. Even further, people make assumptions of how two people should look when they’re in a relationship. In The trees (and lampposts and carts) do not announce themselves as art works, so only after reading the curatorial text Imponderabilia, we can observe that Abramović and Ulay’s faces are close to one another. They “naturally” line up for TOGETHER together does a viewer’s response emerge. On second glance, the viewer will look at the trees and and approximately see “eye to eye.” This is symmetry. But Swanson also disrupts this notion. In a romantic and sexual pick up on the difference in size and one might assume that the smaller, 4-foot tree is a younger, undeveloped tree, a relationship between partners of differing scales, eyes and other body parts may not meet squarely at the same height seedling, while the taller, 6-foot tree is full-grown. Quickly visitors learn that these trees mimic the bodies of two adults when they are standing, but why can’t eyes look directly into a partner’s breasts and up at the face, or vice versa, facing of different stature. a penis and looking up to meet the gaze? I’ve heard countless stories from my male dwarf friends who have danced with So while Swanson could have done the same thing as Abramović and Ulay, using the figure to make her point, average-height women at discos and parties where their faces are at the level of the breasts. None of them complained. she chooses instead to make the viewer slowly aware of biases toward size, symmetry and asymmetry using these found Asymmetrical bodies also bring into question the possibility of asymmetrical genitals. To be explicit, Swanson’s pairing objects. Our biases are revealed to be absurd. People may ask questions about this installation, such as, “Why would stirs up taboo questions that people would love to ask, but social etiquette stops them from doing so: “How do two someone buy two ficus trees of different sizes?” Even when it comes to objects, we are compelled to want to keep them differently sized bodies have sex?” Or “How can their genitals reach, or even fit?” Or more curiously, “What would it be symmetrical. But Swanson answers with another question: “Why can’t we have asymmetrical trees (or lampposts or like to have sex with a little person?” carts)?” Further, her work moves beyond Imponderabilia’s articulation or de-articulation of sexual difference. Ulay’s Why is considering the differently sized trees in such contrast to considering bodies? Can the example of the and Abramović’s bodies still both conform to idealistic notions of perfect, average bodies: identical in so-called average ficus trees be carried over to human bodies, encouraging us to look beyond the associations of the dwarf body as
152 Trees (and lampposts and lampstands) easily lend themselves to the human form. The tree, a living organism, in appearance so closely resembling the human figure, is a strangely “other”? Instead, looking at the ficus trees, we realize that even though they are of different scale, they are central element in Guiseppe Penone’s work. Many of the procedures he adopts in creating his works are based on the act of relating different entities and forces, hence on traces or memories of the contacts between them. 90 91 fundamentally the same. The trees remove our trained eyes from bodies, where perceptions are ingrained, to enable us to see pathways for reassessing our assumptions. The act of looking places certain demands on the viewer. First, viewers must be sensitive to the notion of anthropomorphism. In other words, they must bring certain notions with them to project onto the work and take from it. They need to be willing to undertake a process of metaphorizing, and through this, move into Swanson’s political orbit. Even though Swanson’s ficus trees are “normal,” they are ever-so-slightly anthropomorphized by means of minimal intervention: as mentioned, one 4-foot tree and one 6-foot tree. They have been placed on either side of the doorway, somewhat like caryatids. While the trees may seem less noticeable as they are similar to the greenery in the Radeke
Garden, therein lies their power. Through their “common” character, they challenge the viewer to look at objects with a second glance – differently. Swanson says: I guess I’m just trying to see if people can notice the anthropomorphic relationships between these two objects, because I think what happens with people who have a different physical – whether it’s stature or whether it’s any kind of physical impairment – their bodies tend to be objectified, or their difference tends Figure 4.9–Doris Salcedo, Widowed House IV, 1994 to be objectified. And so [I] was thinking about how people are objectified in their everyday life from just walking down the street. I was trying to see if I could, in a way, objectify these objects and add just the difference of height or the difference of size to these objects to get people to notice that these are kind of The door blocks access and sight, but it suggests that it could have been otherwise – that it was an opening, a point of human in a way.153 access. Although the door is a found object, the height appears exaggerated – taller than usual. The “wood” in many works in Salcedo’s Widowed House series also contains possibly human bones. In its proportions, the door makes In answer to Swanson’s question whether objects can be objectified like humans, they can. As I suggested earlier, people a subtle, unexpected allusion to the human figure. The exhibition shot reveals a tattered, narrow door with broken immediately turn to purchasing pairs of mirror-like objects for their gardens – “matching” or identical lampposts or glass panels. Two wooden headboards protrude perpendicularly on either side of the door. These can be recognized as chairs, for example. The objects take on human qualities in that they are subjected to the same types of assumptions clumsy arms without hands, extended into feet. The door becomes anthropomorphic. The reference to the human figure about symmetry that humans are. is so subtle that it refrains from representing. The human body is deployed allusively, revealed and at the same time To build on the act of visually reframing from objectification of a body or identity in representation, I turn again concealed. This irresolvable ambiguity defines Salcedo’s relationship to representation. It is through this ambiguity to Salcedo’s work. As the image below shows (fig. 4.9), a section of door is placed against a wall. that the door carries out the political work. Through indelible color, size and materials, the door triggers metaphorical associations. The work moves beyond a literal representation of violence. Through the absence of bodies, Salcedo draws attention to them and their disappearance. Instead of representing the people she seeks to foreground – their
153 Laura Swanson, Telephone interview, 19, Sept 2011 suffering or the violence done to them – she discreetly but no less insistently appeals to, and politically mobilizes, the 92 93 anthropomorphic imagination.154 In the same vein, I argue that Swanson’s ficus trees (and her IKEA lamps in Double bizarre objects or strange spaces within the urban environment. Forero has achondroplasia, the most common type of Portrait discussed in the Introduction) perform this function for the viewer. dwarfism and the same type as Swanson and Walker. In A Story About Gnomes (2009; fig. 4.11), Forero’s 4-foot frame lies with its back to the viewer, rejecting the objectification and framing of the dwarf body that images of garden gnomes
The Fallen, Hybrid Garden Gnome imply. Lying face-first in a bed of bright green leaves, Forero plays the fallen gnome plunged into the ground. Here the In this section, I will introduce the reader to work by Santiago Forero as a foil to the work of Swanson (and dwarf body attempts to break out of the trappings of objectification and representation by molting into a field of bright Walker). As discussed in the Introduction, in ancient times and throughout mythological traditions, the body of the green ground cover (perhaps Virginia creeper) reminiscent of a garden. dwarf was considered mystical or possessing magical qualities. Owing to their extra-ordinariness, gnomes have been used ritualistically by people around the world as a source of luck and protection for their homes and gardens. In Figure
4.10, we see a typical garden gnome. Like most gnomes, this one is an old white man with a gray beard (although black gnomes are also available). He proudly stands on a rock with his left hand at his hip, and a garden tool in his right hand. His red, pointed “Merlin” hat has associations with magic, and his folksy clothing is reminiscent of that worn by the dwarf characters in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or the cartoon characters called the Smurfs. These allusions to fiction and fantasy all enhance the extraordinary apotropaic powers of the gnome.
Figure 4.11–Santiago Forero, A Story about Gnomes, 2009
In this series, the artist’s photo intends to interrupt the normal perception of dwarfism. Foremost, Forero is not interested in placing himself on display, but instead seeks to jostle the viewer’s awareness. He is pointing out the ridiculous custom of placing gnomes – a fairytale version of dwarfs – in gardens by forcefully shoving the gnome into the bed to signal his protest. Whereas Forero creates hybrid forms with his body in the leaves, reminiscent of Louise Bourgeois’ Femme Figure 4.10–A typical garden gnome maison, Swanson completely removes the body by placing anthropomorphic trees or lampposts in her garden that are not so laden with problematic associations. While the trees diffuse the spectacle of the gnome, they give rise to Forero has completed a photo series that depicts his body in arbitrary positions, juxtaposed against humorous, other considerations about observing normative form. Forero’s work evokes Ana Mendieta’s physical performances 154 Mieke Bal, Of What One Cannot Speak: Doris Salcedo’s Political Art (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010). 94 95 documented in photos, such as Untitled (Grass on Woman) (1972), a form of both earthwork and body art (fig. 4.12). and garden carts provide a strategy for how reductive representations of the disabled body can be destabilized. Forero’s Mendieta was a Cuban-born American performance artist, sculptor, painter and video artist who was interested in gnomes point to a marginalized representation of the disabled body as garden decoration, but at the same time he themes of feminism, place, belonging, life, violence toward women and death. Part of Mendieta’s performance oeuvre maneuvers beyond it. The privileged, essentialized non-disabled subject, epitomized by Vitruvian Man and Modulor was interjecting her body into outdoor environments to forge links with an ancestral past and present.155 Forero similarly Man cedes to undoing and redoing. All the work considered here opens up expanded territory for bodies, where there are connects his body to the earth, but the irony of the gesture, the absurdity of placing himself in such locations, serves to few constraints around what bodies should or can do. sever his dwarf body from links to the mythology of gnomes.
Figure 4.12–Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Grass on Woman), 1972
In Mendieta’s photo, the artist’s body lies prone, face-first in the grass. Partially covered by the grass on her back and buttocks, she seems submerged in the field., Echoing Mendieta’s partial merging with the vegetative ground in a sexually suggestive manner, Forero disrupts the somewhat virtuous or asexual nature of the gnome and the dwarf body itself because his photo suggests that his body is fertilizing the earth with his seeds. Thus Forero’s series, like Swanson’s, challenges the asexual perceptions of the dwarf body. A Story about Gnomes and TOGETHER together require viewers to use their anthropomorphic imaginations. Taken all together, subject becomes object, all is field in flux, non-hierarchical, multiple, endlessly connecting and exchanging. Situated in the world of the BwO and the anthropomorphic imagination, Swanson’s ficus trees, lampposts
155 Olga M. Viso et al., Ana Mendieta: Earth Body Sculpture and Performance 1972-1985 (Washington DC: Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004). 96 97 chapter iv
Left: When I was in Venice on June 3, 2011, and engaging with Please Adjust in the Irish Pavilion, I felt that I lost my Stainless Steel Lines of Flight Walker’s four-foot Modulor scale, his Vitruvian Man, ends up questioning the spectator’s habits, body – where am I? I became immersed in the stainless steel bars as my eyes struggled to find a point of recognition, a conventions of viewing, and ultimately his or her self-image. This is a considerable achievement.157 point of rest. But the sculpture was restless in its movement and dynamism, playing optical illusions. At midday, I was (O’Doherty n.p.) transported by the lines of flight shooting in multiple directions and angles. Strong light shone through the adjacent windows. The constellation of light, metal and windows gave the work aura and energy. Even during the crowded Venice Mid-career, contemporary Irish artist Corban Walker’s work often relates to architectural scale and spatial Biennale Vernissage, the room remained hushed as people contemplated the sculpture. The steel gleamed. The canal just perception, utilizing industrial materials such as steel, aluminum and glass, drawing on minimalism to highlight different outside the window smelled pungent, full of detritus. . The air was damp. Gondolas sailed past, herded by their Italian perspectives in relation to height and scale. Walker is 4 feet tall and creates his sculpture stacks in direct proportion gondoliers and filled with the chatter of tourists. I heard the blend of Italian with other foreign languages, and the sound to his body using the “Corban Rule,” a precise mathematical calculation he devised, wherein he uses his own height
of the canal waters lapping against the buildings on either side. All these sensations combined to render a compelling as measure of his art. In other words, he remakes his environment in proportions to his own measure. In response to experience of the installation that has stayed in my memory. I felt glad for this moment, an escape into reverie, to Walker’s installation in the 2011 Venice Biennale, Sarah Hanson writes, “Using his physical stature as a starting point, consider how my body felt in juxtaposition with the form of the sculpture.156 he multiplies and morphs the dimensions of his works to make manifest the normally invisible systems that govern our 158 movements.” Walker says that while he isn’t concerned with making direct representations of his own embodiment, he is engaged with creating formal experiments informed by it. However, there is still some way to go in developing the language to frame Walker’s atypical body. On May 28, 2011, a newspaper article entitled “Off the scale” in The Irish Times began with: “Corban Walker is used to stares. He gets them every day, and he gets them everywhere he goes, because people do not expect a man to look as Walker does.
159 They do not expect a man to stand four feet tall. So they stare.” Both Walker and the curator of the Irish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2011), Eamonn Maxwell, commented to me in separate interviews about feeling disappointed that the journalist, Belinda McKeon, chose to write about Walker and his physical difference so directly to begin her article. 160 In another review, the journalist says, “Corban Walker is a little man with big ideas fuelled by an expansive imagination.”161 Another review reads, “Given the artist’s somewhat diminutive stature . . . ”162 Approaches dismissing
157 Brian O’Doherty , Corban Walker: Irish Pavilion/Venice 2011 brochure, Culture Ireland/Arts Council, 2011. 158 Sarah P. Hanson “A Pavilion in the Making: Behind Ireland Representative Corban Walker’s Destabilizing Venice Biennale Installation,” Modern Painter, 1 June 2011, http://184.108.40.206/news/story/37795/a-pavilion-in-the-making-behind...walkers- destabilizing-venice-biennale-installation/ Accessed June 26, 2011 (NOTE: I have not addressed this footnote completely, because I’m confused about the Hanson source. See note in Bibliography) 159 Belinda McKeon, “Off the Scale,” The Irish Times 28 May 2011. 160 Corban Walker, Personal interview Venice, Italy, 2 June 2011 and Eamonn Maxwell, Telephone interview, 20 August 2011. 156 Because embodiment is so important in my disability studies work, I wanted to provide a personal account of my time encountering Walker’s Please Adjust on 3 June 3, 161 Ciara Ferguson, “Mirrored Images of Ambiguity,” Sunday Jerome 7 Mar 1995. 2011, at the Venice Biennale – and to articulate the BwO in action. 162 Robert C. Morgan, “Corban Walker,” Glass Quarterly Winter 2000. 100 101 Walker’s body size altogether often have been similarly problematic. In The Brooklyn Rail, Cassandra Neyenesch scoffs problem with the disability label as I discussed in Chapter I.
at a press release issued by Walker’s dealer, Pace Gallery, as it referenced Walker’s height and its relationship to his While many other reviews of Walker’s work offer some interesting insights, few offer a theoretically rigorous, work. She calls it “patently silly,” and says: challenging reading along with visual analysis. In fact, there is very little writing on Walker’s work in general, ranging It’s a given that Jackson Pollock’s use of the floor is a factor in the making of his drip paintings, but would any serious art historian consider Diego Rivera’s girth to have had a bearing on his work? There from catalogue essays to scholarly journal entries. Whether or not this silence is related to the points I’ve just made, must be a line between an artist’s process and his physicality. Pace should give Walker more credit.163 Walker’s work warrants greater attention. I hope to break new ground with a critical approach to his practice and, (Neyenesch n.p.). potentially offer an alternative template for understanding it. In the following paragraphs, I aim to demonstrate the relationship between Walker’s work, minimalism, phenomenology and complex embodiment. I intersperse this with a She automatically assumes that any reference to Walker’s height is derogatory, reacting in the opposite extreme to the detailed reading of Walker’s work, Please Adjust, as it was installed at the Venice Biennale in 2011 in the Irish Pavilion reviewers mentioned previously. Clearly Neyenesch wasn’t able to read the nuance and complexity of Walker’s bodily with the aid of Deleuze and Guattari’s BwO concept. inscription. These contrasting reactions in the reviews really point to the current dilemma that, I venture, many people face Please Adjust when interacting with art and artists who have a relationship to disability, namely, “How should I react?” Can one ignore the disability completely in a bid to not make a big deal out the elephant in the room or, indeed, make a big deal out of it, in a gesture toward positive discrimination, which seeks to redress social inequalities where minority groups have been denied access to the same privileges of the majority group? In this context, reverse (or positive) discrimination is intended to remove discrimination that disabled people may already face.164 In 2011, British artist Aaron Williamson said, In the mainstream, the stakes for critical appreciation are high and artists expect a rigorous consideration of their efforts . . . criticism, rather than celebration is the bedrock of mainstream art and, in many ways, forces artists to take risks and to oppose cultural complacency. [But] with disability art today, mainstream art critics may simply be unprepared to comment negatively on artists who they consider to be socially disadvantaged, or, even worse, deserving of pity. The critical silence towards disability art might, therefore, be considered to operate from both within and without.165 (Williamson n.p.)
If the majority of mainstream critics believe this is their only recourse in writing and talking about disability, the
language and attitudes surrounding the work need to be reformulated. This also sheds light on why some artists have a Figure 5.1–Corban Walker, Please Adjust, 2011, 176 stainless steel cubes, 16 x 14 x 14” each installation dimensions variable, Ireland Pavilion, 163 Cassandra Neyenesch, “Corban Walker.” The Brooklyn Rail Mar 2007. Istituto Santa Maria Della Pieta, 54th Venice International Art Biennale, Italy 164 Reverse discrimination also may be used to highlight the discrimination inherent in affirmative action programs. 165 Aaron Williamson, “In the Ghetto? A Polemic in Place of an Editorial” in Parallel Lines Journal, In the Ghetto, ed. Aaron Williamson, 2011, 5 Mar 2012
another unknown space. The room stands empty apart from the presence of the sculpture but there is much movement. that “the slightest human intervention could transform it, and the work could never be built in the same way again. The Focusing on the grid in Please Adjust, Walker uses a structure that has been employed many times in two- and interlocking cubes depend on each other for stability but a change in placement will result in a new configuration.”166 I’d three-dimensional form by artists ranging from Sol LeWitt to Agnes Martin (fig. 5.2–5.3). like to direct the reader to the importance of this destabilizing quality of Please Adjust, for it illustrates the conceptual destabilization of disability that is core to my thesis argument. As a title, Please Adjust reads as formal and polite, but if it ended with an exclamation mark (!) its meaning would change. Declarative and intense, Please Adjust! loudly calls for readjusting one’s thinking about differently-sized bodies. It is a title that, in my opinion, while restrained on the surface, underneath bursts with indignation. Though this work seems to have no relationship with bodies or humans as it is void of corporeal imagery, a viewer learns that this is not strictly the case. A curatorial wall text explains that parameters for the grid include multiplications and divisions
of the number four – Walker’s own height in feet. The stainless steel bars come in lengths of 12 or 16 inches, using 4 as their primary measurement. The number of cube structures, 176, is the sum of 44 multiplied by 4, a new interpretation Figure 5.2–Sol LeWitt, Cube construction, 1971 Figure 5.3–Agnes Martin, Tremolo, 1962 of the “Corban Scale.” His body is therefore a unit, module or standard for his work, rather than the typical non-disabled LeWitt’s Cube construction (1971) is a simplified open structure made up of cubes that are the basic building block one. In this way, Please Adjust demonstrates Walker’s experience as a man with dwarfism, navigating a world that has of this minimalist artist’s work. His modular sculptures were usually constructed in aluminum or steel, and bodily been mapped out for the non-disabled. Maxwell says, “Given that the premise for architecture and the related design is proportion was often fundamental to his units depending on the scale of the work. Martin’s Tremolo (1962) is typical the 6-foot man, Walker has to constantly adjust to fit into what is determined as normal. With this work, he is asking the for her minimalist style: a square monochrome canvas, layered with gesso, overlaid with hand-drawn pencil lines and viewer to please adjust [the title of Walker’s work] to his viewpoint on the world” (Maxwell 19).167 166 Eamonn Maxwell, “Please Adjust.” ILLUMInations: The Venice Biennale (Verona, Italy: Studio Fasoli, 2011) 381. thin layers of oil and acrylic paint. But in Please Adjust, Walker upsets the stability of the grid evident in LeWitt’s and 167 Eamonn Maxwell, “The Line Begins to Blur,” Corban Walker: Ireland at Venice 2011 (Ireland: Culture Ireland/Arts Council, 2011) 19. 104 105 But I also want to point out how Walker emphasizes that it is not necessary to know about his stature in order to interact with the work. After all, recalling Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” (1968), the author must be removed from the center of the origin of a work. Barthes therefore critiques the author because this figure contains, limits and tames meaning.168 With this in mind, what other ways does meaning accrue? Considering Walker’s work within the context of contemporary art, the relationship between Please Adjust, minimalism and phenomenology suggests one way. Walker acknowledges the influence of minimalism on his practice, referring to figures such as Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Robert Morris. As mentioned, Walker’s work takes on many of the principles and aesthetics of this Figure 5.4–Robert Morris, Untitled (L-beams), 1965 1960s movement, which emerged in New York as a reaction against abstract expressionism. The aim of minimalism is Bishop articulates that two phenomena are taking place here: first, viewers become aware of the relationship between to remove the artist’s presence as much as possible and foreground the viewer’s experience of the space around the work themselves and the space around them. This is usually a gallery space, and can include features such as the proportions in the most uninflected, abstract manner. 169 It was at this time that Merleau-Ponty’s The Phenomenology of Perception of the gallery, its height, its width and the color of light. Second, the work throws viewers’ attention back onto how they (1945) had a decisive influence on minimalist artists. Recall that Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical position was directed partake in processes of perception. In other words, viewers become more aware of their own bodies as they circum- against the Cartesian dualism of mind versus body. The artists claimed that when one encountered one of their works, navigates the sculpture. Merleau-Ponty’s theory of embodied perception came to life. In other words, subject, object and space are intertwined Robert Morris’ work allows the viewer to redirect attention to external considerations instead of any and interdependent. Looking at a work of art is not simply a question of vision, but actually involves the entire body.170 psychological absorption. Citing Untitled (L‑beams), Krauss argues that perceptual experience precedes cognition. In Claire Bishop gives an example of how a person may encounter a work by Robert Morris, such as Untitled (L‑beams) other words, even though the viewer may know that each of the three beams is identical in scale, they each appeas quite (1965; fig. 5.4), informed by a chapter from Rosalind Krauss’ influential bookPassages in Modern Sculpture (1977). different depending on the position of both the work and the viewer. Each L‑beam takes on a different character based on the angles from which it is seen, levels of sunlight, depth of shadows and varying intensities of color within the shades of grey. Based on such thinking, Krauss argues that during this interdependent exchange among space, object and viewer, the viewer becomes destabilized.171 Bishop carries this further by asserting that installation art implicitly presents multi-perspectives.172 Installation art has also come to be associated with emancipatory liberal politics and in opposition to the rigid notion of seeing things from just one point of view. All of this parallels the complex experience of
168 Graham Allen, “The Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes (London and New York: Routledge, 2003) 74. Walker’s Please Adjust. 169 For a more complete account on minimalism, refer to Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yves-Alain Bois, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh and David Joselit, Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism (London: Thames and Hudson, 2011). 171 Rosalind Krauss, “The Double Negative: A New Syntax for Sculpture,” Passages in Modern Sculpture (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1977) 266-7. 170 Claire Bishop, “Introduction: Installation Art and Experience,” Installation Art: A Critical History (London and New York: Routledge: 2005). 172 Discussed in depth in Chapter I. 106 107 It is important to consider that Walker’s work has metaphorical qualities that are atypical of minimalism. Robert Possible illustrations showing how the BwO looks and works depict circular and oval shapes made up of broken lines. C. Morgan says, “Walker’s work maintains a curious balance by holding forth a rigorous conceptual understanding of There are circles within ovals within circles, starting from a large circle on the outside, and smaller and smaller circles space and, at the same time, inciting the possibility of allegorical influences.”173 This shall become apparent in upcoming and ovals receding into the center of the egg. Multiple shapes in this egg represent intensities of ideas and thoughts paragraphs. moving in and out of each other. It is nonlinear and erratic. Despite its use of square shapes, the sculpture Please It is a good time to now introduce the BwO as way to understand the effects of Please Adjust in relation to Adjust embodies qualities of the BwO diagram – multiples and lines crisscrossing. The lines meet and veer off in a minimalist work and installation art. The BwO is a smooth, non-hierarchical structure that allows for the passage new directions, only to meet again at another angle, then another and so on. There is no beginning and no end. If we and transfer of ideas or identities upon the breakdown of organization. Culture determines organization and structure. understand the BwO as a reservoir of potential for new connections, traits, affects, and movements, Please Adjust’s axes Like qualities of installation art, the BwO embraces multiplicity as it can have many potential destinations that are and intersections of overlapping steel bars are seen as possessing similar traits (fig. 5.6).
simultaneously empty or full. In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari ask: “How Do You Make Yourself a Body without Organs?” The chapter begins with an image of the “Dogon egg and the distribution of intensities” (fig. 5.5). The Dogon egg comes from the Dogon people, who are a tribe from Mali, Africa. In Dogon mythology, the egg is a popular symbol for creation, as it holds unlimited potential and is the form from which life springs.
Figure 5.6–Corban Walker, Please Adjust, 2011 (detail)
Walker’s installation compels the viewer to think about scale, size, proportion, transparency and light, navigating the sculpture in multiple forms and ways. Deleuze and Guattari state: “It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous intensities for a BwO” (Deleuze and Guattari 161).175 Walker has created a mechanism to set in motion a whole series of reactions or lines of flight for the viewer in ways similar to the BwO. I understand Deleuze and Guattari’s phrase “lines Figure 5.5–The Dogon Egg and the Distribution of Intensities from of flight” to indicate a critical BwO quality or expression of freedom – lines of freedom to pass through. For example, Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987)174 the stainless steel “lines of flight” used to construct the open cubes inPlease Adjust operate to suggest these lines of 173 Robert C. Morgan, “Corban Walker: Mapping Space 4,” Glass Quarterly, Winter 2000. 175 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “How Do You Make Yourself a Body Without Organs?” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans, Brian Massumi 174 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “How Do You Make Yourself a Body Without Organs?” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans, Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 19897) 161. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) 161 108 109 freedom metaphorically. The viewer is “freed” to think about the body from multiple vantage positions and points of These ideals of perfection, proportion and beauty are found in classical sculpture and modernism, and in architecture view. Additionally, just as Bishop and Krauss describe the de-centered perceptual experience of viewing a work like that through the golden section. Regretfully, the widespread representation of a bodily ideal in Vitruvian Man and Modulor of Robert Morris’ L‑beams, the BwO relies on constantly shifting states of being through these lines of flight. contributes to ableist attitudes and discrimination against the disabled minority. The disabled body, here represented by Please Adjust is a BwO, for it suggests broader implications for the stratification of disability and atypical bodies Walker’s dwarf frame, becomes a different type of corporeality. The way bodies interact with the socially engineered within mainstream society and visual culture. The work’s multi-perspectivalism links to an emancipatory rejection environment and conform to social expectations determines the varying degrees of disability or non-disability assigned of a single, overarching and stable point of view. I argue that its lines of steel function to represent an ability to think to them. And yet, Spinoza and Deleuze and Guattari lead us to believe that bodies can be destratified and rethought. beyond existing structure just as lines of flight indicate in Deleuze and Guattari’s text. The BwO suggests the notion Imagine new frameworks for the corpus, where being 4 feet tall was simply a way of perceiving the world at a different of disruption of the social order or strata in order to reveal what is underneath: a network of “desires, connections, and scale?
intensities.”176 Please Adjust’s amassing of disordered cubes turns geometric order into its opposite as if to dislodge Looking closely at Vitruvian Man, the drawing epitomizes conventional views of the body. Even though normative society’s binary relationships such as man/woman, disabled/non-disabled, black/white etc. Experiences that Vitruvian Man’s legs and arms extend in multiple directions, showing the full length of his body, he is still ultimately disrupt strict distinctions and refuse a single, authoritative view possibly work in similar ways. enclosed in a circle and a square, perhaps even entrapped. A circle is round, with no beginning or end, and therefore I would like the reader to consider Deleuze and Guattari’s egg and Walker’s structure as alternatives to the suggests perfection. This is the boundary of the figure. Further, a square has four equal sides, with connotations that the “average” male and female body. Instead, like me, the reader may be moved to imagine new shapes and forms for the body is also “equal” on all sides and from multiple directions. But this is simply unrealistic. corporeal frame. This “average” male and female body has a lineage going back to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man As mentioned earlier, Walker based the size of the open cubes in Please Adjust on his 4-foot height. Walker (1487; fig. 5.7) and Le Corbusier’s Modulor (1943; fig. 5.8). has created his own symbolic Vitruvian Man in that the lengths of the sides of the cubes are based on multiplications and divisions of his height measurement (explained at the beginning of this section). This spurs viewers to think about the built environment in different terms. Walker’s rule of 4 feet differs from da Vinci’s rule of 6 feet because Walker’s rule accounts for another scale and proportion in the physical anataomy. This suggests that da Vinci’s 6-foot rule as a standard measurement of human height is actually not standard at all. As Brian O’Doherty says at the beginning of this chapter, Walker’s Vitruvian Man ends up questioning the spectator’s habits. Walker plays with scale and jumbles it. In Walker’s own words, A lot of the work is informed directly by how one enters a room, how one situates oneself with a space or how one approaches an object. I think that really comes from the direct contact I have with the spaces around me. How I fit into or don’t fit into places. Therefore a lot of the work involves realigning the viewer’s line of vision which otherwise may often be taken for granted. What I do through the work is Figure 5.7–Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man, 1487 Figure 5.8–Le Cobusier, Modulor, 1943 offer an alternative sense of relationship, a frame of perception directed through my eye, as it were. By doing this you automatically turn things askew and create an unfamiliar environment out of something 176 Ibid. 110 111 that was previously ordinary or mundane. Things may then take on an off-putting or disorienting aspect look that most adults would have upon entering the space. While Walkers’ previous works focused on drawing people in relation to established norms or expectations.177 downwards, closer to the ground, into a dimension equivalent to the Corban scale, in Mapping #4, people now extend their gaze toward the ceiling. As Walker is 4 feet tall, he usually has to crane his neck to look up at people’s faces or nod The word “askew” plays a key role here. It means not in a straight or level position, or wrong. I suggest that Walker is to passersby on the street. But he also has to climb into seats or reach up to shake someone’s hand. He says “Through changing the meaning of the word askew so that “wrong” turns into “different,” and “unfamiliar” is disorienting because my work I look at myself in an environment where normal-sized people have no difficulties navigating. I question and one is forced to look at objects, and therefore bodies, in a new way. If askew is not straight, or level, what position can explore both my inclusion and exclusion from this world”179 (Horgan n.d) that be? From an etymological perspective, askew had origins with the wry or crooked eye, or even with drunkenness.178 In the case of Please Adjust, the size of the work engulfs every shape and size of human being. At certain times All these associations have a relationship with how our vision is altered and the outcome is seeing the outside world of day as viewers circumnavigate the work, they are able to see their own reflections in the surface of the steel as light differently. streams into the surrounding space, through the glass windows on either side of the building. Only the viewer remains Walker has talked about how he tries to get viewers to bend, crouch, twist or turn as they encounter his works opaque (fig. 5.11). Walker talks about how the building itself (an Italian church converted into a gallery) echoes the from new positions. For example, in his Mapping #4 (2000; fig. 5.9-5.10), the viewer sees elongated glass plates transparent quality of Please Adjust: propped up against two adjacent walls. The plates are thick, and measure as high as the ceiling, but the plates are also The nice thing about this building is that there’s no real front and no real back to it. There’s an entrance from the street and you walk through the garden, come into the space, and then look out to the other side quite narrow. They fill the space and lean at various angles. Viewers’ shifting perception of the space is an essential of the building and leave by the canal. Or you can arrive by canal and come up into the space and then aspect of the work as they move around the room. see out of the garden and see another world beyond that, too. So you’re in this kind of transient moment, which is very interesting.180
The work’s transparent, reflective qualities suggest how it is possible to look at bodies from multiple vantage points and that there is no one single point of view or one single way to look at a body, disabled or otherwise. Like the BwO, the installation seeks to allow transformational states from mapped to unmapped, from structure to destructure to restructure.
The advantage of seeing this installation as a BwO consists of having to adjust one’s thinking about how Walker
Figure 5.9 and 5.10–Corban Walker, Mapping #4, 2000 conceptually and physically perceives space at his height. There is synthesis in thinking about the function of windows In this work, Walker provides a point of view that is lower than the average adult height. For instance, a viewer and light here, and the desire to transform: the ability to see inside and outside, through interior to exterior, to reveal then has to look upwards in this installation, which is different from looking downwards and different from the straight-on conceal, all in league with the BwO characteristics of lines of flight.
177 Corban Walker interview with Mick Wilson in Corban Walker: 1994/1995/ 1996/ 1997 (Dublin: Dogbowl+Bones, 1997 n.p. 179 Michele Horgan, “Walker’s wonder world.”. n.p., n.d. 178 Douglas Harper, “askew.” Online Etymology Dictionary, 10 Oct 2008, 4 Mar 2012
set of laws of bodies interacting. Spinoza sought to determine the nature of the body’s encounters: how bodies were composed or decomposed, their combatibility or composability, and bodies in conflict. Michael Hardt observes that in
Figure 5.11–A viewer circumnavigating Corban Walker’s Please Adjust, 2011 Spinoza “a body is not a fixed unit with a stable or static internal structure. On the contrary, a body’s internal structure and external limits are subject to change. What we identify as a body is merely a temporarily stable relationship” I’d like to challenge how the size of minimalist sculptures in the mid-1960s related in scale to the size of (Herdt 92).183 Bodies are in motion and rest, in union and conflict, always. Just like the structure ofPlease Adjust, a the human body and sites of industrial production such as the high-rise or factory. If a sculpture was very large, it body is a temporary assemblage of coordinated elements. Assemblage is an artistic process going back to the cubists, could “dwarf” the viewer, encouraging a public mode of interaction.181 On the other hand, if small, the work could be who created three-dimensional or two-dimensional artistic compositions using found objects. In this act of assemblage, experienced more intimately). It is significant, then, that minimalist sculpture was supposed to respond to its spatial Walker teeters skeletal cubes into a precarious tower to problematize the representation of the dwarf body. environment. But how can the BwO, and in turn, Please Adjust, then make us think differently about what we assume to be Walker’s work, however, destabilizes the notion of human scale. The minimalist artists (for example, the already the experience of the dwarf body? How does it take away assumptions of how the dwarf body functions in space? Can mentioned figure of LeWitt) were working with a very different conception of human scale – one no doubt based it posit the viewer’s body as open to alteration? How does the interior and exterior of Please Adjust convey a poignant on da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man or Le Corbusier’s Modulor, where the “average” height for a human was 6 feet tall as message that no longer requires the figurative representation of a disabled body?These are complex questions that have previously mentioned. Walker is interested in how different kinds of bodies negotiate the spaces around his works. Like no easy answers. But if we imaginatively engage in Walker’s form and structure as I’ve just done, we may find some minimalism, his work is internalized through an externalized subjectivity. Public space is not neutral. As viewers walk provisional ones. around the work, they can look through the structure and at the reflective surface as it interacts with light and shadow. 182 Like Walker, artist Eva Hesse pushed beyond the boundaries of minimalism by contradicting some of its principles. For example, in Accession II (1967), from the outside it looks like a typical minimalist work, similar to the work of Donald Judd or Robert Morris. But on closer inspection, one sees that the interior of this square form bristles Based on the assumption that the way we look at things is affected by the height and width of our bodies and all of our with thousands of protruding tubes, giving it a more organic appearance, like a coating of fur or hair. Hesse has developed a means of shifting found materials, such as steel in 181 I think I have a problem with how the word “dwarf” is being used as a verb here to describe a mode of size or sizing in Bishop’s text, Installation Art. Still, I find it Accession II, into embodied, organic form. interesting to put it in the context of my thesis to see how I might use it critically. 183 Michael Hardt, “Spinozian Practice.” Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy (Minneapolis:: University of Minnesota Press: 1993), 92. 114 115 Corban Walker’s Venetian installation acts as a set of aggregated, conceptual pivots with which to think about the intersections and functions of bodies in space, making room for the incorporation of the disabled body. A pivot in architectural terms is a point of rotation in a lever system. I imagine there are pivots running through each corner of the layers of steel bars in Please Adjust, interlocking the cubes into a grid. This rotational quality of the pivots allow for this very adjustment of the steel bars to give the structure new form every time it is installed. Walker’s pivots become symbolic of rotating bodies that can move, change and evolve in many directions, shapes and forms. Ideally, this vision widens the capacity for political change, as viewers re-think the aptitudes, functions and perceptions of the dwarf body and the disabled experience. Walker’s installation activates the spaces of the Istituto, and give a resonating “body to the
process of political assemblage” and change (Hardt 111).184
184 Ibid., 111. 116 conclusion
Left: Santiago Forero, A Story about Gnomes, 2009 Disability as Generative, Dynamic Physiology embodied ways. Engaging Sandahl’s consideration of disability as a condition, orientation and vantage point has allowed
There needs to be a cultural tradition of disability art that is complex and compelling enough to gain me to articulate the very real ways in which bodies with disabilities, particularly bodies with dwarfism, can suggest a 185 widespread and lasting critical worth . . . Disability art needs to survive the ghetto. (Williamson n.p.) reconfiguration of their representation in contemporary art.189 Grigely says that “disability problematizes the status quo of both disciplinary practices and everyday life. It refuses to fit into neat compartments.”190 As we begin to expand our Despite the challenges around the word “disability” and its negative, ghettoized associations, particularly in ideas of what constitutes a representable body, we also expand our idea of disability itself. relationship to “problem,” Corban Walker and Laura Swanson have found new ways of inscribing experiences of Amelia Jones claims that body art has the potential to radically negotiate the structures that inform our current dwarfism in their installations. Disability studies and performance scholar Carrie Sandahl has written: “disabilities are understandings of visual culture. Akin to the de-centering of the disabled subject within contemporary art, Jones talks states of being that are in themselves generative, and, once de-stigmatized, allow us to envision an enormous range of about how the postmodernist characteristics of splitting, dislocation or fragmentation of the self have the potential to 186 human variety – in terms of bodily, spatial, and social configurations” (Sandahl 19). Swanson’s and Walker’s works have progressive and political effects, such as the eradication of prejudice and discrimination towards the “other.” Jones must be considered as dissident offerings, contributing to established art discourse without having to conform to it. Their also emphasizes how such artists can reinforce the inexorable nature of embodiment. She argues how important it is to work contributes to a vital conversation on art about disability and how this art can be shaped. These artists are carving reconfirm and maintain an embodied theory of postmodern art and subjectivity rather than try to suppress or deny such out a space for themselves in the world’s built and social environments – the urban and social architecture characterized bodily relationships with the world around us.191 This rehearses the dilemma of studying the work of disabled artists, as ableist. in my quest to find a space for it in contemporary art discourse, while at the same time to form a mobile, de-centered Joseph Grigely says that what is normal should be considered as a “dynamic physiology” where difference is subjectivity. 187 always present (Grigely 48). He is influenced by Georges Canguilehem’s text, The Normal and the Pathological Finally, I believe that other art practices that attempt to break the body down remain to be examined. Such 188 (1943), in which illness and aberrations are part of the status quo. In this “normalized difference,” viewers can begin investigations must encompass other disabilities that are rich in their modalities, ranging from blindness to deafness, to inquire about how dwarfism is a different way of being and operating in the world. What does the body know through from congenital to acquired disabilities, and the complexities around visible and invisible impairments that I briefly dwarfism? Swanson’s and Walker’s subjective bodily experiences contribute to Grigely’s proposed dynamic physiology discussed in Chapter II. Further, in future writing, I would like to concentrate on three major areas: (a) a more in-depth through their art, widening its scope and potential. Their account of the world, and their corresponding representations reading of work by contemporary disabled artists; (b) a re-reading of contemporary art by established disabled (those of stainless steel lines of flights or ficus trees and IKEA lamps are negotiated from the height of 4 feet tall. While who are both “out” and those who are not) and non-disabled artists through a disability studies lens and; (c) a critique dominant culture may describe dwarfism as deficit in height and mobility (and in some people’s minds, a corresponding of mainstream art that expropriates the language of disability in troubling ways in the hopes of transgressing such
deficit in intelligence), Swanson’s and Walker’s works recount their experiences of dwarfism in much more complex, practices.192 How these three areas may intersect fruitfully will be foremost in future inquiries. It is essential to have all 189 Carrie Sandahl, Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Spring, 2002, 22. 185 Aaron Williamson, “In the Ghetto? A Polemic in Place of an Editorial” in Parallel Lines Journal, In the Ghetto, ed. Aaron Williamson, 2011, 5 Mar 2012
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