Cultural Perceptions of the Disabled in Art
Cultural Perceptions of the Disabled in Art and Art History
January 23 - February 23, 2017
Film Screenings M-F 5:30-7:00pm
Visual culture is a wide ranging phenomenon. It manifests itself in a variety of ways and in the instance of how we perceive the disabled at a global level our perceptions are diverse and complicated. There are various queries that can be raised and fundamental to the issues surrounding the disabled is what does it mean to be human? What constitutes the human body? What is a normal/abnormal body and how has this dichotomy been articulated as it relates to the disabled? How have artists affirmed or subverted assumptions of the normative body? Finally, consider how the body, the post human and cyborgs have been represented in relation to the politics of identity, digital and bio-technologies. As Jeffrey Deitch underscored in his seminal exhibition Post Human (1992) pointed out: “Social and scientific trends are converging to shape a new conception of self, a new construction of what it means to be a human being.”
This exhibition attempts to address these questions from sundry positions. In the main gallery there will be two films screened on alternating days for the duration of the exhibition January 23-Feburary 17. The two films are FIXED: The Science /Fiction of Human Enhancement (2013) and Sins Invalid: An Unashamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility (2013). Positioned in front of the partitions will be a range of examples focusing on disabled performances to supplement and expand on the issues raised by the films screened in the main gallery. The films and performance clips are entry points into how we view the “disabled” as opposed to the “abled.”
Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement (2013)
A haunting, subtle, urgent documentary, FIXED questions commonly held beliefs about disability and normalcy by exploring technologies that promise to change our bodies and mind forever. Told primarily through the perspectives of five people with disabilities: a scientist, journalist, disability justice educator, bionics engineer and exoskeleton test pilot, FIXED takes a close look at the implications of emerging human enhancement technologies for the future of humanity.
Patty Berne works at the Center for Genetics and Society as Project Director on Race, Disability and Eugenics, where she focuses on raising awareness about the ethical implications of emerging prenatal screening technologies. Fernanda Castelo works with Ekso Bionics as a test pilot, helping them develop the Ekso, a bionic exoskeleton which allows people with no or limited function in their legs to walk. Engineer Hugh Herr runs the Biomechatronics Lab at the MIT Media Lab where he designs bionic legs which allow himself, a double amputee, and others, to rock climb, trail run, play tennis, etc… John Hockenberry is an Emmy and Peabody award winning journalist, author, radio host (WNYC’s “The Takeaway”) and distinguished fellow at the MIT Media Lab, where he works to promote research into human-machine collaborations. Gregor Wolbring is a biochemist and ability studies scholar at the University of Calgary, in Calgary, Alberta, who lectures worldwide on human enhancement technologies and ableism.
These five individuals share a personal stake in the debates around human enhancement technologies, yet the world they are each working towards is quite different. Transhumanist James Hughes, robot scientist Rodney Brooks, disability studies scholar and performance artist Dominika Bednarska, futurist Jamais Cascio, disability lawyer Silvia Yee, reproductive rights advocate Sujatha Jesudason, brain-computer interface study participant Tim Hemmes, philosophy professor Cressida Heyes, and bioethicist Marcy Darnovsky also contribute, deepening the issues and revealing the social tensions that underlie these emerging technologies in surprising ways.
The film also celebrates the rich world of disability culture by weaving in excerpts of performances by some of the world’s leading integrated dance companies, featuring disabled and non-disabled dancers, and other artists including AXIS, Lisa Bufano, GIMP with Jen Bricker, Lawrence Carter-Long, Jeffrey Freeze, Lezlie Frye and Catherine Long, Kounterclockwise with Dancing Wheels, and Antoine Hunter (Sins Invalid and Urban Jazz Dance Company) from the U.S.; Sue Austin, Anjali Dance, Marc Brew, Candoco from the U.K.; and the Remix Dance Company from South Africa.
Through a dynamic mix of verité, dance, archival and interview footage, FIXED challenges notions of normal, the body and what it means fundamentally to be human in the 21st century.
Sins Invalid: An Unashamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility, 2013
Director: Patty Berne
The film Sins Invalid documents a performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, focusing on artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists. Since 2006, its performances have explored themes of sexuality, beauty, and the disabled body, impacting thousands through live performance. Sins Invalid is as a portal to the absurdly taboo topic of sexuality and disability resulting in a new paradigm of disability justice.
The vision of Sins Invalid points out that the only means to be “liberated as whole beings-as disabled, as queer, as brown, as black, as gender non-conforming, as trans, as women, as men, as non-binary gendered” is not to stereotype the body and fragment it. The whole being is what matters. Sins Invalid has outreached to various communities to make it evident “that demographic identity alone does not determine one’s commitment to liberation.”
Her writing has been featured in magazines including Make/Shift, Ms., and Seventeen, and in anthologies including Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation, Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution, and Fist of the Spiderwoman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire. She has released two solo albums (Anthem and Effigy) and co-wrote, co-produced and performed in The Transfused, a post-apocalyptic rock opera. She teaches voice lessons and creative writing workshops, and just finished writing an experimental novel called 515 Clues.
Seeking justice for all of the disable – “in lockdowns, in shelters, on the streets, visibly disabled, invisibly disable, sensory minority, environmentally injured, psychiatric survivors” Sins Invalid transcends one’s “individual legal rights” and focuses on “collective human rights.”
The narratives they explore emphasize analysis that moves away from “identity politics to unity” for all suppressed people and support a “collective claim of liberation and beauty.”
Sins Invalid’s performance projects involve themes of “sexuality, embodiment and the disabled body. The underlying conception of this project was developed by “disabled people of color…to challenge stereotypical notions of “normal and “sexy” rather than propagating a “vision of beauty and sexuality inclusive of all individuals and communities.”
Sins Inavalid’s definition of disability as they point out is comprised of individuals “with physical impairments, people who belong to a sensory minority, people with emotional disabilities, people with cognitive challenges, and those with chronic/severe illness.” Experiencing disability occurs “within any and all walks of life, with deeply felt connections to all communities impacted by the medicalization of their bodes, including trans, gender variant and intersex people, and others whose bodies don conform to our culture(s)’ ideas about what is “normal” or “functional.”
Sue Austin performing underwater with her wheelchair, 2012, still from the Freewheeling video