Altered Access Panel 2: The Body

Altered Access Panel 2: The Body

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Thank you all for coming and to our virtual audiences for tuning in. My name is Elizabeth Ponce and I'm the public programs coordinator here at the List Visual Arts Center. I'm a woman with light brown skin and dark, curly hair pulled back. I'm wearing a beige blazer, and I am 5 feet, 5 inches tall. On behalf of the List Center, I just want to say we're so grateful to you all for joining us for two days of really thoughtful presentations and conversations.

I'm excited to introduce the second panel discussion and this year's Wasserman Forum, titled The Body. Devices or technologies that serve as tools for a physically disabled body are generally understood as support rather than embodiment. Making these tools an integral component of the visual arts forums is not only a vibrant arena for cultural production but, by becoming embodied as artwork, also fosters the dialogue that expands the meaning of simply what a body is and what it can do.

We live in a world with continuous innovation of technologies and expansive design for prosthetics, mobility aids, and hearing devices, but there is also value in the simplicity of forms that creativity at play in hat culture. These panelists create visual systems that make visible and reinvent how bodies move in spaces. This discussion will focus on the body as a mode to transformation, creation, and embodiment. Our moderator for this discussion is Kevin Gotkin. Kevin is an access ecologist, facilitator, and researcher. They are currently artist-organizer with Creatives Rebuild New York, an organization that is running a guaranteed income program and an artist employment program for 2,700 artists across so-called New York State.

Previously, they served as organizer with the Disability Arts Ensemble Kinetic Light. They have been organizing in the movement for disability artistry since 2016, when they co-founded Disability Arts NYC with Simi Linton. Their university-based teaching and research includes a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018 and a visiting assistant professorship from 2018 to 2021 at NYU's Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, where they also received their BS in 2011. Kevin's performance and curatorial work includes an upcoming series at Lincoln Center called Cultivating Access ecologies., ongoing nightlife organizing with the Remote Access Party Collective, they have helped steward the Critical Design Lab, a 2022 United States Artist Awardee, and Creative Times Integral Think Tank, and they run the weekly newsletter Crip News. Kevin is joined by artist Panteha Abareshi.

Panteha was born in Montreal, Canada and currently lives and works in Los Angeles. Panteha received her BFA from the University of Southern California's Roski school of Art and Design. Abareshi has previously performed exhibited at Kunst Haus Zurich, Museum fur Moderne Kunst Frankfurt, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Human Resources Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, among others. We are also welcoming Christopher Robert Jones and Liza Sylvestre.

Christopher and Liza are artists and writers based in Illinois. They are research assisted professors at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where they co-founded CRIP, cripistemology and the arts, a transdisciplinary initiative, housed within the College of Fine and Applied Arts. And, finally, Yo-Yo Lin. Yo-Yo is a Taiwanese-American interdisciplinary media artist who explores the possibilities of self-knowledge within emerging embodied technologies.

Although Yo-Yo could not join us in person this afternoon, Kevin will be bringing her work into discussion for our consideration. So Kevin, I'll hand it over to you. Thank you. How is the audio? Is it OK? Yeah, we're good? Hello. Hello, this is Kevin.

A little up maybe OK let's see I'll just keep I'll just keep going and maybe the level could go up a little bit more. How's that? I can also just talk loudly, is our other option. I'll do that, too. OK, so we're digesting.

We are taking our mask off on stage while I'm speaking. There's going to be a few time honored CRIP traditions happening on this panel, and one of them is being here and somewhere else at the same time. So we're going to bring Christopher and Yo-Yo to this space as we move along. And I thought for all of us, a question that we could start with is, how's the body? And maybe I'll pose that to the panelists. And if you could offer, maybe, a visual description of the body and tell us how that is, or respond to the question.

Sometimes the body, how the body is, is not accessible to us in the moment. So yeah, the invitation is to deal with that question, too. Anyone want to start? Sure. I'm sitting in a wheelchair, a yellow wheelchair. I have yellow box braids, wearing a long sleeve shirt with a black circle on it, and jeans and black boots.

Body is seated. The body is tired but glad to be here. And the body is in pain, but none too unfamiliar. Yeah, and the body is at rest, but still able to be active, which is a great privilege. I'm going to take this up because I know I'm going to talk too loud if I don't otherwise, and it's such a big part of my access that it'll just make me feel better while I'm talking. I'm Liza Sylvester.

My visual description, let's say I'm a white woman. I'm almost 40. I'll be 40 this year.

I have light brown hair. It's about shoulder length. It's pretty straight. I'm wearing this long duster jacket that's green and tan checkered, and I have on lighter pants, and a lighter shirt, and some Nike shoes. How's my body feeling? That's a really hard question for me to actually honestly answer because I feel like so much of my immediate experience in my body at any given time is focused externally and not on my body at all. I'm focused on communicating.

I'm focusing on an interpreter. I'm focusing on my breathing and focusing on hearing and trying to put those multimodal communication things together to make sure I understand. So my body is feeling, I think, OK but is not my focus right now. And usually, after events like this, I crash and burn because I ignore that part of the experience.

Yeah, but I'm also happy to be here. I have to say that, yeah. I am going to turn to our slideshow. I'm going to come back to Yo-Yo. Here's Christopher. Hello, my name is Christopher Jones.

I use they/them pronouns. I'm a white person with a shortish brown hair, small gold earrings, circle-rimmed glasses, mustache, and sort of greenish-colored T-shirt. Behind me is a pink wall with two windows on either side and a spiky plant.

My body is experiencing a lot of anxiety and fatigue at this moment. It's heightened today because I'm traveling and know that I'll be in situations that are not conducive to feeling calm or being able to articulate my thoughts and feelings as well as I would like to. That said, I'm speaking to you from an asynchronicity that is more supportive to my communicating and to my access needs. Understanding presence and attendance, or participation, or collectivity and the like outside of synchronous dominant modes is, in my opinion, integral to what an event like this can and should mean or do. So I'm happy to be sharing these moments with you.

OK, I'll go next. This is Kevin speaking. My description and my body is going to connect to Yo-Yo. So there'll be a moment when Yo-Yo starts to speak. So I'm a white person giving lots of he/him today.

Short brown hair, a neon pink KN95. That's around my chin when I'm speaking. Some butch boots going on, black jeans, black shirt, dangling earrings on one side. A neon yellow green chain link necklace.

I'm reading from my phone because that's where my notes are. It has a neon pink case that almost perfectly matches the color of a ring made by a young artist named Pearl Papalia. If there are any collectors in the space, don't sleep on Pearl.

[LAUGHTER] So overall, I'm wearing a lot of black, and then there's neon zhuzh. So now, Yo Yo is speaking. This shirt utilizes elements from my short experimental film, Recollections.

Recollections remembers lost language in the body across land and alternate universes. During the pandemic, I returned to Taiwan and spent many months navigating medical and familial wounds and discovering ancient forms of resilience and care. One of those forms of care is meridian body work, which engages with invisible chi flow in the body. I wanted to create a design that depicted the meridian channels in my body and utilized fragments from my medical archive and my imaginary archive. I'm interested in creating my own design frameworks that understand the disabled body mind from a multi-dimensional perspective. This is still Yo Yo.

The front of the shirt has a small, light blue figure with a radial pattern on its stomach, hand-drawn and wobbly. I'm just going to turn because there's the back of the shirt. Lindsey, how's that? The back of the shirt, my silhouette halved, one side light blue, the other side black with a light blue outline.

Colorful lines and dots cover my body, referencing the meridian channels in the body. Undulating, wavy line shapes in blue and red are drawn on top of the figure. These shapes generated from the sound waves of my heartbeat. A few floating rectangular images surround the figure. Black and white images from my medical archive and machines, a red Chinese character, ping, and a red-orange gradient circle. And I just-- this is Kevin now.

The character that's on this shirt, ping, has many meanings. It's very interesting. It can mean equal, or level, or flat, or calm, or ordinary. I think it also actually-- there's a specific-- anyway, I'll come back to that if it becomes relevant. So Yo Yo's body is in Taipei right now.

I don't know how Yo Yo's body is, but I feel like she would maybe want us to think about that in terms of Chi, or life force that channels through pathways in the body, which I understand is a very important connection to animist cultures that have been stamped out often by medical Western and social logics. That would make, for example, thinking about being 100% better after a sickness kind of nonsense. So, OK. Also, the question for you all just to contemplate how is the body? Do we need to change anything in this space? Also going to try to find I think the camera for the webcast to look directly and say hi because I want to make sure the bodies who are watching this from elsewhere are feeling here as well. We've said the word "the body" so many times. The body, the body, the body, and we're going to keep going.

Yeah, I want to ask you about the body in your artistry. So does the body show up as a physical body? Are we talking about the body of artistry as in like your body of work? Is the body a set of relationships? Does the body actually maybe push against an individuating process that kind of separates us? Yeah, so what is or where is the body in your artistry? And maybe Panteha, you want to go first? Sure. Well, I think that my work is subsumed by the body, and I think that that, in many ways, is often my intention, but it becomes frustrating because it's usually my body that it's subsumed with, and it's a very frustrating material to work with. I think that my practice is very much so about bringing forth a sort of embodied illness and disability, and is rooted so much in the hyper-personal, and very like earnestly and honestly started as a means of coping with a degenerative illness and disability, and finding ways to put that new experiences of corporeality sort of into a language that I could myself better process. And also sort of put the body in a language that I felt in the context of the work that I was making perhaps it could be better understood as it went through sort of very inaccessible experiences, medicalized experiences, or experiences of pain and of alienation in illness, and in disability, and the loss of ability, and all of these things.

But I think that there's a sort of intersection that is very difficult to talk about, and I think not talked about as much as I wish it was, which is when dealing with practices that are so embodied within disability and illness, like how the hyper-personal factors into that because I am pushing to make work that is making these articulations. Not just about-- not about my body, utilizing my body as sort of like-- making my body object, making my body material as a means of making articulations about disability, and about illness, and sort of existing in alienation, and all these things that I'm trying to say. But at the same time, I'm having very real time and difficult experiences within my body, and feeling frustrated every day with my body, and feeling alienated from my body in a way that in the first place drove me to begin making the work, but on a day to day basis is often so difficult to navigate practically, and emotionally, and all of these things. And so these things run in tandem, and they feed into each other in ways that are so fruitful in terms of the articulations that I'm able to make and bring a great deal of emotional catharsis, but at the same time, the body is so confounding to me and is something that I feel also through my work. I often find myself trying to escape in really practical terms, like trying to escape corporeality, and it's really often frustratingly limiting definitions of existence, and identity, and intimacy, and emotion, but also trying to find ways to push myself to articulate within the complicated corporeality that I have, how we articulate those things outside of the language that we're given to define our bodies in. And so it's all of those things sort of in this like gigantic soup that I'm drinking and eating every day, where it's like I want to find within the corporeality that I'm in.

New forms of radical language and new forms of radical emotionality and empathy in order to sort of move through this existence outside of the highly restrictive able-bodied definitions that are placed on it. But in very real terms, I'm living in a hyper-abled space constantly with hyper-abled language, and living with a subconscious forms of thought that are so conditioned-- that have been conditioned for years by able-bodied modes of thinking that just because I'm aware of, I can't simply escape. And all of that is also happening within the medical system that we are given, and the systems of care that we are acclimated to, and the systems of access that are not only normative in terms of how inaccessible they truly are or disparate they are, but can be so alienating in their own way because they're, in so many terms, also greatly defined by able-bodied individuals and able-bodied perceptions of needs. And so the body becomes this thing that is constantly like in this interesting duality between the abstract and the inescapable heavy, heavy concrete. And I think that I navigate that duality and the sort of disparity between that and the like-- what that feels like to be able to sort of gaze in both directions and be at that crossroads, and the perspective that gives one person. But I think that it's also-- I struggle in my practice, and when I speak about my work, and when I'm especially in sort of educational more like artists talk contexts to broach the personal aspect of it, like the aspect of what it feels like to be in a hospitalization for months, and come out of that, and then be expected to make work.

And/or sort of be producing work about an experience that is still despite the articulations that I'm trying to make about it, and the insight that it has given me to sort of the human condition that I like to speak on is still immensely difficult to navigate and immensely painful in emotional terms and physical terms. And also I think that my relationship to ability and the work of articulating what the relationship between one's ability and the concept of the body is or the literal body is, is like you wake up every day, and it's like a new conversation, or it's like a new articulation has to be made. It's never one articulation that you're working to reach your whole life or that you work to reach, and then you reach it, and suddenly the relationship that you have with the body is anew or is resolved in some way.

So everyday, it's a new navigation. And I feel also that the body-- there's a great deal of control over me, and a lot of my personal work that I do in my own brain aside from the work that I-- I mean, I make a lot of work about this, too, is like reconciling that shift in a power dynamic or that difference and sort of power dynamic, and this idea of totally being submissive to the body. And I think that in so many terms, often the way that this submission is imaged, there's a lot of stigma around that, and it factors into stigma against care, and the body having needs, and all of that. But I think in just like-- without going into all of that, I think that this idea of submitting to the body has always really frightened me.

And though it doesn't frighten me in the same way anymore, I think that it is still very scary. And I think that being alienated from your body is-- The language that we have around that is so sparse, and I think that it's often still placed on such an extreme binary, where it's either you are fighting tooth and nail against that alienation, or you've completely sort of acquiesced to that alienation in whatever way that might look, as opposed to having an ongoing, complicated, changing dynamic and dialogue with your body. Almost, for me, as though my body is like an entity that I have to interface with every day, and sort of like we hash it out, and it's like give and take, and it feels a lot of times it gets a lot take, and it's navigating that would an intimate relationship with another person. And so the body is like this thing that I used to desperately want to know, to sort of understand, to grasp and garner an understanding of the body in this way, and make a new articulation and understanding about it. That would be profound for myself, just in coming to terms with a sort of-- coming to terms with otherness through that. But now, the body is something that I want to know, but not in that way.

Like I want to the body continuously, and I want to understand always as it is ever changing, and I think I want-- or I think that the body for me now is something that represents settling into the not knowing as like a space. I don't like necessarily using the word empowerment, but finding a great deal of comfort in settling into the not knowing, and settling into a space that is reveling in the fact that there is so much that I will never have control of when it comes to my corporeality, and in that, redefining what control even is. And so I always come back to these terms of power and control, but I think that the body-- there's always a power dynamic between the body as sort of the corporeal entity in which you are housed, and the dynamic of power, and how obvious it is that you are in that dynamic is really influenced by your perceived, or self-perceived, or externally labeled otherness and level of ability.

And so, yeah, the body functions as like all of those things, but I think it's sort of-- it is an unknowable thing to me. And so now, it's just like finding a deep fascination and appreciation in what that really means. Yeah.

Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, it's really cool to hear you talk. Thank you. This is Liza speaking. My experience of the body and my body in artwork is maybe similarly hard to pin down and not direct.

I always feel like the body is a barrier between my interior experience, which is very well formed because of my hearing loss and being in isolation for many different times and moments in my life, and what other people are experiencing. So there's the body is a communication conduit, and there's some aspect there that things get through, but they get through in different ways, and it feels like the body is sort of the alchemizing barrier between those things. I also think a lot about macroscopic to microscopic in terms of the body and communication, like my immune system is what gave me a hearing loss, and so my relationship to self, and immune, and health is acute and specific.

And my hearing loss happened really gradually over a long period of time, and there's an instability to that, to like kind of being diagnosed with something, and then the feeling of it coming closer and your formative years happening with that. It's operating underneath that umbrella, right? Or shadow. So what happened is cells in my inner ear died, and that resulted in hearing loss, and so there's the microscopic. And then the macroscopic is maybe where I like to locate my body, and my current work, and my collaborative work with Christopher, which Christopher will share a little bit more about.

But we have a family together, and we have a seven-year-old, and we are in charge of teaching language to a 7-year-old, which is a really complicated thing for me as someone with the very complicated relationship to language. And also, thinking about where my disability ends and Christopher and our 7-year-old's experience begins is like similarly complicated. Where they change their communication method to communicate with me, my disability is not just located in my own personal body within our family unit, and I think that that is sort of the key to thinking about what disability can do because it's not ever singular. We can be locked in our experiences, and there's a reality to that as you are absolutely articulating, and that I also in my own way. But the boundaries around what that is or should be is something that I in particular, and I think Christopher would absolutely agree with me, we try to maybe erase a little bit more whose responsibility is my communication and my understanding.

It's like we're working together here so that I can participate, and that's not-- that's a collective embodied experience that we're engaged in together. So yeah, and then also thinking about what does collaboration mean right now in a moment when disability is swelling and is maybe being hyper visualized in the capital A Art world, and maybe the body is a place of extraction, right? Or the imaging of the body. And so working with Christopher has been my way of maybe placing less emphasis on my individual body and saying like, no, hang on. Wait, like, this should not be as simple as this.

This is more complicated. Yeah? I have-- sorry, I just want to-- a couple of things that you said. First, I think that-- because very similarly to you, I spent my formative years sort of passing as very able-bodied or sort of moving in and out of ability in a much different way where I could go long periods of time without sort of having to confront the sort of inevitability of my deterioration and my inevitable loss of ability and intensification of my condition. And so when I started contending in concrete ways with loss of ability that started affecting, as you say, my ability to interface and the body as a conduit, it was so-- like my first response was anger, and I was so angry. And my early works and early performance works, all the pieces were like so much about instilling in the able-bodied viewer and understanding, a really didactic understanding of what disempowerment felt like by putting them in situations where they were literally stripped of their control in terms of the visual imagery that they were seeing, being bombarded with sort of overwhelming stimuli. And I always tell the story that I would be watching this performance unfold, and as opposed to having a catharsis where I felt as though the able-bodied individual finally understood the anger and the frustration, feeling trapped in my body, people would take one look, and then open the door and walk out and leave.

And that was so indicative-- so symbolic to me about the experience that I was having. But I also think about how, for many years, I really did isolate myself, and I look back now, and I see also in many ways that my ability to isolate myself was born out of a greater privilege of able-bodiedness than I have now. and I reached a point in my condition where I could no longer deny help or the need for care in this very literal way, in ways that I had avoided at great detriment to my health, and both physical and emotional, but that I had avoided for years by putting myself in strenuous and dangerous situations, and not asking for help, and not letting people see that I needed help.

And a lot of that was because of this stigma in this sort of way in which the body is expected to interface, and the way in which I think also the idea of-- I mentioned very briefly earlier, but the stigma around the body needing help, and asking for help, or requiring care is a very specific type of stigma that is so inherently devaluing, but also so difficult to put concretized language to because of how much it is relegated into private spheres of interaction. And so it's something that's expected to be dealt with so silently and so privately, and so we just completely lack a collective comfortable-- forget even being comfortable. Just a collective language around the necessity of care, and normalizing that, even in regards to creating access in spaces like these, and bringing in language that is really based around the idea of care needs is still so taboo. But having a partner that is also functioning as a caregiver really changed-- also for me, brought me into a space where I had to confront all of these things that I was really avoiding in terms of thinking about how things like intimacy are changing for the body, and how things like the idea of trust and the idea of independence were-- my idea of independence was so rooted in this highly, highly, highly able-bodied notion of a body that can do for itself.

And I think that a lot of the language that we have around independence, and thus in parallel the idea of needing care inherently disempowers bodies that are willing to-- or disempowers bodies that need any sort of care, or help, or are asking for that simply because of how we idealize this idea of the hyper-independent individual, and independence even in relationships that you're in. And so I think that thinking about my own body as interfacing with-- I really like that word that you used. I think that thinking about the body as this conduit is really complicating for me, has always been very complicating for me because it inherently brings in an acknowledgment on my part of inabilities in interfacing that are just always going to be very difficult to navigate. And I think that-- like right now in my work, I've been thinking about for a while like intimacy specifically, and the way in which the disabled body is sort of held and cared for, and the idea of care, and medicalized care, and care as a intimate practice, or care as a sort of necessity, a larger-- like outside of just literal-- Let's get this disabled body what it needs, and let's get it in bed, and let's get it fed, and let's get it water, and food, and whatever.

A little treat, tuck it into bed, put it in the corner, silent, whatever. This idea of placating the disabled thing, as opposed to caring for the disabled individual. And I think that a lot of the way that I've had to come to terms with, and the very rocky relationship that I have with the body comes from this idea of reaching for the body as a conduit, and sort of having it be absent in the way that I expect or the way that I need, and it is about a radical rewiring then of the system, or re-imagining altogether what a connection might even look like. All right, wow. Wow, we're in it, and it was the first question really, or the second, but I want to bring-- so we're going to time shift a little bit, and I want to bring Christopher and Yo Yo to the same question of what or where is the body in your work? So Christopher recorded an answer, and then I thought we could look at documentation of a performance by Yo Yo as an answer to that question.

So let's bring them in. Christopher speaking. I might just re-emphasize the in-betweeness that Liza is describing. Personally, I'm interested in the gaps, and slippages, and fractures, and malfunctions that are generated in and by the between, as well as emphasizing-- an emphasizing of the body as something that's instantiated and re-instantiated across different configurations or sensations of time with the emphasis on messily or messiness.

Liza and I began to collaborate, whatever that means, around a resistance to the ways in which art all too often desires isolated and individualized disabled narratives in support of a conversation that never really seems to move beyond deficit, or the sort of repeated measuring of difference. So collaboration also seems to be locked into a production-based understanding of what it means for more than a single body to interact, so instead through a methodology of interdependence, which maybe is what cripistemology collaboration, or collaboration that emerges from crip-disabled ways of knowing or being is. But regardless, through a methodology of interdependence, we wanted to understand, feel, or explore where disability lives between us, and engage in the ways in which our separate disabilities shape and complicate each other, generating new methods for knowing and being together. This is Kevin speaking, and I'm just changing over to a video. I've been thinking about this. How do we ask questions that we're asking here of Yo Yo who can't be here? And so this answer is going to be from a documentation from Yo Yo's 2022 open call commission, By The Shed, in New York City.

The theater is dark, and on the stage, which is down from where the camera is, there is a room made of semi-transparent scrim. The walls receive projections that surround Yo Yo, who is inside and wearing a mask that adorns her face with delicate wires or cables, the details of which are kind of shielded by the screen that we are looking through. [MUSIC PLAYING] I used to be afraid of the sea. Treading water, clawing for the surface.

But I've been in the depths enough to know not to gasp for air, but to breathe under water. To look for a healer's hand. A channel. That's you. Lights dance behind my eyelids. Flashes of gold and blue.

A distant flicker signaling from the surface. I want to be where you are. You tell me pain is a portal. As much as pain is something we try to get away from, we uncover pathways with pain.

Pathways that show us different worlds. Where rest is air, where time slows down, where the walls of our room are curved, and we remember nothing is ever certain. Nothing matters no more. Just this breath and the next. [EXHALES] Kevin speaking again.

So just a time check, it's 1:45, so we're about halfway through our moment. Are we doing OK? Is everyone good? Cool. OK, how do we feel about posing some questions to each of you? Sorry, so maybe-- for Panteha, for you, there's a question that's coming to mind that's like so tied to what you were just sharing, and it comes from, I think, my experience. I feel like I've been blessed to be mentored by-- in academia and in organizing-- by some disabled elders who are very much involved with a disability rights, tradition of creating public space, I think feel a little uncomfortable about the disabled bodies role in a lot of contemporary artistry because it's, as you're saying, you're grappling with trying to find-- trying to understand the failures of representation, especially when it's overdetermined by medicalized aesthetics. And so there's this kind of contract-- I mean, actually, some disabled historians have kind of thought about this as a way of understanding disability history in the US, that there's this big contract. Like, give us the bare minimum, and disabled folks will kind of, as you're saying, retreat to do the private messy shit behind.

And in your work, you're kind of refusing that contract, right? Like you're kind of saying like, no, I'm not-- I'm going to bring-- and maybe a work that is in the materials for this forum, which is on the website, you're bringing a medical aesthetic, and you're working in a way that, yeah, is kind of refusing to engage in contractual terms on those ways. So I wonder like how-- I understand that as kind of a major move in disability history or disability aesthetics, to be able to return to the body that the social model, and disability rights, and legislation has maybe unwittingly kind of asked us to hide, and you're not hiding that, and you're bringing the messiness out. And so I wonder like, yeah, can you talk a little bit about this? Is this like this is a highly intentional part of your artistry to kind of move against a disability history and-- You know, it's about, for me, constantly acknowledging the push and pull of power in the sort of need, and demand, and desire for representation, and for visibility, and for legibility, and experience. And so in my work, it is so messy so much of the time, and it's the body flailing, and it's the body vulnerable, and it's the body broken, and capturing, and sharing the most difficult moments, I think, for anyone to see, but especially those with a more privileged able body, which is the sort of disabled thing flailing out in public. It's like what do we do with it? Why am I having to look at it? This idea that I think dominates the language that we're given, that we speak so subconsciously around us through visual language, through spoken language which is basically like, I shouldn't have to see that, and that applies to not just the disabled body, but all sort of-- a lot of modes of otherness and suffering in the sort of-- when it comes to the body and the being. But in my work, it's like there is that messiness, and there is that sort of dragging the body out into the public space and making a spectacle of it, and so it's important, and it's so valuable to me to sort of bring what is demanded to be relegated into the private, and what feels most comfortable in the private out, and to put a light onto that.

But also, there's a really intentional sterility in my work as well. There is a continuous sort of medicalized tone, there's a consistent feeling that the body is still being restrained, or still being censored, or perhaps that it's being flayed, and dissected, and made a spectacle in the sort of controlled medicalized context. And it's this question of, for me, what is the control that I'm able to really even exercise over my body? And is this autonomy a fallacy? Is it an illusion? And that comes from very earnestly humbling moments of realizing how fallible that sense of control actually is, making works that are so defined by grueling, intense, objectifying performance, and finding still that putting that within an institutional context, bringing that into the white-walled space of the gallery, I was just moving my body from one hospital bed to another. And that's like totally OK in the sense that it opens a totally different realm of criticality, but I think that the disabled body as a sort of flayed, pinned, almost like a bug in an entomological display is the standard that we have right now for how the disabled body functions as a subject in the institution, whether that's the medical institution or the artistic institution. There's so many parallels that arise for me in the way that tokenism sort of functions with the disabled body as a subject in the art space. And so for me, it's very, very important to constantly image and capture my own discomfort, and through that, sort of discomfort in a larger sense, and to speak to the ways in which forming a much broader, powerful lexicon around the disabled experience requires a great deal of discomfort.

It's not going to happen through imaging or through contextualizations of the body that aren't completely challenging and discarding the language that we already have around it, especially the visual language that we have. We rely on didactic indicators of otherness and disability to indicate levels of ability and inability. We rely on hyper-simplified terms of alienation.

We rely on hyper-simplified terms of experience, all of these things. And so by refusing-- not just sort of privatization, or shielding, or censoring, or diluting of that experience, but actually pushing into that and saying I'm not only going to do a performance in which I'm putting myself into a place where I'm uncomfortable, but I'm going to push myself into my own boundaries of inability. I'm going to push myself farther into my illness, farther into my disability. I'm going to lean into this thing that is hostile, and I'm told is hostile, and had made-- and I think that talking about my relationship to the body, it's like on top of the sort of literal dissonance that arises between me and my body because my body is not doing what I want it to do, and is hurting, and is providing these barriers that I have to overcome every day.

Everything around me is also telling me that I should be ashamed of my body, that I should be at odds with my body. Again, thinking about this relationship. It's like you're being egged on to sort of have an antagonistic relationship with your body by everything around you.

And so I think that bringing all of that out into the light is so like crucial to me. It's something in my practice that I am always going to come back to. But in my last body of work-- but sort of the last two years-- well, OK, this new body of work that I just finished, and I just actually presented it at a show that opened just a few days ago, just at the end of March was the first time in about a year that I was returning to performative work and work that featured my body. I took a big step back from allowing myself to use my body as a material, sort of a representational thing in my work because I also think that in these instances we have of experiencing sort of uncomfortable instances of otherness and experiencing uncomfortable instances of disability, we expect it to be translated to us through the other body, sort of presenting itself as subject so that an alternate perspective or lived experience can sort of be absorbed, or understood, or gleaned by watching it sort of at odds with the surroundings. Sort of a very observational method of dissection.

And so I found it very challenging and even more uncomfortable to push myself to remove that completely from my work, and to work through sort of sculptural installation, very object driven work, and I was thinking a lot about fetishism, and the idea of preciousness, and the idea of imbuing something with this hyper-intimate sort of sense of value and this idea of interfacing with an object in a sort of fetishistic manner that speaks to the way that disabled bodies are treated as objects. But my body wasn't present in the work, and interestingly enough, I got sort of the same and even more intense in some situations, like knee jerk reactions of discomfort because the body-- because the disabled body was present but made piecemeal, and not allowed to exist wholly and fully in its own representation. Which I sort of believe speaks really deeply to how it feels to move through the institution, trying to sort of navigate this idea of self representation of illness and articulate that because so much of the time, your experience is made piecemeal and is made sort of into a tokenized thing, and it's not just about the idea that institutions will be like, well, we have the one disabled artist, or you're speaking for the disabled people out there, or to speak about disability in such broad, experiential terms is a big part of that sort of institutional centralization. But I think now, thinking about this idea of the unveiling of the disabled body, I'm also thinking about this idea of what is expected of and demanded of the disabled body in terms of legibility just in everyday life.

The disabled body is expected to perform and to make clear its otherness to the able-bodied passerby, just so they can be comfortable interfacing with that disabled body in the space that they're in. And so we expect that in the institution as well, and I think that there needs to be a big interrogation of that, and I try to do that through my work. And so it is about, here's the messy, uncomfortable thing that you don't want to look at, that you've been conditioned to in fact look away from.

But at the same time, we must complicate and interrogate the relationship inherently that exists between the disabled subject laying before you and the privileged onlooker looking down upon it because that in and of itself is symbolic of the hierarchies that we're existing in just every day as disabled people in the grocery, or trying to find the elevator. So yeah, so trying to-- really prodding for a complication of that, and this idea of denying maybe what people expect as well. Yeah. Amazing.

Thank you. Yeah. This is Kevin.

So Liza, I wanted to-- well, if you want me to ask a totally different question just whatever that is, let's ask that, but the question I had for you is about the flashlight project. I wonder if you could talk about that. The first work that I encountered, I think, of yours was your video work captioned, and you use access-- I think this is kind of a Hallmark of a lot of disabled artists working now to use access features for far more than the way we usually think of retrospective-- retrofitting, I mean, the access feature is like after the primary art object. And so in the flashlight project, you seem to illuminate hearing bodies that can help us reconfigure space and pace to investigate hearing culture or audism. I wonder if you could, yeah, maybe just talk to us about that project, which came to MIT yesterday.

I guess if you need a more specific question, what did you learn in yesterday's experience? But yeah, I wanted to ask you to focus on that project. What did I learn yesterday? Yeah, this is Liza speaking. I'm happy to talk about both of those things and their relationship to each other, too. I did the caption work like you said. I was finding a primary document, like videos that sort of were specifically from moments in my childhood, or adolescence, or were stand ins for videos of that time, and they never stopped functioning as the archival material that they are.

And in that caption space, like you said, I am not captioning what's said. I'm captioning my commentary, so it's not accessible necessarily to everyone because they're hard of hearing people. They are still not-- or deaf people, big and little d deaf people, they're still getting the visual aspect. And then they're able to read my captions and interpretation, which vary from me trying to figure out what the heck is going on to me understanding the story through body language and all the other ways that we communicate, right? Which you understand them more clearly when the sound is turned off, so there's a real ability there that maybe deaf and hard of hearing people have to read things through maybe the back door, rather than the front seats, right? But then in [INAUDIBLE] project, yeah, so that-- I mean, anyone who is disabled is encountered with the problems of access in a moment to moment daily basis, and so my captioning work was really formed through needs that both Christopher and I have that are different access needs between us. And specifically arose out of my inability to converse with a group of people, which is essentially impossible unless I have an interpreter with me. The interpreter is a good interpreter.

The interpreter will work with me. The interpreter knows the key words. I have a cochlear implant. I've had it since 2003. When I was 19, I got a cochlear implant, and before that, had other hearing aids that didn't really work very well because of the way that my hearing loss progressed, and also because of the technology at that time. But my cochlear implant has made communication and access very complicated.

I can hear pretty well one on one, and then if any variable comes in, it's over. And what ends up happening is we condition other people through a one on one conversations, through my ease in that setting, it doesn't translate in other settings. So other people don't understand that it's not a one size fits all situation. It's constantly changing and has impacted by my overall health and well being as well, too, right? And my comfortability in any situation.

So flashlight project is very simple. We put people into an essentially blacked out room, like a darkened room, we equipped them with flashlight, and then there's the flashlight and the design of the space, and the way that Christopher brings in sound, and the way that the conversation is shaped to really meet both of our access needs changes what is talked about. And so we each have a flashlight, we enter as a group, but there's a weird sort of spotlight effect that happens, like what's happening right now in a little way for me personally in this chair, where your peripheral vision is messed with, and so your idea of a group versus one on one dynamic is distorted in the space of the flashlight project. And so you can have conversations with people with your flashlight pointing at your mouth so that I can read your lips, and also so that it's really a controlled and slowed pace so that I can follow and converse. And what we end up talking about is different than another conversation.

I don't really know how else to explain it, and it's not the same, and it's gone weirdly in different iterations of it. We want to keep doing it, and I do learn things about other people that I would not have access to. I don't have access to small talk. Like small talk is-- I hate it because I can't hear it, and it feels like this social construct where I really want to connect, but like that is like a huge barrier for me. And masks make everything about 9,000 times more complicated.

So in many ways, the pandemic has made me more disabled in that respect, and definitely has changed my access needs, and the way I'm approaching access, and how I teach and do things. But yeah, I mean, I do get to learn about-- yesterday was great. Finnegan and Carmen were there, and that was super fun, and we got to-- there were some nice moments of interdependence where one of the things we brought in this time in relationship to the body was the sound of a cough, and in my experience how cough sound like words, and how coughs are words right now. And our 7-year-old is sick, and I call the doctor, and the nurse wants me to describe in detail what type of cough my child is having, and I'm like I don't know, it's a cough.

Half the time I hear coughing from another room, and I think it's actually someone speaking to me. I can't decipher between a cough and a word, so what is that space, right? Like what is being communicated? But Carmen gave this really great interpretations or translations of the cough, and then Finnegan was writing it on this board, and so that's like what becomes possible in flashlight project. That's exciting to us. Yeah. Thank you. This is Kevin.

I'm going to move us back to the slide show. The question that I have for Christopher is about teaching and critique, a significant part of their work in addition to the art making that we're hearing about. So I asked Christopher, can you talk about how you bring cripistemological framework or method to your teaching and critique? This is Christopher speaking. As Liza probably mentioned, I'm a research Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne. I teach in the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the college level, and I'm also an affiliate faculty in the School of Art and Design.

And Liza and I co-founded Crip Asterisk, cripistemology in the arts, or Crip Asterisk for an abbreviated term, which is a practice based creative research project and transdisciplinary initiative founded in a cripistemological approach to creative pedagogy and applied research. So a cripistemological approach, cripistemology being a portmanteau of crip and epistemology, focuses on how knowledge produced via a crip disabled experience can shape and change the ways we approach our respective mediums. So shifting away from a centralizing difference and towards strategies that disrupt normative or hierarchical structures and make difference generative to challenge the ways in which creative and interpretive spaces and strategies are reliant upon ableism.

And a Crip Asterisk perspective, which is derived from crip theory rather than the general reclamation of the term, foregrounds an intersectional and expansive approach to access, and seeks to complicate and expand our understanding of those issues. Crip asterisk moves beyond the problem solving approach to disability in the arts, so legal compliance, basic accessibility considerations, acknowledgment of disabled existence, et cetera, and towards a pedagogical model that utilizes a Crip Asterisk sort of framework as an integral part of art critical discourse and production. So this works guided in part by principles such as interdependence, open access, generative difference, radical alterity, networks of support and collaboration, crip temporality, and access ecology.

And one thing that I deal with regularly that comes to mind in relationship to this question about a cripistemological framework and the body is the ways in which disability is afforded space as a subject matter, but not a methodology. Disability is treated almost exclusively as a deficit or lack located in individual bodies, and in this way, something can be about disability, but not of. That's also to say that the institution disembodies in service of extraction, and this extraction seems integral to the ways in which institutions use access to sanitize difference. So access on the basis of exception, accommodation, burden, et cetera never as a radical contributor to knowledge. I think often of a stanza from artist William Pope Bell's text Whole Theory, parts 4 and 5, in which he writes "what I mean by having something is the fantasy that having is possessing, and that possessing is knowing." So this entangling of having, knowing, and possessing is where I understand cripistemology to be incredibly valuable in charting different ways of relating to knowledge and form of relationality founded in lived, embodied experience, and in resistance to conventional strategies of mastery and possession.

This is Kevin. I'm just doing a timed check. So we're almost 15 after, so think of questions, but there's one more question I'm going to pose to Yo Yo. We're going to return to the piece called "Channels."

So just a reminder, there's a theater. There's a room on stage made of walls that receive projection. The question I had for Yo Yo was, how do you design the space for your performance and maybe specifically for your collaborations in performance? There's audio description that's in this section, but I'll just describe a little bit. There's a duet that's happening, and it's a remote duet, so there's another artist named Paulena KK Brown, who appears remotely and dances with Yo Yo. [MUSIC PLAYING] Are you still there? KK, are you still there? Yes, I'm here. Can I see what you see? Yes.

I'm in a dark room. I'm alone, but I can feel that there are other here. There are others here with me.

I can't see them, but I can feel them through the walls of my room. I walk slowly in a clockwise direction, my feet touching the ground gently, feeling every muscle in my heel, in my toes. I walk the four corners of my room, sanctifying the space.

I turn counterclockwise now, gently touching the ground, moving slowly, turning back time. Moving so slow my feet listening, becoming ears. Are you still there? Yes, I'm still here. I'm OK with you gently raising in my room, turning my ears-- my feet into ears, too. As I gently walk, my fingers and hands are starting on that movement, gently making brushing movements into the air. I turn to face you.

My hands are raised, suddenly coming up above my head. I point towards the sky. My hands gently making figure eights in the air. Yo Yo, are you still there? Yes, I'm still here. My hands are raised above my head, making figure eights. I bring them slowly down, one hand on my chest, resting on my heart.

My other hand sways to my side, gently lapping the water, sinking about the river. Rotating my arm, the motion gets bigger, the circle gets bigger. My hands reach up into the sky, sway side to side, like a tree blowing in the wind. Are you still there?

2023-06-03 19:02

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