Exhibitions are a tool, not the result. Art should open up for a democratic dialog and rethink the ‘ordinary’ exhibition practises. Martha Rosler: “art make difference to a social movement only when it is made in cognizance of those movements.” . Exhibition making can be a model of resistance, a tool and not the result.
The forth presentation in our Sculpture Lecture series focused on art and disabilities and the exhibition “Re/Formations: Disability, Women, and Sculpture”. Professor of English at Davidson College, Dr. Ann M Fox and Jessica Cooley, Ph.D. candidate in the art history department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison presented their research and field of crip theory, disability aesthetics, and the presence of disability in modern and contemporary art (including the art of HIV/AIDS).
They started off by giving the audience an introduction to the academic field of disability theory and described the social structures surrounding disabilities, the status of bodies, traditional narratives and oppressive behaviors. They laid out the history of disability studies and grounding this in visual culture, such as medical photography in the 1900 century which played a huge role in the stigmatization of the disable identity, art and visual culture connects directly to categorization and the caption and policing of bodies and normality.
Further they talked about how art and visual culture also can be used the other way around, to break stigmas and challenge the normative narratives, and thereby create a liberating platform to create new identities and power. Within this context they presented their exhibition “Re/Formations: Disability, Women, and Sculpture” that they co-curated at the Van Every/Smith Galleries at Davidson College, North Carolina. “Re/Formations” was the first exhibition to address the intersection between disability identity and female identity. Five female artists, exhibited sculpture that examined disability not as mental or physical insufficiency limited to a small minority, but as a widespread and diffuse cultural identity, like race or sexual orientation. The interesting thing to note in this was that not all the artist identify as disabled, Fox and Cooley gave us a thought worthy explanation to why: As we have a pre-fixed idea of normality we have to change our gaze and understand that it is about the reading of the work and the idea of the body. The body itself doesn’t have to be disabled but the work can in an interesting way question normality and body abilities that makes it possible to read through the eyes of disability theory. In this case Rebecca Horn. Together with the art of Judith Scott, who’s disability informs her art we can access a way to produce and understand art from a new direction. To take this idea further and not get stuck in conventional ideas of normality, their immediate curatorial strategy was designed to be tactile, manageable and accessible, by making space for wheel chairs, using bigger fonts and having the work in a height where it was accessible. This way of designing an exhibition got praised by not only wheel chair users but also by people standing because it helped the exhibition to become more intimate.
Fox and Cooley ended their talk by presenting the exhibition Re/presenting HIV/AIDS, an exhibition about the scientific and social perspectives on the illness. This exhibition included personal stories of HIV/AIDS – how is it to live with AIDS and what does the medicine do to the people who’s on them? What follows from diagnosis and treatment?
This interesting presentation was followed by a Q&A where questions about terminology and abelism was discussed, Fox and Cooley described for us how terminology can be used as a reclaiming of a word. They spoke about abelism which is, like sexism, a way to structurally or directly oppress individuals based on their abilities. They also answered question about invisible disabilities such as depression and ADD, how we have historically portrayed the artist as hysterical or mad, and usually as something negative that needs to be healed and fixed instead of realizing that this invisible disability can have helped to make their art possible. In relation to all-women-shows we asked questions about labeling and categorization and realized the importance of explaining, contextualizing and understanding the categories outside of an oppressive framework.
Text by Sofia Landström