STATEMENT

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Western medicine’s goal since the 18th century has been to locate and classify disease as a unique entity within the body. In what Michel Foucault terms “classificatory thought,” the living patient during this radical scientific shift becomes secondary to what their own corpse provides: a visual manual of their inner workings. The past four years of harboring an undiagnosed chronic nausea have forced me to contend with this culturally calcified belief in legibility and locatability. Why would my bio-medicalized body fail to perform its ailments in MRIs, endoscopies, bloodwork and other tests? Propelled to make sense of my body’s invisible miscalibration, I use visual representation and its limits as a catalyst for inventive forms of sustained empathy and engagement with illegible and unpredictable modes of being. My videos and performances seek friction with normative images of productivity, self-reification, and categorical specificity; embracing a playful time-based entanglement of externalized and internalized selfhood.

In a recent performance and forthcoming video essay titled Sick and Tired at the Met I visited all of the works on display that had been categorized by the Met’s online search engine as either “sick” or “tired.” I wanted to see how a major Western cultural institution labeled and displayed sickness in its collection and use its search engine results as a score for a physical (22k steps according to my Health app) route through the museum. Many of the works classified as sick or tired had no reference to either word in their title or description; providing fruitful tension between visible and non-visible representation. By what erasure of metadata or categorical realignment would these works be healthy again? Were they healthy works of art (i.e: in good condition) representing sickness or sick works representing good health? My work engages this second possibility with urgency and empathy, as neoliberalism’s attachment to productive individuality, further entrenched by self-curation on social media platforms, systematically puts its flawed subjects in conflict with these perfect images of ourselves. 

In Mona Lisa, Actual Age I spend time with another overdetermined icon of Western museum-going. My animated video portrait of the famous subject depicts her as a 500 something-year old figure drenched in monstrous fatigue, resting on a medical exam table. I use video and its associated liveness to show a figure working and being worked on tirelessly to maintain an image of its former self. In Dorian in Eternal Midlife Crisis I distill Dorian Gray’s ill-fated attempt to murder his abject self portrait; halting the transfer of mortality from representational object to living subject in favor of a slow, uncomfortable embrace of this complicated relationship. 

While these works, as well as Polar Bear Attempts a Self Portrait, push against the limits of visual representation’s adherence to fixed subjecthood, my practice seeks a foothold in the strong undertow of invisible (big)data and categorization that plays out on the surface. In Generative Adversarial Nausea I trained a neural network (a fundamental component of artificial intelligence) to learn the visual attributes of two distinct sets of images- one of hundreds of stock photo thumbnails of “nauseated” people and the other of a comparable amount of selfies I have taken the past four years living with my undetectable illness- in order to produce new images based on its learning. Closer examination of these stock images shows humans trapped in exaggerated moments of pain while inhabiting highly aspirational apartments that seem to tell them to hurry their pain along so that they can return to affording to inhabit these spaces. The hybrid images produced my machine learning experiment are released from categorical specificity as either nauseated or singularly subjects.

I create subversive moments of play in my work between culturally reified, static images of good health and productivity, and the lived experiences of the subjects who move-often imperceptibly-within them. In the process, these time-based images deflate, hollow-out, slip into the cracks of their static backgrounds, and redefine the spaces they inhabit as stages for unpredictable and exciting discovery and resilience.