CARMEN PAPALIA 1
CARMEN PAPALIA: LONG TIME NO SEE CUE ART FOUNDATION SEPTEMBER 7 - OCTOBER 12, 2013
BOARD OF DIRECTORS Gregory Amenoff Theodore S. Berger Sanford Biggers Thomas G. Devine Thomas K.Y. Hsu Deborah Kass Vivian Kuan Corina Larkin Brian D. Starer
CURATORIAL ADVISORY COUNCIL Gregory Amenoff William Corbett Lynn Crawford Paddy Johnson Trenton Doyle Hancock Pablo Helguera Sharon Lockhart Andrea Zittel
CUE FELLOWS STAFF Polly Apfelbaum Theodore S.Berger, Chair Ian Cooper William Corbett Michelle Grabner Eleanor Heartney Deborah Kass Corina Larkin Jonathan Lethem Rossana Martinez Juan Sรกnchez Irving Sandler, Senior Fellow Carolyn Somers Lilly Wei
Jeremy Adams Executive Director Beatrice Wolert-Weese Associate Director Jessica Gildea Associate Director of Programs Hannah Malyn Development Coordinator Mesha Bhansali Programs & Office Assistant
Each year, CUE invites ten individuals from across the country to anonymously nominate up to three artists for the solo exhibition program. Artists are invited to apply, and the final selection is made by an independent jury each fall. Jurors for the 2013-14 season were Michelle Grabner, artist and founder of The Suburban, Chicago, IL; Paddy Johnson, founder, Art F City; and Gregory Amenoff, artist and Chair, Visual Arts, Columbia University School of the Arts.
CUE ART FOUNDATION IS A DYNAMIC VISUAL ARTS CENTER DEDICATED TO CREATING ESSENTIAL CAREER AND EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR EMERGING ARTISTS OF ALL AGES. THROUGH EXHIBITIONS, STUDIO RESIDENCIES, ARTS EDUCATION, AND PUBLIC PROGRAMS, CUE PROVIDES ARTISTS AND AUDIENCES WITH SUSTAINING AND MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCES AND RESOURCES.
Born in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1981, Carmen Papalia is a Social Practice artist who makes participatory projects on the topic of access as it relates to public space, the Art institution and visual culture. His work has been featured as part of exhibitions and programming at: The Whitney Museum of American Art, the L.A Craft and Folk Art Museum, the Grand Central Art Center, the Canter Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College, the Portland Art Museum, the Columbus Museum of Art and the Vancouver Art Gallery. In 2011, he was awarded a residency at Mildred’s Lane, where he developed a site-specific rendition of the Blind Field Shuttle that traversed the sonically stunning natural landscapes of Beach Lake, Pennsylvania. In 2012, he served as the Mellon Tri-College Creative Resident and offered a series of improvisational Blind Field Shuttle walks for students and staff at Haverford and Bryn Mawr College. Papalia holds a Bachelor of Arts from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and a Master of Fine Arts from Portland State University. He has lectured on his work at the University of Sunderland (UK), the California College of the Arts, Portland State University, the Pacific Northwest College of Art, the University of Michigan, York University, and at Emily Carr University. His recent writings can be found in Stay Solid: A Radical Handbook for Youth (AK Press, 2013); Reference Points: Temporary Services (Publication Studio, 2013); and in the “Museum Experience and Blindness” issue of Disability Studies Quarterly. Papalia’s upcoming projects include a series of experimental programs about access and visitor experience that will take place at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He can be reached at email@example.com.
You are closing your eyes. You have just entered the vast and vibrant dimension that is non-visual space. You put your hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you, and you lend support to anyone who might want to join in this experience. You notice the pace of your breathing, you notice some sweat on your palms. As your focus shifts away from what is visual, the acoustic environment crashes around you. It consumes you like a tidal wave. With each event your sense of the spacial scale shifts, and shifts again. A tight corridor, a field, of color. A wave of traffic. Your footsteps. You focus on the sound. You feel secure knowing that you can rely on the person in front of you, and you begin to relax. You ease into your gait. You notice the pace of your breathing. You begin to trust in this practice.
â&#x20AC;&#x201D;Reflection upon experiencing the Blind Field Shuttle, 2013
I design experiences that allow those involved to expand their perceptual mobility and claim access to public and institutional spaces. Often requiring trust and closeness, these engagements disorient the participant while introducing new modes of orientation that allow for perceptual and sensorial discovery. Each walking tour, workshop, collaborative performance, public intervention, museum project and art object that I produce is a temporary system of accessâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;a gesture that contributes to a productive understanding of accessibility. As an opensourcing of my own access, my work makes visible the opportunities for learning and knowing that become available through the non-visual senses. It is a chance to unlearn looking and to take ones first few steps into a non-visual world.
Blind Field Shuttle, 2011 Walking tour; duration varies Image: Heather Zinger 9
Blind Field Shuttle, 2012 Walking tour; duration varies Image: Jordan Reznick 10
Blind Field Shuttle, 2012 Walking tour; duration varies Image: Jordan Reznick 11
Blind Field Shuttle, 2012 Walking tour; duration varies Image: Jordan Reznick 12
Blind Field Shuttle, 2012 Walking tour; duration varies Image: Thom Carrol Courtesy of Canter Fitzgerald Gallery 13
Blind Field Shuttle, 2012 Walking tour; duration varies Image: Thom Carrol Courtesy of Canter Fitzgerald Gallery 14
Long Cane, 2012 Performance; duration varies Image: Kristin Rochelle Lantz 15
Long Cane, 2012 Performance; duration varies Image: Kristin Rochelle Lantz 16
Long Cane, 2012 Performance; duration varies Image: Kristin Rochelle Lantz 17
Mobility Device, 2013 Performance; duration varies Image: Adriana Salazar Courtesy of The Grand Central Art Center 18
Mobility Device, 2013 Performance; duration varies Image: John Spiak Courtesy of The Grand Central Art Center 19
Mobility Device, 2013 Performance; duration varies Image: Adriana Salazar Courtesy of The Grand Central Art Center 20
See for Yourself, 2012 Museum tour; duration varies Image: Sylvia McFadden Courtesy of The Purple Thistle Center 21
See for Yourself, 2012 Museum tour; duration varies Image: Sylvia McFadden Courtesy of The Purple Thistle Center 22
See for Yourself, 2012 Museum tour; duration varies Image: Sylvia McFadden Courtesy of The Purple Thistle Center 23
See for Yourself, 2012 Museum tour; duration varies Image: Sylvia McFadden Courtesy of The Purple Thistle Center 24
WRITING CARMEN PAPALIA: LONG TIME NO SEE p.24 CARMEN’S PARKING LOT p.29 BLIND ORIENTATIONS: WALKING, STUMBLING AND TURNING TOWARDS NEW POINTS OF VIEW p.32 25
CARMEN PAPALIA: LONG TIME NO SEE By Stephanie Snyder
1 Amanda Cachia, “Introduction,” in What Can a Body Do? exhibition catalog, page 6: http://exhibits. haverford.edu/whatcanabodydo/ files/2012/09/WCABD_Catalog. pdf
We know immediately upon encountering the work of Canadian artist and poet Carmen Papalia that he can’t see very well. Signifiers of the artist’s visual impairment are at the center of Papalia’s multimedia installations, whether in the form of altered white canes, or in still- and moving-image documentation of projects in which Papalia re-imagines the meaning of “access,” particularly in museums that purport to care about outreach, education, and diversity, but accomplish little more than marketing campaigns. Papalia wants to change this. First and foremost he wants to change this for himself, but we get to come along too, buoyed by the enormous generosity, wit, and mischievousness that flows through the artist and his work. Papalia even invites us to engage him directly, installing his contact information on the walls of his exhibitions. Papalia is “visually impaired,” not “blind,” and not “disabled.” For him the distinction is critical—“impaired” describes a simple reduction in vision, but the terms “blind” and “disabled” carry negative, marginalizing connotations and social stigmas. Papalia also uses the phrase “non-visual learner” to describe himself; we all learn non-visually to varying degrees. Using poetry and Fluxusinspired language experiments, Papalia ruptures the constraints of disability’s outmoded descriptors; in doing so, he is inspired by the scholarship of University of Michigan Professor Tobin Siebers and UC Berkeley English Professor Georgina Kleege, who are reshaping the field of “disability studies.” The “disabled” body has also been re-envisioned in recent exhibitions by San Francisco artist Katherine Sherwood, and independent curator Amanda Cachia. In 2012, Cachia curated the remarkable “What Can a Body Do?,” an exhibition comprised of artists (including Papalia) exploring transformative modes of human embodiment and creating new language to describe their unique physical and sensory realities. In Cachia’s words: “Complex embodiment argues that the perception and experience of disability are complex, nuanced, and individual . . . What would it mean to stretch the perceived contours of material bodies, where identity is not understood as essential but as a complex coding of experience?”1 Papalia uses both the spoken and written word to “recode” everyday and institutional actualities. In fact, his first creative endeavor was writing. It was during his studies as an undergraduate English major at Simon Fraser University in
Vancouver BC that Papalia experienced the onset of his retinitis pigmentosa, and the slow steady advancement of his visual impairment. As his eyesight declined, Papalia continued to write poetry, and to read his work in public, but he began to experiment with performative expressions of the sensory reorientation taking place within and around him. By this time using a standard-issue white cane to aid his locomotion, Papalia incorporated the clicks and taps of his new appendage into his poetry, reading in public and using his cane as a percussive instrument. Papalia also began transcribing the sounds around him, creating observational lists—poems in their own right—designed to chart and remap space, translating and “making flesh” his moving body. These poetic lists are full of the eidetic and anecdotal richness of great travel writing, and their cascading lines echo the snaking forms into which Papalia organizes the participants of his ongoing Blind Field Shuttle walking tours. Papalia often describes such forms and interactions as “chain reactions.” In Papalia’s “tours,” the chain reaction consists of a group of participants organized into an interdependent, investigatory organism. During the tour Papalia guides groups of approximately fifty people each through the streets of various cities. Papalia instructs participants to place a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them, close their eyes, and draw their senses to the world around them. Papalia leads the shuttle, delivering important details about the physical environment to the person behind him who transmits the information down the chain as in a game of telephone. Papalia exhibits documentation of these journeys, and has devised sophisticated ways to record the audio experience of the tours’ participants for subsequent installation in the context of the museum. Though the Blind Field Shuttle events are playful—participants invariably laugh at their persistent failures to stick together and walk steadily—the documentary footage shows participants fearfully negotiating screeching traffic, strange smells, uneven surfaces, and the inevitable breaking of the human daisy-chain. The Blind Field Shuttle tours are a form of spatial mapping that may be understood in the artistic tradition of the Situationist dérive, and the psycho-geographic re-inscription of space found in the work of artists such as Janet Cardiff and Francis Alÿs. In keeping with these antecedents, the tours are designed to awaken 27
CARMEN PAPALIA: LONG TIME NO SEE
2 From Carmen Papalia, “A New Model for Access in the Museum,” Museum Experience and Blindness; Disability Studies Quarterly, Vol 33, No 3.
more authentic and poetic forms of social experience. In June of 2013, Papalia performed Mobility Device, a related city-based “derive” created in collaboration with the Great Centurian Marching Band from Century High School in Santa Ana California. The band created an unconventional score for navigating the artist throughout the city. Papalia had to rely entirely on the nuances of the notes to guide him as the band’s eccentric sounds wafted through the neighborhood. The city, of course, was the project’s “third man,” its presence registered within the “call and response” of Papalia’s movements and the shifting composition of the marching band. With authenticity and risk come expressions of self-reflection and doubt, and Papalia is transparent about the difficulties of his visual impairment, incorporating these thoughts into his work with a deeply refreshing honesty. In one of the first poems Papalia published after losing much of his sight, he created a list of “synonyms” (in his words) describing his new reality: “I am,” he wrote, “unconscious / undiscerning / unmindful …” As opposed to portraying his situation with saccharine positivity, Papalia reveals his insecurity and sense of vulnerability, creating a radical opening for shared understanding and empathy. Throughout his work Papalia continually re-establishes his connect to others, demythologizing his visual impairment within a methodology of social engagement that forms the essence of his artistic and literary practice. In Long Time No See, Papalia includes the long poem “I Want” in two large columns applied to the walls of the gallery. Papalia authored “I Want” after he moved to Portland, Oregon in 2010 to begin the MFA program in Social Practice at Portland State University. Like Joe Brainard’s elegiac first-person narrative “I Remember”, Papalia’s “I Want” is a list of private desires (“I want to be handled by strangers”) and humorous cultural reflections (“I want to be commended by Jon Stewart for my strength”) each line beginning with the phrase “I want.” The poem includes subtle instructions to the reader (“I want people to talk a bit louder because I can’t see them”) alongside statements that destabilize the predilection of the reader to conceptualize the artist as a victim of his circumstances (“I want to spy on people and steal things”). In “I Want,” Papalia replaces static signifiers of blindness (the rotated, listening head; the white cane) with a complex social
3 This observational data was recorded for the author by See for Yourself guest Elizabeth Bidart. Additional support research was conducted by Nicholas Irvin in Portland, Oregon. Many thanks to them both for their meticulous work.
texture by, in the artist’s words, “inviting others into something, as opposed to showing them an object of my experience.”2 Many of Papalia’s socially engaged projects have been catalyzed by the accoutrements and objects that his visual impairment has forced him to incorporate into his daily life, in particular the white “blind man’s” cane institutionalized in America by George A. Bonham of the Lion’s Club International. Papalia radicalized one of his own canes by extending it to twelve feet long (Long Cane, 2009). Walking the city with this imposingly long cane, Papalia sought to literalize and demarcate his experience of public space—to demonstrate its sensory embodiment to those around him. At CUE, Papalia has installed the words “chain reaction” near the cane. Here the phrase reinforces our understanding of Papalia’s mission to interrupt and re-transcribe unconsciously accepted notions of mobility and spatial experience, both in public space and within the lived architecture of the visual arts. Over the past few years Papalia has been working with museum education departments around the country to help them develop methods for enriching the non-visual experiences of their audiences—teaching them how to “see” their collections anew. In June 2013, Papalia collaborated with the education department of the Whitney Museum of American Art, creating the project See For Yourself. The Whitney’s educators were guided through exercises designed to re-attune them to the spatial nuances of the museum and the multi-sensory capacities of visitors of all ages. In one exercise that engaged space and sense through “trust,” participants formed two equal lines in front of an outdoor sculpture by Alexander Calder. A participant from the first line stood in front of the sculpture, while a participant from the second line ran toward the sculpture with her eyes closed. The participant standing in front of the Calder sculpture yelled “stop” before the runner reached the sculpture. After the first group finished, participants switched roles and repeated the task. Other exercises focused on learning how to describe works in the museum using anecdotes and metaphor instead of formal visual characteristics or identifying information. Standing in front of Alexander Calder’s Circus, for instance, Papalia remarked: “Instead of going up to Calder’s Circus and saying ‘We are approaching Calder’s Circus,’ one might say ‘We are standing in front of a lion.’” Papalia encouraged the educators to speak from personal experience, 29
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4 David Brubaker, “MerleauPonty’s Eye and Mind, Re-thinking the Visible,” in Journal of Contemporary Thought, 17 (Summer, 2003). The author extends her warmest thanks to Carmen Papalia for his generous engagement with the writing of this essay. Sincere thanks to CUE, especially coordinator Lilly Wei, and to nominator Lawrence Rinder, for this wonderful opportunity, and to essay mentor Nancy Princenthal for her truly generous support, wisdom, and insight.
and for several days following the workshop, the educators approached museum visitors, offering them “tours with their eyes closed.”3 For Papalia, the descent into visual impairment has resulted in the emergence of a liberatory, phenomenological expansiveness. Instead of privatizing this experience within a discourse of interiority or an identity politics of “disability,” the artist has spent the last ten years making works that seek to enlist the viewers of—or, participants in—his work in acts of collective affinity, risk, and joy. When captured in exhibition form, nearly all of Papalia’s works rely upon being seen to make sense to viewers who must, by definition, be sighted to experience them. Seeing, for Papalia, is a subject and a subject-position that becomes, alternately: the catalyst for his work; the instrument of his work; and the embodiment of his work, which, in the words of French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “seeks to articulate experiences ‘from the inside, as the human individual lives them.’”4 Making art allows Papalia to unfold the world around him in accordance with his own singular mode of vision.
This essay was written as part of the Young Art Critics Mentoring Program, a partnership between AICA USA (US section of International Association of Art Critics) and CUE Art Foundation, which pairs emerging writers with AICA mentors to produce original essays on a specific exhibiting artist. Please visit aicausa.org for further information on AICA USA, or cueartfoundation.org to learn how to participate in this program. Any quotes are from interviews with the author unless otherwise specified. No part of this essay may be reproduced without prior consent from the author. Lilly Wei is AICA’s Coordinator for the program this season. For additional arts-related writing, please visit on-verge.org
Writer Stephanie Snyder is the Anne and John Hauberg Director and Curator of the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College, a position she has held since 2003. A graduate of Reed College and Columbia University, Snyder is the curator of exhibitions including: Jamie Isenstein: Will Return (2013); Kara Walker, More & Less (2012); Bruce Nauman, Basements (2012); Terry Winters: Linking Graphics (2010); David Reed, Lives of Paintings (2008); and Sutapa Biswas: Birdsong (2006). In 2007, Snyder received a Curatorial Research Fellowship from the Getty Foundation. She is a regular contributor to Artforum.com. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband Jonathan and son Theo. Mentor Nancy Princenthal is a New York-based critic and former Senior Editor of Art in America, for which she continues to write regularly; other publications to which she has also contributed include Artforum, Parkett, the Village Voice, and the New York Times. Her monograph on Hannah Wilke was published by Prestel in 2010; her essays have also appeared in monographs on Michelle Stuart, Shirin Neshat, Doris Salcedo, Robert Mangold and Alfredo Jaar, among others. She is a co-author of two recent books on leading women artists, including The Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium (Prestel, fall 2013). At present Princenthal is writing a book about Agnes Martin. Having taught at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College; Princeton University; Yale University, RISD, Montclair State University and elsewhere, she is currently on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts.
CARMEN’S PARKING LOT By Harrell Fletcher A year or so ago I was having a conversation with Carmen about various project ideas. One of the ideas was to take an existing parking lot, or maybe a brand new parking lot, and put “handicapped parking” symbols in all but three or four of the spaces. I love the idea of frustrated motorists driving around in vain searching for a parking space, and that being part of Carmen's project which seen as a whole is equal parts sculptural, painting, performative and social commentary all in one. I hope there is a public art commission out there that will be willing to actually produce the piece, though even just as a conceptual idea its pretty good. When Carmen first moved to Portland and was figuring out his way around town he kept bumping into low hanging tree limbs and other obstacles. I would often see him with a new scrape on his face or a black eye. His friend Jason gave him a digital camera so that he could document the obstacles. The pictures he took, when you knew the context they had been created in, were sad and funny at the same time. Carmen said that in Vancouver there were more sound oriented walk signals at intersections than there were in Portland. Apparently, there is controversy in the “disabled community” about the value of sound oriented walk signals, though I could never understand exactly what the argument against them was, and Carmen seemed at a loss to be able to fully articulate it. Anyway, he had an idea which was for a day to set up along his daily walk route people at each intersection that didn’t already have a sound signal so that when the walk sign went on they would simulate the sound of a sound signal. He would then use the new temporary system to walk around safely for a day. I thought that was an extremely humorous idea, but I don’t think he has yet realized the project. When Carmen joined the Art and Social Practice MFA that I direct at Portland State University as a student we had to adjust a few of our activities for him, which is something that we do for every student one way or another. We had previously been playing basketball as a group one day a week and realized that probably wouldn't work for Carmen so we tried a yoga class, but of course if you can't see the yoga instructor and don't already know the poses you can't really participate. Even though that is really very obvious somehow we didn't think about it in advance and Carmen just went along with the plan even though I think he 31
CARMENâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S PARKING LOT
was dubious from the start. I ended up trying to manually help him move into the various positions myself which was not really successful, but temporarily created an odd partner yoga moment. We then tried blindfolded soccer with the group to see how that worked, but we mostly stood around laughing while we waited for the ball to somehow roll to us. In the end to engage in some sort of physical activity we borrowed a tandem bike and another student, Adam, rode with Carmen which was apparently a positive experience for both of them. The whole situation was very instructive for me in learning about the ways that visual biases are so systemically built into so many parts of society. Another aspect of the MFA program that was adjusted because of Carmen's involvement was the use of the term "visual." I had no problem with the idea of accepting a non-sighted student into the program, but in many ways had no idea how that would function given the emphasis that traditional MFA programs place on visual art. Even though our program is not traditional and I liked to think of it as very inclusive it turned out that there were still remnants of the dominant art culture strewn throughout class titles like "Teaching Visual Culture" our pedagogy class, and within expectations like the practice of having students present power point presentations about the development of their work at the end of each term. Carmen found interesting work arounds to all of the issues we presented him with, which is something he has gotten good at in general having to live in a visually dominated world. I went through my own set of obstacles when I first arrived at the university and was faced with a systemic "studio" bias. Since the work that I did myself and wanted to teach was not studio based it was awkward being represented as part of the very orthodox "studio art" understanding of what art should be. Eventually, I was able to change the office title of what had been referred to as the general undergrad studio program to "art practice" and to create two tracks in the MFA one for studio practice and the other for social practice which felt more comfortable and reflective of what was going on in a more expansive view of the larger set of possibilities in the art world. There was still a tendency in the department and the public in general to think of everything as visual art. I tried repeatedly to point out that there was already a long history of non-visual audio based art etc, but the 32
visual bias is hard to correct. Carmen has now graduated and we are still working to remove or at least expand on all of the visual biases built into the program. Though there are various amazing elements within Carmen's work, one aspect is the way that simply inserting his difference into systems of institutions and society an awareness is created that highlights dominant structures and discriminations. It is all the better in Carmen's case that because of the nature of his personal attitude and his practice he is able to facilitate that necessary societal irritation in ways that are participatory, engaging, poignant, and often times hilarious as well.
Harrell Fletcher received his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and his MFA from California College of the Arts. He has produced a variety of socially engaged collaborative and interdisciplinary projects since the early 1990s. His work has been shown at SF MoMA, the de Young Museum, the Berkeley Art Museum, the Wattis Institute, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, The Drawing Center, Socrates Sculpture Park, The Sculpture Center, Smackmellon in NYC, The Royal College of Art in London, among others, and was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial. In 2002 Fletcher started Learning To Love You More, a participatory website with Miranda July. A book version of LTLYM was published in 2007 by Prestel. Fletcher is the 2005 recipient of the Alpert Award in Visual Arts. He is an Associate Professor, Founder and Director of the Art and Social Practice MFA program at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.
BLIND ORIENTATIONS: WALKING, STUMBLING AND TURNING TOWARDS NEW POINTS OF VIEW By Amanda Cachia It took me years to learn how to close my eyes, but I started to benefit from the practice once I realized that there was so much more to devote attention to than what is visual. 1 My body is the fabric into which all objects are woven, and it is, at least in relation to the perceived world, the general instrument of my ‘comprehension.’ 2
1 Carmen Papalia, “A New Model for Access in the Museum” Museum Experience and Blindness; Disability Studies Quarterly, Vol 33, No 3, 2013. 2 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London and New York: Routledge , 2002), 235. 3 Maurice Merleau-Ponty quoted by Sara Ahmed, “Orientations Towards Objects” in Queer Phenomenology (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006), 53.
Carmen Papalia is interested in new orientations or encounters towards objects and space through the obstruction of vision. By creating enforced situations where his participants are blinded as they engage with objects and spaces, they will acquire new or alternative perceptions within this unfamiliar orientation towards the world. In his attempt to provide new directions towards objects and spaces, the artist is showing the participants—and us, as observers—what new possibilities may exist within new orientations towards matter. More specifically, what are the implications for the body’s new perceptive relationship with matter when they are blinded, and how and what knowledge is acquired by what we cannot see? Merleau-Ponty suggests that the body is “no longer merely an object in the world,” rather “it is our point of view in the world.”3 I aim to think about how these ‘points of view’ or new orientations can provide political objecthood towards and for the figure of the blind subject. Can the blind subject acquire agency within a phenomenological reading of Papalia’s practice? If walking, stumbling and turning and consequently encountering objects and spaces are based on blind orientation, is there empowerment to be had by such movement to the new points of view? I examine several forms of testimony and anecdotes of experiences engaging with the work of Papalia, ranging from the written responses by students and faculty and statements from the artist himself as a theoretical methodology that gives shape and form to this essay. These sensorial perceptions of walking, stumbling and turning in moments where vision is removed, either forcibly or acquired over time (ie. gradual vision loss experienced by Papalia) are what substantiates the new points of view. ‘View’ in this sense, is a view where vision is only one player on a much larger field of other equally important players, and that is exactly my intention on this ‘play’ of words. ‘View’ can encapsulate many other sensorial
4 S. Kay Toombs, “The Lived Experience of Disability” in Human Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1, Intersubjectivity as a Practical Matter and a Problematic Achievement (Jan., 1995), 11. 5 To watch the round table conversation at California College of the Arts in February, 2012, visit http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=UtSTRj2s9H8 and http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=DKwkawC-Zxw.
experiences, ranging from tactility and deep pressure, kinesthetic, vestibular and vision, but the ‘view’ may also encompass multiple modalities in which the senses receive information, ranging from pain, smell, the temperature, taste and more. Points of ‘view’ then are enhanced, emboldened and emblazoned by ‘views’ that challenge not only the ontological, biological and physiological ‘sense’ of vision, but also rather, on the flip side, give the reader ‘access’ to ‘views’ that are not easily attainable. Further, S. Kay Toombs says that “Points in space do not represent merely objective positions but rather they mark the varying range of my aims and gestures.”4 The ‘points’ of view in the title of this essay then can also be considered from this perspective, where the aims and gestures enacted in space also give us an entirely new orientation, reading and rendering of the senses, vision and otherwise. The phenomenology of lived experience, then, is important because the body itself becomes a sign of political discourse – the body has political objecthood that has power to demonstrate certain truisms about the world in which we live, or at least, to destabilize what we may have previously thought as universally true for a range of human subjects. What follows is a detailed description of the walks that Papalia gave at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco. I had invited Papalia to lead several walks as part of a round-table conversation that I initiated and hosted at CCA entitled What Can a Body Do? Investigating Disability in Contemporary Art in February, 2012.5 Papalia led three walks from 2-5pm, and in that time, approximately 60 people from the college participated, ranging from students to faculty members. The walk was included in the syllabus for an Embodiment class being co-taught by Julian Carter, Hilary Bryan and Aiden Gleisburg, and they asked the students to submit a response to their experiences during the walk. This is an outline of several of the anonymous student responses that sheds light on their multi-modal experiences: Putting our hand on each other’s shoulders and shouting whenever there was something up ahead helped me to feel secure but also more connected with myself. Having all these thoughts run through my mind like ‘Where am I?’ or ‘Will I fall?’ makes me realize how much of my body relies on sight.
BLIND ORIENTATIONS: WALKING, STUMBLING AND TURNING TOWARDS NEW POINTS OF VIEW
After the tour I wanted to keep exercising these sorts of things to become more aware of myself, my body and my embodied ‘soul.’ I found my senses becoming more aware. For example, I heard a car passing very near me, but also, I felt it as my clothes moved according to the car’s speed passing by. It is something I would not be able to feel normally… it was a mind opening experience about the potential of my senses. The person I entrusted [in front of me] had a fuzzy coat and heeled boots that clapped along loudly as we walked. I closed my eyes and the world went away…I stumbled along, stepping on my partner’s shoes, trying to listen to the directions and trying not to open my eyes in panic. This feeling subsided and I felt my need to see lessen, and my need to hear and feel grow. I really enjoyed being conscious about the different colors that my eyelids filtered in. The sun and the trees made a beautiful dance of shadows and colors. I felt two splashes of something on my left arm. My eyes opened for less than a second and I thought I had seen a bird poop but I wasn’t sure, but I knew that in any case I would have to wait till the end of the walk so I spent the rest of the time wondering if I had my whole arm covered in poop or if I even had poop on my arm or if it was part of my imagination. The most notable experience I felt while participating in the walk was the difficulty of physically moving while being sandwiched between forty or so bodies and having to rely on the movements of these people in order to move myself. These comments reveal that for most of the students, the walk was about experiences of acquiring new points of ‘view’: what the bird poop feels like on my arm (and not knowing for certain if it is poop or not) , which in turn demonstrates how that individual relies on the so-called ‘truth’ of her vision to solidify that it is in fact bird poop. The experience is also about space, or being confined by other bodies, or how clothing feels and sounds through the fuzzy coat and heeled boots. In this context, interest in the other senses can become more urgent. The imagination is also sparked. The students were able to grasp new ways of orienting themselves
6 S. Kay Toombs, “The Lived Experience of Disability” in Human Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1, Intersubjectivity as a Practical Matter and a Problematic Achievement (Jan., 1995), 10. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid.
in a familiar environment that became dynamically unfamiliar through the walk. This moment of disorientation and reorientation continues to be emphasized in Papalia’s first major solo exhibition at the CUE Art Foundation in New York, where thinking, interacting with and destabilizing access is par for the course. In conclusion, Toombs argues that the lived body provides important insights into the “disruption of space and time that are an integral element of physical disability…a phenomenological account of bodily disorder discloses the emotional dimension of physical dysfunction.”6 She places emphasis and preference for her body as she lives it in the world which “represents my particular point of view on the world,” rather than thinking about her body “as an object among other objects of the world.”7 She further distinguishes that through this particular type of account or recording, the lived body is not objective, as though it is being looked at from the outside by others, but rather the body is experienced through a more interior or internalized view, and it is the “vehicle for seeing” in the more expansive sense (like my play on the word ‘view’).8 She says that the body is the center of orientation, and thus it should be here, rather than there. It is the body in which we locate and engage with the world, and Papalia’s work solidifies this and brings participants back to this realization again and again. He reminds us of the interstices, porousness, sensuousness, and the fabric of our bodies, the ability of the flesh to give and receive, to mark inside and outside.
Amanda Cachia is an independent curator from Sydney, Australia and is currently completing her PhD in Art History, Theory & Criticism at the University of California, San Diego. Her dissertation will focus on the intersection of disability and contemporary art.
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