The following curatorial essay was published in The New [New] Corpse catalogue (GLP, 2015).
1. MT. EVEREST
More than two hundred corpses litter Mt. Everest’s tremendous history. The climb is so taxing in and of itself that bodies have accumulated on the mountainside; impossible for others to reach or safely remove, the figures slowly — slowly — transform and harden into the landscape. Hikers use them as mile markers along their path. “Green Boots” is located at 27,890 feet, lying inside of a cave. Rainbow Valley, a section of the trail along the same route, interrupts the stark landscape with a bright array of down jackets covering the dead where they either fell or (after dying) were pushed out of the way. For most of the 1980s and 1990s, the body of Hannelore Schmatz greeted anyone attempting the summit by the southern route; after a Nepalese police officer and Sherpa died trying to recover her body, it was left to lean against Schmatz’s pack until disappearing of its own accord, presumably blown into a crevasse. These bodies remain snow blown, clad in fading Day- Glo plastic hiking boots and parkas, or wrapped in the flags of their originating nation. No doubt to climbers en route they signify — beyond the consequences of Everest’s extreme conditions — a general finitude. Everest very easily becomes a metaphor in which the human is a distinct albeit vulnerable individual, outwitting — by chance and intellect — the sublime and merciless opponent of nature. From that culture/human vs. nature/nonhuman binary, another separation ensues between the individual’s mind and body; the privileged immaterial mind must outwit and triumph over the body’s material and biological limitations. Surviving the summit becomes an accomplishment in the face of death, against all odds, and accompanying casualties are attributed to the unavoidable cost of greatness. Though Everest might offer a clearer instance of this tendency, versions of the same mythology are retailored to a variety of instances in everyday life around the world from war propaganda and police brutality to capitalist methodology and the exploitation of natural resources. Soldiers and civilians are presented as unavoidable casualties of war; the brutal and inaccurate profiling of citizens is presented as necessary to fight crime; the high suicide rates of factory workers at the world’s largest electronics manufacturer is presented as an unavoidable consequence of consumerism;1 and the displacement of rain forest communities is presented as necessary for the development of industry Let’s complicate the mind/body dualism, considering how the body is porous — how the skin is an ambivalent boundary that both excludes and absorbs exterior elements. Let’s acknowledge the body as an assemblage of interdependent and interactive parts, each behaving with some degree of autonomy. The heart beats without conscious instruction. Toenails grow. Cells subdivide. These parts might even be said to “think” without the mind. The hand releases the burning handle of a pot before the mind has processed any sensation of heat. Yet also the body exists within various influential systems. Its edges, identities, and essence are not fixed but defined by fluctuating social, economic, political, technological, and geographic networks. By acknowledging the single body as a community of parts, the individual grows infinitely more complex and unstable.
2. THE BOOK
This book is part of a group exhibition of the same name at Sector 2337 produced by The Green Lantern Press. The show features the work of thirteen artists whose photography, sculpture, performance, film, and drawing wrestle with human representation to show the figure fragmented, distorted, or emphatically absent. From October to December of 2014, Sector 2337 hosted sixteen additional public programs ranging from literary events, a Poetry and Theory series, a music event, a staged reading of a new translation of Aeschylus’s Seven Against Thebes, and more. Three of those programs are documented in these pages: a performance series co-curated by long-standing performance artists Every house has a door, a film screening curated by the Director of The Nightingale Cinema, Christy LeMaster, and an Artist Residency with Jane Jerardi who used the gallery as a studio for the month of November, developing one new work, while screening documentation from an older performance in Sector’s spare room. These programs represent additional strategies and investigations around the subject of the human figure: for instance, if the body is so tied to the history of performance art, what happens if an artist conceives the body as a nonhuman event? And can a film program elicit a bodily response in its audience? Or, as Jerardi’s film screening asks, why is efficiency such a prized talent in office culture? The chosen documentation of these programs varies in an effort to compliment the experience of each occasion. Carlos Martiel’s piece is represented primarily through photography, documenting a durational performance he produced at Sector 2337 in October during which eight figures lay under American flags. Jesse Malmed’s piece is documented by the text he used as a score. Amelia Charter’s largely improvisational performance is captured through a series of photographs. And Jefferson Pinder’s Thoroughbred is presented through images and the written response of an audience member, Fo Wilson. Christy LeMaster and I coauthored an essay about the films she chose to screen. It reflects a conversation that took place between us over many months and seeks to destabilize a traditionally unified authorial voice with the voices of two women thinking out loud. Subsequent written contributions in this book reflect similar ideas — Martine Syms describes how a constellation of personal effects not only reflects her own identity but also an interlocking network of power. “The brand galaxy connects retailers, advertisers, magazines, and demographics. Every stage of the sales funnel is haunted by race, class, gender, and geography.” It’s not so simple, then, to say that each individual is contained and identified by the bounds of her skin. Rather, our selves are porous and even a bit incoherent. Valeria Luiselli writes, “The problem for people like me who collect scraps of paper with no method or ultimate objective is that our boxes and notebooks come to look ever more like us: a disorganized collage and never a coherent catalog of marvels.” In the dark future prescribed by the Antibody Corporation — a posthuman moniker of the Chicago-based artist Adam Rose — the body gives into the momentum of capital, playing on the fear that a refusal to participate in a system of subjugation only leads to one’s own enslavement. “Those who regard power and money as evils will surely be denied their freedom, and those who avoid technology will become as machines.” These bodies are assemblages, leaving traces and remains all over the place such that interior psychologies and exterior landscapes bleed together: a dream Freud transcribes inspires a poem by Judith Goldman. A tornado similarly inspires CJ Martin. Rebecca Beachy gives an index of material human and nonhuman remains. While describing the impact that human industry has had on a lake in Canada, Zoe Todd summons the Loch Ness Monster; the creature breaches the text, reflecting as it does the impact that colonial ideologies have on the landscape. “Monsters become slates upon which stories are written,” she writes. In an homage to Jack Spicer, Julia Drescher tracks various exhumations of Billy the Kid to show how his depiction has consistently shaped a collective American identity. Billie the Kid encapsulates the American frontier — a haunting, long-gone landscape that emerges obliquely in our country’s ideology through an attachment to firearms, for instance, or an appreciation for sanctioned underdogs. A credit-card sized tintype photograph surfaced in the 1980s and was sold at auction for 2.3 million dollars in 2011.2 Strangely enough his grave was unmarked for years, though it now features a tombstone used in a film and thereafter donated by James M. Warner — thirty-six years after Spicer’s poem was first published.3 In all of these instances, we see the influence of the dead who surface at times like chimeras, bearing material objects as evidence, even as their identities change according to the demands of the present. The book turns toward representation in earnest then. “The body stirs as the photographs become legible. They are procedural illustrations of autopsies,” writes Nathanaël, as figures from the past congeal in the cellulose of film. Érik Bullot reflects on negatives unearthed in the Arctic, comparing them to cryogenically frozen bodies. And we cannot look away. “The Narcissi,” John Tipton writes in his translation of Philostratus, “are the same — identical — except one is exposed in the air, the other immersed in the pool. One boy stands over another in the water, thirsting for beauty.”
The hope of these works is not to give in, as the Antibody Corporation ironically suggests, but rather to propose alternative formulations of the body. Formulations that could undermine a dominant power structure’s ability to overlook and rationalize the suffering of others. Perhaps if we change the way we see ourselves, embracing the endless circulation of human and nonhuman materials within the human and nonhuman networks we inhabit, perhaps then we might open to a new sense of collective responsibility.
1 “’Mass Suicide’ Protest at Apple Manufacturer Foxconn Factory,” The Telegraph, January 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/9006988/ Mass-suicide-protest-at-Apple-manufacturer-Foxconn-factory.html.
2 Michael Sheridan, “Billy the Kid Tintype Photograph Sells for $2.3 Million at Denver Auction,” NY Daily News, June 26, 2011, accessed March 4, 2015, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/billy-kid-tintype-photograph-sells-2-3-million-denverauction-article-1.132786.
3 Hico Validates, “Life of Billy the Kid,” The J-TAC (Stephenville, Texas), November 3, 1994, accessed March 4, 2015, http://texashistory.unt.edu/ ark:/67531/metapth141837/m1/1/.