I recently started writing for the arts blog Bad at Sports that’s based in Chicago. My first article, “Watching Touch,” looks at the Atlanta-based Full Radius Dance, which is a physically-integrated dance company, meaning the dancers have a range of abilities. This article coincides with my more recent growing commitment to dance and movement-based performance work. These interests have created profound shifts in my dissertation work – it’s looking different every single week…
A few end of the year updates…
Here is the link to the interview with me on BURNAWAY about the paper I gave at its End of Days Secret Supper this past November. Paper title: “The Zombie: A Post-Human, Becoming-Undead Flâneur?” Here’s an image from the spooky dinner in Oakland Cemetary!
Also, the essay I wrote a couple of years ago “Pictures of Health, Pictures of Illness” about the Visible Human Project and British photographer Jo Spence has finally been published! It’s in the volume Theorizing Visual Studies: Writing Through the Discipline (Routledge, 2012) edited by James Elkins, Kristi McGuire, Maureen Burns, Alicia Chester, and Joel Kuennen. The collection brings together over sixty essays that invoke images to summon, interpret, and argue with visual studies and its neighboring fields such as art history, media studies, visual anthropology, critical theory, cultural studies, and aesthetics.
I’m still waiting on images from my performance at the High, new descendent on escaleer, no, too, so hopefully I will be posting those soon.
Also, a poem of mine, r = 1, was published in Ctrl+P, an online arts journal this past September in Vol. 17. Check it out!
Happy New Year’s! On to 2013…
Brief article from the NY Times about the debate about measurement in science circles. Thinking about Karen Barad’s book Meeting the Universe Halfway here and questions of ontology.
Current reading: Race to the Finish: Identity and Governance in an Age of Genomics by Jenny Reardon.
Pardon my absence from posting in the past couple weeks – classes have been crazy and I’m currently working on a conference paper for the “Visualizing Disability” Panel at the Southeastern College Art Conference at SCAD in November (more posts to follow soon about the conference) that has been taking up major time. So, this post may be a bit all over the place.
Reardon’s book discusses the history of one particular project, the Human Genome Diversity Project, as a way to illuminate the debates that occurred, and still are occurring, about the use of genetics research in studying humans, human populations, and races. She lays out the issues of how race has been studied scientifically and how it relates, or doesn’t, to social discourses and constructions of race. She asks us to consider how race is defined in society and in genetics, and which differences become the ones with meaning in each discourse.
We also watched a video featuring James Watson, one of the discoverers of DNA’s double helix, called “Pandora’s Box” in the series on DNA by PBS. In the video Watson describes his interests in studying genetics and a “new eugenics.” He claims that “If we don’t play God, who will?” The stakes for Watson are high. Statements of his about the intelligence of African Americans caused major controversy; not to mention the oft-forgotten fact that his son has a mental illness. An article in The Independent from 2007, “Fury at DNA Pioneer’s Theory: Africans Are Less Intelligent Than Westerners” describes Watson’s theory and the ensuing response to it. It quotes from Watson’s new book Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science:
There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.
This is where Reardon’s book becomes necessary in order to contextualize Watson’s work in the history of genetic research. It is easy to dismiss Watson here; his comments are brash, but we need to know where they come from. However, are we supposed to entirely dismiss genetics as well? How can we position Watson in the landscape of genetics and scientific research; in Isabelle Stengers’ notion of an “ecology of practices”? Reardon also claims that we can’t necessarily sanctify or condemn science; so what are we to think of this research? (Reardon 7) Many geneticists, on the other hand, who proposed and worked on the Human Genome Diversity Project were considered anti-racist, though they too were criticized for propagating further racism. The use of race in science and genetics has been fraught and tricky for us to get “past.” Luca Cavalli-Sforza, a leading scientist in the Project, was an anti-racist, and so therefore argued that studying human “populations” instead of human “races” would work to undermine racism in society. He, however, believed that race still did exist on the genetic level and there were certain differences between groups – this he was criticized for. How is our genetic make-up, our material, responsible for our social position, our race, and all other factors that make us who we are? Does our internal code really determine all aspects of how we will be?
Genetic testing is a contentious issue for disability proponents. Questions about who has the right to live become apparent here: if a fetus is found to have genetic disorders, should it be terminated? What are the qualifications for human-ness? What do we consider a “good” human? Though Reardon’s book mainly addresses the issue of race in genetics research, these other questions are there all the same. Questions about expertise and who has the authority/right to constitute the human emerge. Reardon brings Michel Foucault’s writing on “power-knowledge” to the issue, which can be important for thinking about new eugenics and reproductive technologies. Reardon asks: What kind of human diversities matter? And to this I ask, who decides what matters and how? What is the particular criteria to arrive at a judgment?
Critical Art Ensemble, Cult of the New Eve, image found at http://www.artnet.com
Art collective Critical Art Ensemble explores many of these questions in projects of theirs including Flesh Machine (1997-8), Intelligent Sperm Online (1999), The Society for Reproductive Anachronisms (1999-2000), and Cult of the New Eve (1999-2000). These projects all point to the utopian attitude conferred on new biotechnologies, and ask how to respond to this attitude and technologies at our disposal. The language of these projects mimics the language used by geneticists, eugenics and new eugenics practitioners, and arguably public health scholars as well. In the statement for Cult of the New Eve, CAE writes:
We are entering an age in which the secrets of creation are not in the hands of God, nor are they at the blind mercy of Nature. We control our own destinies… Once and for all, we shall know that humankind is not spiritual – it is material.
What separates this language from Watson’s claims that we need to take responsibility into our own hands for human progress, is that CAE is using the configuration of a cult to expose the underlying utopian project of eugenics and new eugenics. CAE is calling for us to be critically aware of these projects. In their position paper for the project, they talk about science’s position as new religion and that “its power lies only in the particulars of knowledge production.” However, as we have learned through Foucault, this knowledge production can’t be divorced from the production of power. How is the relationship between science and religion similar to the way the relationship between genetics and anthropology played out in the Human Genome Diversity Project – with genetics as hierarchically higher than anthropology? Who is really working for the “public good” and what does that really mean? What are the differences between us that actually matter?
Critical Art Ensemble, Flesh Machine - image found at http://greenmuseum.org
Today I leave for a week-long residency at betterArts in Redwood, NY! betterArts is the arts organization that hosts the artist residency program at BetterFarm:
Better Farm is a sustainability education center and artists’ retreat founded on the principles of the Better Theory—a belief that every experience brings with it an opportunity for exponential personal growth. Through educational workshops, artist residencies, internships, and an ongoing commitment to sustainable living and community outreach, we strive to apply the Better Theory to all our endeavors while offering the curious an opportunity to expand, grow, and flourish.
My Amtrak leaves tonight at 9:30! I’ll be posting throughout the week with updates of what I’m working on. Also, I’ll be having an exhibition at the end of the residency and hosting a public outreach program, so I’ll be sure to share that too!
This Sunday there will be a panel discussion titled “The Intersection of Religion and Health Care” at Spertus Institute in Chicago. Some info from the website:
When we need to grapple with significant health issues, what shapes our focus and direction? How do we find comfort for ourselves? How can we be most helpful to the sick? How do we navigate the spiritual needs of family members while making the right medical decisions for ailing loved ones? What role does religion play in our answers to these questions? What roles do doctors and other medical caregivers play? Join Dr. James A. Tulsky, Rabbi Amy Eilberg, and Rabbi Dr. Eleanor Smith as they present their perspectives on how science and faith interact when we face challenging medical circumstances.
It should be pretty interesting. Sunday, June 26th, 2pm. 610 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL. $18 for general public and $8 for students.
To visit Spertus’ website for more information, click here.
Joel Kuennen did a write-up of the show, Symptoms Variable, for ArtSlant titled “The Cure”!
Check it out here.
I came across a discussion post in the NY Times Online Opinion Pages called “Do We Want to be Supersize Humans?” The discussion, about the relationship of our bodies to economic and health factors, is mainly superficial and not exactly informative, but I guess what can you expect from a newspaper blog. However, the book the debate is responding to looks like an interesting read: The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition, and Human Development in the Western World since 1700 by Roderick Floud, Robert W. Fogel (Nobel Prize recipient for economics), Bernard Harris, and Sok Chul Hong. The book is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.
I have read articles that talk about human stature as an indicator of economic status – during/after times of poverty, the human tends to shrink, and I am curious about this forthcoming book’s stance on this issue. Considering the book is limiting itself to the Western World, much of the world is excluded. I am wary that the claims in the book that are specific to that part of the world will be extended to the rest of the world’s population. However, it is also interesting to think about China and India’s relationship to this study with their growing economies and prosperity.
As one of the NY Times discussion pages “We Won’t Become Giants” addresses, are we growing infinitely bigger?