By Kate Schapira (editor), featuring deformations by Cybele Collins, Kate Durbin, Michael Tod Edgerton, David Emanuel, Jennifer Karmin, Deborah Poe, Rachel Schapira
To download & assemble this chapbook, click here.
Note: Cover image is from Tableau Vivant, performed by the Flusso Dance Project in 2005.
by Kate Schapira
Much about our bodies is accidental. Sometimes they’re just horses for our awareness; sometimes they’re canvases of enjoyment or sinks of pain. Sometimes we want our bodies to look or feel like other bodies; other times other people want that “for” us, and get angry at us because they don’t, or because we don’t want them to.
Voluntary or involuntary, most of the postures of our bodies are momentary. In “candid” photos or stills from a movie, the cross-sections of our fluid expressions look like deliberate, extreme grimaces or contortions of pleasure, pain, disgust, anger or amazement—“deformations” of serenity, calmness, evenness, the Golden Mean, the middle way. But stillness is also a “deformation”, a miniature death of motion, where context is worn away.
To deform can imply that there is a “form” in the world from which all other forms are deviations. The goal of this project and its collaborators is not to imitate, impersonate or fool—not to “be” the “original” figure (which is already a deformation of text into image)—but to pay homage to, parody, reset, adapt, translate the figure, dress it up, move it around—to change ourselves for it, and change it through us. Who is pleased, dissatisfied, moved, discomfited, even aroused or frightened by these deformations?
Among other things, maybe the texts we started with; among other things, maybe our many selves; among other things, maybe you. To participate in these “tableaux meurants”, I invited writers and artists who have through their work or their statements declared their interest in the vexed, costumed or redelineated body.
Some things that are true about bodies are true about books. They are composite. They are fragile. They can be transcribed or reproduced imperfectly. They change as they go. They can be translated. We can change them, and they can change us. To respond to an invitation, to throw ourselves into a posture or assume it with difficulty, is to acknowledge its artifice—we know it’s a made thing because we are making it. The real (uncorrupted) text, the transparent truth—an impossible goal makes us contort ourselves. We can if we want, even though we can’t do just anything we want. But if we want, if we decide to want or let ourselves want, we can do a lot of things.
The writers and artists who contorted, collaborated and responded here have bent themselves closer to the words and images they questioned or answered, have drawn those words and images closer, have dragged in the world.
Daughters of Juarez by Teresa Rodriguez, Diana Montané and Lisa Pulitzer, and INRI by Raul Zurita, in conjunction with Nina Clements’s Exhibit, prompted Deborah Poe to write from New York state, “I’m thinking of doing something with the gravel/stones in our backyard. I kept thinking of their connection to the gravel where the women’s bodies were found. … I also want some part of my body in this.” The body is made of the same kinds of atoms as the rocks, and when we die the same kinds of rocks will cover us. What divides our minds from the world and from each other is mostly stone. Deborah wrote when she was about to leave for China, “It dawned on me …that it would be quite amazing to take a photograph of ‘mi grava es su grava’ designing around not only the body but also The Great Wall…” When someone tries to make the body disappear, the bodies still living have a responsibility to turn over the stones and reveal it. When the body tries to forget, the person living in it may insist that it remembers.
Cybele Collins’s Ape (Italian for “bee”) seems blown by many winds: one pulls her hair back, one lifts her step, one pushes her forward like a sail. Her face, human, apelike, feline, deeply concentrates. Depending on what you want from her, you might interpret her expression as fierce, sad, pained, sly or serene, might try to coax her features into the mask of your choice. Rachel Schapira’s playful/painful walrus pose distorts not just gender but species. With the expression of someone examining eirself closely in the mirror before it’s time to face the world, whether checking her teeth for stuff or trying a new and unusual-for-him outfit, those tusks don’t look comfortable but will they be worth it? Sometimes all of the self is concentrated in one part of the body: we love or hate it, experience or remember its pleasure or pain, feel it leading us in a direction or pulling us back. When I first saw Michael Tod Edgerton’s submission, I thought the stairs were a stack of books leading upward—his thumb with its glitzy measurement of time, his arm with its mammal hairs and dermal records, bracing him for or against the ascent. Where will we let our bodies take us, in time as well as space?
In Ami Walsh’s, “What will the future forgive?” a human’s neck fractures, or grows, into trees and sky. Jennifer Karmin and David Emanuel’s collaborative response, “What will the past forget”, takes us back to bones and their context. Riotous in both text and image with multiple complications and contortions, “quoting” or costuming from a number and variety of sources, its figures embrace, erupt, and shun; they move through narrative time and flower out into vision.
Kate Durbin, whose work on Lady Gaga has led the latter’s image to come up when one Googles the former, writes of her submission, “Gaga operates as a Beatific figure pop-culturally, as she is a moving image upon which we project our desires for the pop star. Yet Gaga also monstrously harnesses the potentiality in technology to positively wield herself as flickering signifier. She destroys her image/self repeatedly, so that she can never be destroyed. The search for Gaga’s face, in essence, is the search for God–google as god, god-ga. Of course, Gaga is the most searched for person on Google. The search for Gaga, then, like the search for Beatrice, the descent into the inferno, the endless quest for God, Moses on Sinai, is, in essence, a search for “we” our “selves” in the mirror, or the disco-ball.”
In her own work, Durbin takes Gaga’s self-deformations not to heart so much as to text, posing the beauty and horror of mutability. Here she makes their co-representation—their closeness—almost complete. But not entirely. If these pieces taken together offer us anything, it’s that to share is not to be the same, that similarity (and the difference it implies) is not identity or inadequate or deformed identity, but a relationship, a recognition, and a possibility.