3. My Body Is The House That I Live In

The Split Is Vividly Revealed, solo exhibition presented at Nars Foundation, New York, June 2019. All Images: Billy Mason Wood. 
Neon fabrication: Stephanie Sara Lifshutz.
Installation assistance: Billy Mason Wood and Stephanie Sara Lifshutz.
Please contact romilyalice(@)gmail.com for individual titles/dimensions. 

The installations My Body Is The House That I Live In: F.G, L.G and R.A.W, consist of 7 white neon tubes, placed horizontally, one below the other on the gallery wall. Each tube corresponds to a facet of ‘wellness’: physical, emotional, mental/intellectual, occupational, sexual, social and spiritual. Every hour, a sick/disabled participant assigns each wellness category a number from 0-10, 0 being no wellness in that category and 10 being full wellness; that number will determine each tube’s brightness for the next hour. At 0 the tube will be off, for each number up to 10 the tube will glow fractionally brighter, with a score of 10 corresponding to full brightness. On the gallery floor, six arduino/C++ modules are coded to repeat the data collected from each participant for the duration of the exhibition. Computer-generated voices endlessly loop, TFT screens refresh and reload every minute offering the same data translated into written form.

This work has developed out of a realisation that Western society views pain and sickness as experiences that should be confined to private spaces; as Susan Wendell (2006 p.247)* writes:

The public world is the world of strength, the positive (valued) body, performance and production, the able-bodied and youth. Weakness, illness, rest and recovery, pain, death and the negative (de-valued) body are private, generally hidden, and often neglected. Coming into the public world with illness, pain or a de-valued body, we encounter resistance to splitting the two worlds; the split is vividly revealed.

One sick or disabled woman/gender nonconforming participant controls each installation for the duration of the exhibition. In this way each work becomes a durational performance of living with sickness, one that views disability as a political issue, moving illness out of isolation and into the public realm.

The work simultaneously points to the inadequacy of our common cultural language surrounding sickness, pain and disability. Making use of the 0-10 pain scale employed by the medical industrial complex, the installations illustrate the failings of representing bodies, pain and sickness in numerical form. Here we see individual experiences reduced to statistics; leaky, messy and multilayered conditions are reduced to numbers on a scale. Whilst the work attempts to bring sickness, chronic illness, pain and disability into the public space, it also reflects upon the pitfalls of trying to make sickness palatable and understandable for a nondisabled audience.

*Wendell, S. (2006). Toward a Feminist Theory of Disability. In: L. Davis, ed., The Disability Studies Reader, 2nd ed. London: Routledge, pp.243-256.