AUGMENTED SPIRIT/EXTREME EMBODIMENT A LANDSCAPE, MAPPED, OF VENT LIFE
Katerie Gladdys and Deshae E. Lott
This paper has been presented to three very different audiences at:
ISEA International Symposium Electronic Art conference, Belfast, Ireland, 2009,
Health, Embodiment and Visual Culture Conference, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada, 2010,
MOBILE/IMMOBILIZED: Art, Biotechnologies & (Dis)abilities Conference, Montréal, Quebec, Canada, 2007.
Submitted, special issue of Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies.
Our cultural narratives (e.g., Doc Ock in Spiderman 2 and the Borg in Star Trek: First Contact) suggest we obscure our sense of humanity whenever machines merge with humans to produce “the fantastic”. Similarly, “Medical technology, despite its brilliant, startling successes, cloaks a pervasive sense of interpersonal distance…”.i Debunking human-machine melds as fantastical or impersonal, our investigation poeticizes both uncomfortable and aesthetic aspects of living as a mechanical-ventilator-dependent individual, one kind of cyborg. Donna J Haraway asserts, “cyborg politics insist on noise and advocate pollution, rejoicing in the illegitimate fusions of animal and machine…”.ii The cyborg disassembles and splices dominant discourses with alternatives that reconstitute how we perceive and articulate embodied reality. However once unnatural the fusion of woman and machine, lives now transgress such boundaries. With details on how vent user Deshae Lott uses technology to sustain her life, our project calls for locating familiar embodiment amidst the biomechanical and deviant.
Our discussion integrates theoretical concepts while demonstrating the creative processes involved in translating one lived experience into a communal space for increasing disability awareness. In particular, the article showcases our multilayered sculptural installation representing Lott’s experiences through the use of images projected onto museum room walls and sounds emerging from the audience’s tactile interaction with textiles centered in that same room; observers become participants.iii The physical work consists of carpeting shaped like the floor plan of Lott’s house. Conductive thread stitching forms two parallel paths representing wheelchair tracks. The audience’s body parts or wheelchairs apply pressure to either or both tracks on the carpet, thereby triggering different layerings of sounds typical of Lott’s aural experience in a particular residential room. The installation connects something common to many persons’ lives (carpet) with a fairly uncommon lifestyle (vent dependency). The impressionist piece ideally invites the listener/viewer/sound-activator to approach alternative realities with curiosity and personal involvement.
This article likewise celebrates what the museum installation maps: human consciousness sustained by medical interfaces develops meaningful connections with others and the environment. Using the printed page as another mode for poetically portraying details inherent to a vent-dependent lifestyle, the article includes
images of the museum installation,
print capturing relevant sounds in styles similar to both closed-captioning and concrete poetry (particularly textual representations of the noise from machines sustaining Lott’s life merging with everyday sounds), and
across the bottom or sides of each page of this article a running strip of text detailing routines in the vent-user’s daily life (This font differs from that used for the journal’s footer or body text.).
By making approachable contemporary medical cyborgs, the project asserts that intentional playfulness between audience and subject stimulates valuable and vital discourses about disabled embodiment.
i John J. McDermott, “Afterword: You Are Really Able”, in Experience as Philosophy: On the Work of John J. McDermott, ed. James Campbell and Richard E. Hart (Bronx, NY: Fordham UP, 2006), 255.
ii Donna J. Haraway , Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991) 176.