This project is a reflection about the multitude of varied identities of humans, from a feminist perspective and coming from the Foucauldian idea that all individuals are the result of social constructions. Subsequently, we do not belong to a natural identity but constructed where all identities are as anomalous. “Infirmes” is a project that shows the denial of the norm. That norm that is hidden so it does not function due to the fact that society prefers to maintain its status quo.
It is vitally important to show that we are all socially constructed products but it is convenient to teach us that we are naturally different and automatically segregate. This is how a submissive and inalterable society is maintained. This takes us to the emancipatory roots of Theodor W. Adorno’s artistic conception, where I position myself, in relation to the way art should highlight that social antithesis of society as it intends to generate a critique that promotes the progress and emancipation of the individual.
The first notions of disability appear with the expansion of the industrial capitalism toward the end of the XVIII century, this being a modern ideology. From this moment on the disabled body will be thought of from two different angles, rising from the division between production and reproduction (between public and domestic space) established by the bio political 1 regime.
This way, the male disability will be seen as a dysfunctional sense of production whilst the female disabled body is perceived as a place where reproduction is managed. The first body specifically disabled is that of the war invalid, this being, the soldier of the Kind that after being wounded on the front is unable to adapt to the productive economy. However, in recognition of his service he is given the right to be subsidised for life and be taken in by the
‘Hospital for invalids’. Subsequently, the male image is represented as a heroic figure which is something that till happens today when the media describes disable people. This is still highlighted as a sense of self-worth and commitment to move forward amongst many adversities.
This heroic narrative does affect the construction of “other types of differences and dysfunctionality” such as homosexuality, transsexuality, transgender, etc.
The notion of ‘infirme’ emerges at the same time as the notion of invalidity as a French word which might be translated as weak or sick, or in its literal sense as “one that is not firm”. The notion of “infirme” is the opposite to “malades” (the sick) which defines dysfunctionality as a provisional state within a process of reinsertion in the medical institution and is seen as a therapeutic process to cure. Since the infirme’s dysfunctionality is perceived as constitutive, he or she is introduced to a series of institutions that are classed as lock up systems with a clear model of imprisonment.
Consequently, throughout the XVIII and XIX centuries the subspecies of infirmes multiply and are grouped as; malformed, crazy, syphilitic, cretin, homosexual, hysteric, etc.) At the same time, more institutions where the infirmes are imprisoned are created (mental health asylums, correctional centres such as spaces where homosexuals and hysteric women might have been secluded, orphanages, nursing homes, etc. These institutions were all interconnected since at the time it would have been common for a person to move from the orphanage to the correctional centre, then to the mental health asylum or prison and finally to the nursing home.
This is how a process of “social cleanliness” begins almost literally. Taking this into account the urban project of urbanisation which is the one that makes the “infirmes” bodies invisible (thrown out of public spaces) is, without a doubt linked to a process of cleanliness. In fact, it could be said that the imprisonment institutions (including domestic spaces within them) that arise in modern days are designed as “drains” 2. This urban project has the military objective to obstruct any attempt to riot or rebel since it promotes segregation. It encourages the move of the working class masses from the centre of cities to the outskirts where the “drain communities” are built and in the case of the colonial metropolis, racial segregation occurs too. This is the model of city that is constructed by modernity, this being a city that is strongly medicalised and militarised where there is no evident space for the non normative body.
‘Infirmes’ is an artistic project which intends to sabotage society through photography and, within the social product that art is, undermines the rules that describe identity. It rejects the classification of individuals in universal and fixed categories subject to the restrictions imposed by a culture that considers hetero-normality as compulsory and sustains that those categories hide a large number of variants.
It offers a reflection about identity and it sustains that gender, sexual identities and sexual orientations are a result of social construction. Subsequently, these are not essentially or biologically inscribed as part of human nature since they are the result of social construction. As a result, they are ways to be that are socially variable, constructed and spaces where all identities are as anomalous.
“…it is time we alter the image we have of ourselves as subjects (…) when we say
I, we assume one unit which in reality is the sum of a multitude of factors…”
Embodiment, Sexual Difference, and the Nomadic Subject, Rosi Braidotti
To show the perspective stated, it shows portraits of individuals classified inside and out of the hetero-normality. These portraits are made of thousands of images of the portrait itself that represent the variability of the individual. Moreover, the portrait itself is made of thousands of images of spaces which are represented by places where social practices of current reality take place (great pieces of machinery of normalisation such as schools, museums, television, shopping malls, public administrations, etc.)
Both images appear one on top of the other. The portrait is made of multiple images as a base and the image made of the spaces mentioned above is on top using a transparency to provide a void in between. This idea is meant to show the oppression to the variability of the individual. The last image is a mirror with printed spaces where the spectator can see his or her own reflexion and this way jump into the photograph to become the final piece that shapes up this project.
This is how an intellectual and ironic game with the spectator begins and as part of it a sense of tension between the title and the images themselves is generated. This is done with the intention of using one’s own reflexion to realise that we all belong to the group of the infirmes and hopefully look at other forms of identification without forgetting we are all anomalous.
‘Infirmes’ shows a parallel between the disable bodies, infirmes…named by modernity, with the bodies shown in the images and representing what we could call the new infirmes. These new infirmes are the new truth created and produced by my own reflection and where the spaces shown create another parallel. Those are the spaces created for modernity and to promote social cleanliness, reinforcing the idea of creating and producing a new truth.
“…life is something discontinued. It is only the logic of identity that makes us
think we have to be one thing or another”
Gender trouble, Judith Butler
It is a game of subjectivity and truth that at the same time criticises the distribution of the sensitivity that we inherit from society as it generates alterations of conscience regarding identity. It intends to make the spectators feel part of a utopia perhaps delirious so that they begin to have conscience of the causes neither biological nor scientific but socially, culturally and politically constructed. Each subject should consider individual intervention practices of oneself and make them up if they don’t exist. I position myself next to Theodor W. Adorno that emphasises that in art, the negativity root is totally necessary and highlights the aesthetic experience to demonstrate the critical character art should promote. Adorno provides a subversive power towards the dominant logic when he says: “…art is the social antithesis of society, not directly deducible from it.” When he mentions the social/antisocial condition of art, he also refers to art as something that goes beyond the physical state of things. He refers to a search of utopic and critical character, which is something I totally agree with.
I am not interested in finding out the truth but inventing it, producing it… We have created the machinery to produce truths, we invented those machines. Therefore, they should be open to the multitude of possibilities and not captured by the monolingualism, by the sexual elites, by the neoliberalism… giving opportunity to other subjectivities. Freedom needs to be invented as said by Michel Foucault.
“In fact, if everything we think, everything that seems, is the truth, it is essential that everything is at the same time true and false. The majority of men think differently; and those that don’t take part in our opinions we consider to be mistaken. The same thing is and subsequently is not. And this is how it occurs, it is necessary that everything that appears is true; because those who are mistaken and those who tell the truth, have different opinions. If things are as it has just been said they will all equally be true”
Aristotle, Metaphysics, Forth Book, V
It is surprising how all human beings have ended up belonging to a world characterised by a consensus, instrumentalised by other human beings who distribute the place other people occupy in society, their functions status and the value of their words. The only way to awaken human beings from that lethargic sleep in which we live hypnotised by other human beings, is through art…
“Many concerns are still open and the opportunity to continue asking questions is possible…”