If you think about it, it is pretty bizarre. I’m talking about the strange pressure that comes with living in a human body.
A few years ago I was teaching a course that I don’t normally teach. It’s a kind of introductory writing seminar for first year students, and I chose the topic of the body because it seemed to have a kind of openness for students. In classes we looked at Susan Bordo’s work around body-shaming and the media, as well as essays by Patricia Hill Collins, Audre Lorde, and Sara Ahmed, and work in disability studies by writers like Jillian Weise and Karrie Higgins. The students responded very strongly, and they were activated and interested by the topics.
The body can sometimes still be difficult for us, because we live in a society that wants us to buy stuff, and in order to do that so often it shames people. It tells us the shape of our bodies is not good enough. The weight of our bodies is not good enough. And it’s also about power – making particular kinds of bodies that are white, heteronormative, and able into containers for power, adoration, respect, care. Of course, that’s all wrong. We live in the world in a physical way, and we have different lived experiences and inequalities, because some bodies are valued more than others. But we keep coming back to the fact that everyone deserves care, tenderness, and love.
You can see that so clearly in the recent Ann Hamilton project “O N E E V E R Y O N E.” I was so delighted to take part (unexpectedly) in this project, when I came across Ann Hamilton taking photographs of people in the Ohio State Library one day last fall. It was amazing to be photographed by Hamilton, and the resulting book is remarkable. All kinds of people are pictured in isolation, emerging from a kind of mist or milky fog, alone and slightly vulnerable which seems fitting given the current situation of lockdown, quarantine, and social distancing.
Ann Hamilton writes: “The newsprint book in this video is part of an ongoing public art project O N E E V E R Y O N E. Thick like an old phone book, its 1200 pages are filled with images of people photographed standing behind a semi-transparent membrane that renders in focus only the points where the body is in contact with the material. The images, a consequence of the condition: hidden behind the membrane but revealed by touch, contain for me a sense of privacy but also an intimacy not possible in a time so aware of every point of contact, of every surface we touch, or are in exchange touched by. The figure suspended, ethereal, is perhaps the alone together we are now living.”
I was really happy to have taken part in the project. I feel like it captures something very special, and creates the feeling of togetherness but also deep delight in our differences.