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A man raises a trumpet to his lips. A rash of triumphal notes blasts forth. But only the musician’s jaw and skull are visible. The rest of him is immaterial to the X-ray film that originally registered his recital. This footage–which was shot in the 1950s in a Rochester hospital by James Sibley Watson Jr., a pioneer in X-ray moving-picture technique–has been given new life by experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer. Her new film, Sanctus, a ghostly essay on bones and beauty, heads up a batch of videos that are part of a new group exhibit at the Renaissance Society, an exhibit the artists hope will “make viewers more physically and metaphorically aware of themselves.”
The intriguing array of videos and objects is titled The Body. “The body has been fractured, depersonalized, put at bay by the overwhelming high technology in modern medical investigation,” says curator Susanne Ghez. “This exhibit seeks to make the body whole again, as a bridge into the next century. If we come to terms with our bodies, with our own deaths, we can seize life–and form social, political, and cultural groupings at this post-AIDS moment in our society.” One sculpture on the wall, Sleeping Beauty by artist Doug Hammett, incorporates HIV-positive blood.
Yet one of the videotapes in the exhibit would be right at home in the nearby Museum of Science and Industry. Cyberpunk–The Future . . . Is Now is a plug for the burgeoning “virtual reality” industry. It dotes on novelist William Gibson, whose Neuromancer is the sci-fi blueprint for the headlong dash to simulate our sensory experience via computer. The tape also presents Dr. Joseph Rosen, an experimental plastic surgeon at Stanford, who speculates about grafting wings onto a patient. To a credulous interviewer, he deadpans that our “body-weight-to-muscle-strength ratio” would limit any Icarus wannabe to a flying-squirrel sort of soaring.
Slightly closer to earth is Aimee Morgana’s video The Man in the Mirror, which focuses on Michael Jackson’s malleable face and soul, and draws a parallel to the Chinese art of deliberately misshaping children to create marketable monsters.
The tendency of technology to disembody us is displayed in Penetration, an installation by Sean Smith. This pseudo trade room, with its thick white carpet and severely subdued lighting, showcases industrial simulations of sexual organs. A “Dual Unisex Operation” comes with a “detachable xycon gas-charge exploding vaginal/anal insert.”
Shelly Silver offers a feminist take on sex in her humorous video We. She splits the screen between shots of the body politic and a body part some of us are too attached to, urging, “If we keep attaching meanings and mysteries to everything we perceive, everything we see that is, and everything that goes on inside us, we are bound to go crazy sooner or later.” Her Getting In, shot in San Francisco in Super-8, likens the friendly portals of places of business to sexual orifices. Leftovers from a porn sound track underscore her hunch that doorways are subliminal reminders of heterosexual commerce.
The Body will be on display through April 21 at the Renaissance Society, room 418 of Cobb Hall, 5811 S. Ellis. Hours are 10 to 4 Tuesday through Friday and 12 to 4 Saturday and Sunday; admission is free. The videos run continuously as part of the exhibit, but there will be a special sit-down screening of all of them on Tuesday, April 9, at 7. More data at 702-8670.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Stamets.