Diagnosis: Different by Nature
Bruce Nauman, Help Me, Hurt me dead, 1975; Artaud, Letter, 1946A call for people from different 'cultures' (autistics, schizophrenics, people with developmental disabilities) to co-operate to the realisation of an artistic project.
Terms like psychosis, schizophrenia and autism flutter around in contemporary art discourse. Most of the times these diagnostic terms are borrowed from psychiatric vocabularies to point at certain developments in current post-modern societies. In fact a strong parallel can be detected between contemporary popularisation and celebration of these terms nowadays and the use of terms like hysteria and neuroses in the early years of this century. Many artists play with these notions, either to critique contemporary culture or on the level of visually imitating stereotypical notions of psychosis or schizophrenia, referring to them in playing with the abject.
At first sight the exhibition will sketch different translations of these romanticised or otherwise stereotyped notions. This will be done on the level of the exhibition as a representational system. An underlying critique, also embodied in the works of contemporary artists, will be directed at the distance or the distancing that is part of the spectaculization and stereotypicalization of the Mad Other. In fact the exhibition will theoretically refer to the discourse around the cultural Other, on colonisation, re-colonisation, the Jewish notion of Diaspora, the mechanism of inclusion and exclusion in the process of constructing identities etc. More important is that, with this attempt to reveal the limits of this exhibition from within, I will inevitably run up against the limits of representation at large.
If there is one thing that cannot be 'curated' in terms of represented (annexed, appropriated) it is the very difference that makes the other Other. Because of the limitations of our language, our symbolic order, we seem to have no other option as to annex this Otherness and bring it into our system of the 'self-same', thereby adjusting it till it fits into the stereotypes we already have. We are only able to measure otherness in terms of the same, to compare it along the scale running from absolutely identical to absolutely different. However, by assimilating the other to the self-same we necessarily rob it of tits very 'difference' that makes the other Other. The limits of representation will therefore run through the entire exhibition, voiced by artists whose work deals with (the limits of) self-representation and self-reflection in terms shared sensorial and perceptual experiences.
Approaching the madness of the Other involves acknowledging our limits as well. It demands recognising our own imprisonment in a system that seems to be fully self-centred and self-sufficient, it forces us to accept our own 'idiotness'. As a subversive tactic this exhibition will therefore focus on the works of artists attempting to mirror our own blindspots. They will show us the imprisonment within a language that seems to only refer to itself and therefore cannot fulfil its promise of communication. The self-centredness of (especially Western) culture that violently establishes its identity by inclusion and exclusion of its people. They point at the inevitable loss of humanity Foucault has proclaimed so many times. Works will be incorporated by artists who use different tactics, among which: the return to pre-symbolic or nonsymbolic presentations, transgression of taboos, and non-production. As Foucault said it is these artists who will find in this 'nonplace' perhaps a 'place' from which to see the madness of ourselves, of our order and our culture.
As a third tactic space will be given to the work of artists who are 'neurologically different'. For obvious reasons these artists will not be labelled beforehand as such. Terms like autism, schizophrenia or any other psychiatric disorder will not be used in order to classify and thus stereotype individuals. Most of these artists have first been credited for their artistic production anyway, before they were labelled as being differently brained. Some however, had the misfortune of having received a diagnosis before they could bring their talents into the public arena. The contributions of this third party will be a strong argument to reconsider the way in which we divide our world in sane and insane, able and disabled, included and excluded. In fact, within this exhibition, the inversion has already taken place. Ine Gevers
Lecture at: Hotel New York, P.S. One, New York, 2000