Crip Time: Beyond Abled Perspectives
Professor Alison Kafer describes 'crip time' as a reframing. 'Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.'1
Shannon Finnegan, Do you want us here or not (MMK) (2021). Exhibition view: CRIP TIME, MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (18 September 2021–30 January 2022). Courtesy MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst. Photo: Axel Schneider.
It is from this premise that the exhibition CRIP TIME at Frankfurt's MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst (18 September 2021–30 January 2022) was developed by MMK directors Susanne Pfeffer and Anna Sailer, in conversation with artists Constantina Zavitsanos, Shannon Finnegan, and Judith Hopf.
Disability (some of the artists identify as disabled and some do not), chronic and mental illness, and identities forged in sickness, are explored across three floors of the institution with artworks by over 40 international artists including Panteha Abareshi, Shawanda Corbett, Jesse Darling, Pepe Espaliú, Nan Goldin, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Christine Sun Kim, and Donald Rodney.
Along with the virtual experience, I relied on audio guides created by eight participating artists via the museum's website to reflect on the show. In this experience of listening, what stood out was the individual way that each artist describes their work.
For Dancing with London (2021), Emilie Louise Gossiaux introduces two identical larger-than-life sculptures of her guide dog London. Gossiaux's moving yet matter-of-fact description recalls beautiful memories of a companion no longer present, who played an important part in her life.
Brothers Sick, a collaboration between brothers Ezra and Noah Benus, made Pareidolia (Vaccinate Now) (2021) during the 6 January 2021 insurrection in Washington D.C. that saw a mob comprised of Donald Trump supporters attack the United States Capitol.
...societal structures, rather than a person's impairment or difference, continue to disable individuals.
Pareidolia (Vaccinate Now) comprises a black-and-white aluminium print featuring a mirrored silhouette of a person in profile holding a syringe in one hand. Text slogans in various sizes across the work state: 'Stop Rationing Care', 'Stop Medical Apartheid', 'Vaccinate Now', 'Global Inoculation Against Viral Fascism', 'End Eugenics', and 'End Vaccine Hoarding'—words that resonate with the present Omicron-led wave of the Covid-19 pandemic as yet another mutation of the virus unfolds.
Brothers Sick highlight how a form of eugenics is creeping back into—or rather never left—science in the form of vaccines and their distribution, limiting all bodies from receiving the same protection and care.
The graphic artwork was originally published online for The Daily Trumpet, an Instagram project organised by Jonathan Horowitz that began on the first day of Trump's presidency in January 2017, with invited artists making a new artwork post each day, addressing the rise of intolerance following Trump's election.
Also unpacking medicine as political rather than curative or care-enabling is Carolyn Lazard's Pre-Existing Condition (2019), which tackles the history of Dr. Albert M. Kligman (1916–2010), a professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania who carried out medical experiments on incarcerated people at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia.
Lazard explores the complicity between corporations, the state, and the educational establishment in these experiments through The University of Pennsylvania Archives and the Philadelphia City Archives, in a six-minute video work uncovering Kligman's practices, including the account of a survivor, Edward Yusuf Anthony.
In this exposure of racism and inhumane medical experiments, we learn that Kligman worked for companies like Johnson & Johnson, the Dow Chemical Company, and the U.S. Department of Defense, who tested the 'tactical herbicide' Agent Orange. Even though participants were given some financial compensation, they did not receive information about the substances being used on them nor the long-term health risks involved.
Exclusion is expressed spatially in Shannon Finnegan's furniture series placed across the museum, Do you want us here or not (2018): five hard benches and five soft chaise lounges, all deep blue with white handwritten phrases printed on them, half in English and the other in German, like: 'It Was Hard To Get Here. Rest Here If You Agree'.
Through their blue and white colouring, the works reference the international symbol of access—the blue square with the white outline of a person in a wheelchair—and in creating places to sit in the museum space, draw attention to the fact that societal structures, rather than a person's impairment or difference, continue to disable individuals.
As artist Johanna Hedva aptly reminds us in a quote that opens the exhibition text: 'You don't need to be fixed, my queens—it's the world that needs the fixing.' Hevda, as with CRIP TIME more broadly, calls for a rejection of a society that excludes non-normative experiences. —[O]
1 Kafer, Alison, Feminist, Queer, Crip, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.