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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Raw Sense: Choreography, Disability, Politics

  • Author(s): Cachia, Amanda
  • Advisor(s): Kester, Grant
  • et al.

This dissertation aims to illustrate the interventions of moving disabled bodies across time and space as a means of instilling social change. I will do this by exploring how various disabled artists engage differently and deliberately with the architectures of public space, ranging from the museum to the street, to that of the able-bodied subject, which have never before been addressed in art history and criticism. It also examines the possibilities and limitations of raw form, gesture, movement and interactivity through multi-sensorial, synaesthetic, and empirical modalities in contemporary art practice. Specifically, I highlight how particular physical and neuro-developmental experiences may shed new light on a “disability choreopolitics,” offering an array of viewpoints, ranging from the perspectives of those who have blindness, cerebral palsy, deafness, dwarfism, prostheses, hearing aids, and who use wheelchairs for their mobility. Through mining the rich resources that the lived experiences these atypical bodies have to offer us, and the world, we will begin to observe how their moving, active bodies have been moving, shaking, dancing, hopping, running, crawling, screaming, tracing, bending, crouching, peering, and tripping in atypical shapes and forms in order to propel us towards a transformation of political life.

Blending together a dynamic intersection of installation, sculpture, architecture, video, works on paper, site-specific work, and experimental performance, my dissertation attempts to develop a new rhetorical framework for the “choreopolitics” of complex embodiment. Coined by writer and curator André Lepecki, the term “choreopolitcs” is a portmanteau word that fuses the sound and meaning of the words choreography and politics, where politically passive bodies may become mobilized through manifold movement, in juxtaposition with an engagement with other bodies, objects, surfaces, and environments. Lepecki’s “choreopolitics” is adopted and applied towards a disabled, or complex embodiment, in this dissertation because it offers a relevant theoretical framework with which to develop my discussions of the artists. The politics of the disabled body in motion is rich and offers new knowledges that have never before considered from multi-modal perspectives. I argue that the choreography of the disabled body as discussed through the artwork in this dissertation are political because the disabled body is a social and cultural object that carries great stigma and taboo. The disabled body as a moving body with agency is thus a powerful form of resistance and disruption, where it aims to shed reductive associations tied to antiquated ideas of restriction, similar to how Lepecki’s project aims to dismantle limiting associations between dance and movement. Hand in hand with this theoretical framing of the artwork in this dissertation, I will also demonstrate how these interdisciplinary practices have been informed by interdisciplinary seminal social movements, and art genres and philosophies such as Fluxus, happenings, minimalism, sound art, activist art, critical dance studies, phenomenology, institutional critique, architecture, and more, through a comparative analysis with the contemporary work.

My chapters will not only consider what such radical, activist performative acts in public space represent, and how they might be transformative; they will also chart, document and archive a rich resource of lived experiences from several unique disabled point of views. By focusing specifically on aspects of performance, entwined with socially engaged, discursive art practices and everyday urban architectures through the work of contemporary artists, I aim to build a new discourse for the epistemology of disability art in this dissertation as a mode of disability activism. As a critical offshoot to this, I also aim to rethink the very frameworks of how art history and art discourse in general judge bodies and by extension the work of certain kinds of bodies.

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