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The Scar of Visibility

Medical Performances and Contemporary Art

2006
Author:

Petra Kuppers

The Scar of Visibility

Grapples with the limits of medicine and the mysteries of human bodies in contemporary art and culture

In The Scar of Visibility, Petra Kuppers examines the use of medical imagery practices in contemporary art, as well as different arts of everyday life. Among the works she investigates are the controversial Body Worlds exhibition of plastinized corpses, films like David Cronenberg's Crash that fetishize body wounds, representations of the AIDS virus on CSI: Crime Scene Investigations, and the paintings of outsider artist Martin Ramírez.

Ambitious in scope, yet grounded in strong analytic skills for reading performance, The Scar of Visibility offers a powerful interrogation of contemporary conceptualizations of the body in both science and art.

Susan Foster, author of Dances That Describe Themselves

Contemporary visual and performance artists have adopted modern medical technologies such as MRIs and computer imaging—and the bodily access they imply—to reveal their limitations. In doing so they emphasize the unknowability of another’s bodily experience and the effects—physical, emotional, and social—of medical procedures.

In The Scar of Visibility, Petra Kuppers examines the use of medical imagery practices in contemporary art, as well as different arts of everyday life (self-help groups, community events, Internet sites), focusing on fantasies and “knowledge projects” surrounding the human body. Among the works she investigates are the controversial Body Worlds exhibition of plastinized corpses; video projects by Shimon Attie on diabetes and Douglas Gordon on mental health and war trauma; performance pieces by Angela Ellsworth, Bob Flanagan, and Kira O’Reilly; films like David Cronenberg’s Crash and Marina de Van’s In My Skin that fetishize body wounds; representations of the AIDS virus in the National Museum of Health and on CSI: Crime Scene Investigations; and the paintings of outsider artist Martin Ramírez.

At the heart of this work is the scar—a place of production, of repetition and difference, of multiple nerve sensations, fragile skin, outer sign, and bodily depth. Through the embodied sign of the scar, Kuppers articulates connections between subjective experience, history, and personal politics. Illustrated throughout, The Scar of Visibility broadens our understanding of the significance of medical images in visual culture.

The Scar of Visibility

Petra Kuppers is associate professor of English at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the author of Disability and Contemporary Performance: Bodies on Edge.

The Scar of Visibility

Ambitious in scope, yet grounded in strong analytic skills for reading performance, The Scar of Visibility offers a powerful interrogation of contemporary conceptualizations of the body in both science and art.

Susan Foster, author of Dances That Describe Themselves

Kuppers's longstanding experience with and inquiry into disability means that her approach to medical imagery is rooted in lived experience and seasoned by long-term thought. This is not a 'fad' turn to the topic, but a deeply invested engagement.

Rebecca Schneider, Brown University

The works Kuppers analyzes are compelling and fascinate the reader all the more when juxtaposed against one another. Her fresh comparisons make for a thought-provoking analysis which will appeal to those in art, performance, disability studies, and cultural studies.

Journal of Popular Culture

The Scar of Visibility

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Bodily Fantasies

1. Visions of Anatomy: Space, Exhibitions, and Dense Bodies
2. Living Bodies: Staging Knowledge, Fantasy, and Temporality
3. The Collaborative Arts: Pain and Performance
4. Intersections: Blood, Laughter, and the Space-O,
5. Monsters, Cyborgs, Animals: Crashes, Cuttings, and Migraines
6. Medical Museums and Art Display: The Discourses of AIDS
7. Reaching Out: Outsider Art, Specialists, and Positions in Between

Epilogue: Fantasies in the Sand
Notes
Bibliography

Index