“Crip Time” Art Exhibition, Frankfurt/M., Germany

Illness and disability act as an antidote in a society where perfection, efficiency, functioning are dominant and weakness is initially evaluated as failure. Talking about disabilities, bringing images of illness into public space not only liberates the disabled and sick, but also the healthy – because nobody can always function perfectly, efficiently.

The artists shown bring together a wide spectrum: are themselves terminally ill, blind, physically disabled (after an accident), depressed or take up the theme, as Gerhard Richter did in “Aunt Marianne”, who was classified as mentally ill and murdered in the Third Reich (in Germany during this time many chronically sick, handicapped persons, people with mental illnesses were murdered in gas chambers, via starvation, infections or with injections or with all the three together). The artistic means are multiple: painting, photography, video, sculpture, installation, performance and furniture…

Right at the beginning there is a couch by Shannon Finnegan with the words “IT WAS HARD TO GET HERE. NOW REST HERE IF YOU AGREE.” Anyone who has had a physical disability, even if only temporarily, knows how exhausting everyday activities can be. This is respected here, you know what others don’t see. The seating furniture is distributed throughout the exhibition. But I have not seen somebody sitting on them, because usually to find sitting places in public spaces is not so easy. For me this was symbolic, as I have a somewhat invisible genetic Syndrom which affects the whole body and one just feels miserable – but a correct diagnosis is hard to get.

The works of Felix Gonzales-Torres are metaphysical and poetic, sweets wrapped in gold lie just there. Yes, you can take one – as a consolation and a golden promise that maybe it’s ok after all. Or is it a placebo?. Nearby hangs a curtain of gorgeous plastic beads, these rattle lightly and quietly when they are run through. Sick people change their condition, cross border areas, leave earthly existence faster than others (the artist died of AIDS). In the case of Absalon, on the other hand, here is rage and fury – one does not want to be ill or die (he also died of AIDS).

Leroy F. Moore Jr., in the video “Black Disabled History 101” deals with the question of how one can learn from adversity and develop something like a gay (joyous) science (originally a medival term describing the technical skill for poetra writing).

However, the concrete slabs in Jesse Darling’s files (“Epistemologies”) weigh heavily. Chronically ill people know about the struggle with doctors, health insurance companies and authorities. In the installation “Canary” there is a plastic bird in a plastic cage, its movement and song are usually controlled by batteries. Here, however, there is a construction of solar cells, wind energy and a dynamo, relying on good weather as disabled people do metaphorically spoken. Despite the makeshift and seemingly fragile construction, the singing is very beautiful.

The fragility of existence is also shown in the works of Berenice Olmedo and Franco Bellucci. In “Haecceidad”, sleeves for arms and legs, which are used to transport broken bones, float in transparent foil. The title refers to the medieval theory of thisness, where individual existence is not seen as imperfect but as perfect.

Franco Bellucci’s tied knots of old toys, junk, plastic tubing, tulle, and other unidentified materials . The artist suffered a brain injury as a child and was placed in a closed psychiatric ward as a teenager, where he was mostly restrained. In 1998 these were replaced by open community centers in Italy, where he then set up a studio to express these experiences through his sculptures, which show the vulnerability of disabled bodies and the violence they are subjected to.


Sunaura Taylor shows a girl with a hand disability in the photograph “Lobster Girl”. Instead of the usual in medical illustrations, the crippled hand is not shown, but has been replaced by lobster claws. Strong in historical contexts, but still represented so today, is the devaluation of disabled people – “Our model cripple – grateful, sweet, a bit stupid and easy to manage.” was critical as the cover slogan on the “Disability Calendar”, from 1982 (edited by Gusti Steiner, one of the founders of the emancipatory disability movement in Germany). Against the exposure and degradation to the object taking place in these illustrations, one can now defend oneself with a kind of primordial means or weapon, which is already contained in one’s own body, as in animals or plants.

In “Art is Depression” by Rosemarie Trockel you can see logs of wood glowing in a dark glass box. This glow remains even in a darkened environment. The flame as a symbol for drive to live, energy, hope, which also persists in very adverse circumstances.

Thus, some impressions are outlined. Of course, there are many more fragile, interesting things… Tactile and olfactory things may have been neglected a bit. Many thanks for this great exhibition, which is a great gift for those affected, but certainly also for those who are not affected, and which gives courage to continue living with illness, disability, deficits, problems and so on. One wishes for a sequel with further exhibitions on the subject, for example. as a mirror through the millennia and different societies. An overview of the international art and disability movements, e.g. B. Collection Prinzhorn, Italian Psychiatry Reform, Disability Art – because some of the exhibited works belong in these contexts and it would be interesting to learn more about them.

While the artistic discourse (always) integrates disability and illness, social-political exclusion is at its heights, where politics says to act inclusively and still works on the optimized human being. In capitalism, the sick and disabled are (again) seen as cost factors, and as little as possible shall be given to them. Obviously it’s time for a new cripple movement.

at the Museum of Modern Art, from 18.09.21 – 30.01.22

Malah Helman

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