exposed yet unseen. 2018
Concerned with generating transgressive “gestures of defiance” (Meagher 2014), Exposed yet Unseen resulted in works evoking compassion that registered affect through time rather than shock. I wish to play here on what is not revealed, what might be hidden in folds, and what might be lost in negative spaces to register histories and experiences of singularity, while simultaneously offering unindividuated objects that speak to everyone.
Having revisited my own personal relationship with old age and death in previous works, I decided to delve deeper into relationships between what is expected or presumed and the reality of old age. Personal experiences made me aware of ways in which elders were frequently pigeonholed and defined in relation to their illnesses and deficiencies. I have witnessed how this cohort is discriminated against owing to what we interpret as loss of agency or failure to embody the pervasive consumerist “agelessness” fantasy.
A visit to a doctor’s office prompted a reflection on the dynamics of private versus public spaces in depersonalized environments and the need to investigate the paradox of being exposed to the medical gaze when in fact you feel you are not truly being seen. Consequently, it made sense to work around the privacy screen, an epitome of concealment in medical settings.
Baudrillard’s reflections on old age and how they seemed to echo with such accuracy heartless North American social constructions led me to the following reflection: It is both profoundly disturbing and enlightening to realize that being old is conveniently equated with being “asocial and marginal” (Baudrillard as cited in Biggs 2004) and that ageing bodies are considered doomed and stripped of any symbolic meaning. As Baudrillard’s comments resonated with my own experiences of ageing, it became imperative to explore ways to reveal the uniqueness of old age and provide narratives of inclusiveness and visibility outside of representation as a way of surviving.
I shared many hours casually interviewing ageing women in doctor’s waiting rooms. I volunteered to make art with groups of older women dealing with end-of-life illnesses. These heartfelt conversations and testimonies gave me a sense of the overall dynamics of being exposed, analysed, examined, and yet being made to feel invisible. Most women shared feelings of gradually having lost their identity as their illness progressed and feeling utterly exposed and vulnerable. In dealing with medical teams and caregivers, they felt compelled to embody their illnesses by negating other lively characteristics of their selves that seemed unrelated and by doing so, felt disembodied as women.
With Exposed yet Unseen, I am offering a positive outlook on the subject matter and offering new proposals to the viewers. While I continue to challenge discriminating stereotypes negating the fertile ground of ageing, its rich individuality, and the uniqueness of its personal landscape, I also celebrate what is the unique role of death in the maintenance of our own personal ecology and the encompassing generosity and ingenious, untimely, and regenerative creativity of nature.
While caring for my ageing siblings, I witnessed how there seemed to be no other market for mature individuals; no desire, no will for cultural recognition. Those specifics of corporeality, predominantly linked to chronological age, and bound to cultural preconceived ideas of finitude, are still powerful social markers and profoundly shape our conception of embodiment in old age. Unfortunately, fear of our own carnal destiny as we grow older might project us into a fantasy of agelessness and away from a more natural life course whose narrative could be more positive and inclusive if considered. This body of work propose more appropriate and fairer considerations of women’s ageing bodies through ontological and naturalistic approaches in which human frailty and vulnerability were grounded in universal shared experiences and situated over one’s lifespan.
Exposed yet unseen is an exploration of loss of identity in medical settings, loss of social relevancy related to misconceptions of old age, isolation, and expected death and wish to draw attention to how life reveals itself in unexpected ways if we dare to look further and beyond what is superficially exposed and expected. Creating nonfigurative, allegorical things has proven to be pivotal in challenging prevalent ideas of ageing.