Friday, November 20, 2009

A self-induced seizure performance art. Apparently the project received an arts council grant.


Anonymous said...


This is quite dangerous. I assume she has a syringe of lorazepam on hand, though. The danger comes in how she's going to have the seizure: without her meds, and with the presence of alcohol, she could have seizures far more poowerful than the ones she's used to.

I don't really see this as art; and this from someone who wrote a sequence of poems about his own seizure disoder. It's cringe-worthy, really. Undignified. I have a problem that it was funded- stupid projects get funded all the time, I admit- but in this case it's not an aesthetic matter, a difference of opinion, it's that she's trading on her health. Such RISKY things shouldn't be subsidized.


Brenda Schmidt said...

Cringe-worthy indeed. I was hoping that somewhere in the article the artist would say that it's a hoax project and that the arts council support in itself points to what might be a general lack of knowledge and lack of respect for the disorder. But no.

Anonymous said...


It's so self-exploitive. Trading on one's illness. Hardly a taking back of the night. Just sordid. Breast cancer survivors do dragon boats. But are we supposed to associate epileptics with self-induced seizures under the influence of alcohol?


Brenda Schmidt said...

So how would you respond if an artist asked you to be the doctor standing nearby during such a performance? Would your last comment be part of your reply?

Anonymous said...


I'd never be part of a project in which someone intentionally made themselves ill for profit.


Pearl said...

The artist is taking a calculated risk with precautions of doctors standing by (rather like car racers who may crash up and kill themselves).

It opens a lot of questions.

The person knows the triggers to induce a range of physical impacts. It is based in self-knowledge to a degree. It could go wrong. It possible but probable? It could work to familiarize people with fits and destigmatize.

It puts the agency in the control of the person with epilepsy rather than random bystanders who might film and watch from a position of ignorance.

How is self-exploitation of the body different than of the mind?

How is it different from artists who exacerbate their own depressive thinking with drug use, alcohol abuse and self-harming behaviors, then sell the products of this?

What is the alternative? Should grants only be given to people who do sensible behaviors who edify themselves and treat themselves and others with respect and dignity and denied otherwise?

Brenda Schmidt said...

Those are thoughtful questions.

"How is it different from artists who exacerbate their own depressive thinking with drug use, alcohol abuse and self-harming behaviors, then sell the products of this?"

While I'm sure many great works came out of altered states, I'm guessing many more works never approached their potential due to drug use, alcohol abuse and self-harming. I have no stats to support this however. It would be impossible to measure. Perhaps my bias comes out of my training and previous work experience which focused on the promotion of health and the prevention of illness and injury. And I do see a big difference. If an artist were to apply for a grant saying they intended to abuse alcohol to bring attention to alcohol abuse I'd react the same way and if I were on the jury I'd argue strongly against supporting the application with public funds.

sms said...

This is a very interesting subject. Don't you think that all artists are self-exploitive to a certain extent?

And isn't it better to exploit oneself rather than others? I remember seeing a Damien Hersh photograph of a med student holding up the severed head of a med-school cadaver and feeling that the cadaver-donor, the med student, and I, were all being exploited.

As for the artist putting herself in danger, I have no right to point the finger. I just flew over extremely dangerous territory in A'stan, in a helicopter filled with soldiers and three guys sentry with machine guns. Not to mention the rocket attack.

This is excellent discussion material B. Thanks.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Those are very thoughtful comments as well.

I think my biggest issue is with the funding of the project as I said above. The project as it was represented in the news story, that is. Surely the jury, if it was a peer jury such as we use in our system, consulted not only medical experts, but experts on ethics, before they arrived at their decision. That would include medical ethicists, arts ethicists and political ethicists. And if they did, fine. I trust that the war artist program was developed with much input from relevant experts and the risks and benefits to the artists and all those involved have been properly assessed. Because I believe that, and because there's a long history of war artists from which the experts can draw in their decision-making, I have no issue with your project whatsoever. And I can relate to what you say about self-exploitation. Yet can the self really be that insular? Self-exploitation usually affects others in one way or another.

I'm happy I didn't see that photograph. I'd have nightmares! I'm still thinking about The Americanization of Emily(1964), an antiwar film I watched the other day, and it's seemingly tame in comparison. The scenes that caused me to pause involved the admiral's wish that they use film to document the first dead soldier on Omaha Beach. It made me think of Susan Sontag's book Regarding the Pain of Others. And then I dug out Sontag's essay "Looking at War: Photography's view of devastation and death." In it she talks about the provocation attached to the images of suffering, the provocation being "can you look at this?" Sontag says there is satisfaction at being able to look without flinching and that there is the pleasure of flinching. She says the images are an invitation to be spectators or cowards. To be haunted. Later on she talks about our ability to respond emotionally and ethically and how that might be changing as media evolves. And so on. I say all this to acknowledge that this issue is much bigger than mere yes-no finger-pointing on a blog. The more I think about it, the more questions I have.

Lemon Hound said...

The conceptual artist Zang Huan put his body through all sorts of trials in order to create his art. Part of it is cringe worthy yes, and that's the point. It shows us something of the human condition.

Other people divulge their pain--Sexton, Sharon Olds--and that is also cringe worthy. It's something else. And to my mind a whole lot less interesting. Nonetheless I see the value in it as I see the value in Marina Abramovic or Vito Acconci...should we have a moral barometer on what art gets funded? Can I say, don't bore me? Nope, cause that would be ridiculous...

Why is this not an aesthetic matter? As Pearl says, it's a calculated risk.

On the other hand, yes, there is a part of me that says, come on. Really? Making themselves ill for profit...but we are all doing that. It's a matter of how much we do that on a daily basis isn't it? How many kids we must feed and what we're willing to do?

Those people who go in the mines, or ingest toxic substances while cleaning our garbage, or those guarding Chernobyl, knowing they are being poisoned slowly.

We are all of us, trading hourly with illness and poison and much of it our own making, no?

I am defending the idea in general--I have no idea who this person is. She may be the exception to a wide and long history of interesting work.

Lemon Hound said...


Pearl said...

that's an interesting link.

if you proposed a method of creation of art that would be a self-experiment of going on drugs, instead of off meds, either way the issue of being complicit arises. if it is not explicit, does one have to claim ignorance to justify to conscience.

to look into blinking lights to expect immediate harm that is short term and bodily is easier to measure.

to look into dark inner and exacerbate and cause long term, less traceable harm is harder to tag cause and effect and culpability.

it seems in part to be about social contract responsibility as much as economics of who gets funded. what is the line for approving of another's behavior. art, writing, choices.

it isn't the same but seems comparable to giving money to someone and asking it be used for something practical, of well-being, such as food, when you can reasonably expect that it might go to the ponies, or casino, or drugs, or a bender, or ex-or extortionist, or something one would disprefer. once one hands over funding, choice lies with the person to explore their choices.

is one then to not provide funding in case the choice to be entered into with open eyes, might lead to negative consequences. in that case one becomes a participant in harm, as opposed to a savior from harm.

that's not the only dynamic but it may be a contributing element.

Lemon Hound said...

More intriguing questions, Pearl. And yes, B., it isn't a simple matter of yes/no, good/bad. I'm not sure I see your distinction about funding though. This project seems to me to be offering a very tangible statement not only about the disease itself, but about issues of spectacle, voyeurism, our ability to commodify illness--what illness isn't a business? The cancer industry? This is perhaps less apparent in Canada than it is in the's a mega business.

As for the performance, I too find it disturbing, but often when I am disturbed it's a sign that I am making an assumption.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Intriguing questions all round. Great link, LH. To use some of what we saw in the video as examples, if I were a juror I'd be ok with, say, the person eating chocolate cake, even though the fat and sugar both can lead to medical problems. Even though he could inadvertently choke. However, if airway obstruction was the stated intent of the project, then no, medical personal at the ready or not. The risk to artist and by extension to others is too great for me to knowingly bear, so there I draw the line. And I'd support the person doing the slow fall down the stairs even though there's a small chance she might accidentally tumble and suffer head or spinal cord injury. Unless that was the intent of the project, then no. As far as the project in the post goes, even though valid in all the ways described, I think Pearl's questions surrounding culpability get at what my issues are with it and why, while it can be intellectualized and while it might very well result in important art, I still wouldn't be prepared to support it.

Lemon Hound said...

Well, but you do love cake, right? ;-)

"The risk to artist and by extension to others is too great for me to knowingly bear, so there I draw the line."

I'll have to mull the latter over. Not that it matters whether we agree or not. It makes me wonder where I would draw a line.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Ha! I sure do! Performance art involving chocolate cake would be downright dangerous with the likes of me in attendance.

My lines, being lines, can be curved, circular, smudged, and/or crosshatched with contradictions, and rarely prove satisfactory to me.

Lemon Hound said...

I worked for six years with youth at risk in Vancouver. Very. Hard. Core. I will have to write about that, and the way that risk factored in...but not now alas.

Suffice to say, as you do, that flexibility where lines are concerned, was certainly necessary. As was an ability to handle a cue.