communicating in paint

‘We must appear to others in ways that we ourselves cannot know, that we must become available to a perspective established by a body that is not our own’ : Butler

Becoming available to other people, becoming understandable for other people is at times difficult for us all. I came across a really interesting artist in the magazine Rawvision recently, his name is Dan Miller. Dan’s work is compelling, it is emotive, his pieces are evocatively, verbally expressive. His work carries a visual power, that communicates the individual hardships he goes through every day owning his body, being in his body.

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Dan is part of the art collective the Creative Growth Art Centre in Oakland, California. The CGA opened in 1974 and is the world’s first art centres for disabilities. Like Matisse (in Aaron’s lecture), Dan’s work is defined by his un-normative Vitruvian body. Diagnosed with autism and aphasia – or a loss of language, Dan remains largely non-conversational. Dan Miller’s artwork reflects his perceptions. Letters and words are repeatedly overdrawn, often creating ink layered masses, hovering on the page and built up to the point of obliteration or destruction of the ground. Each work contains the written recording of the artist’s obsession with objects like light bulbs, electrical sockets, food and the names of cities and people. It seems that his need to communicate, his aphasia and limited verbal capacity, pushed him urgently onto other forms of communication: the pen, brush and typewriter become his vehicles to speech. 

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In such extraordinary ways can body movement provide human beings with a resource for action in a semiotic modality that frequently elides spoken expression but is never separate from the nature, powers, and capacities of linguistically capable agents.

(From Farnell: Williams 1998, Ingold 1993).

In whatever way we conceptualise our own or others anatomical experience, we all defy the vitruvian body, we deconstruct the vitruvian body. To talk about the vitruvian man is to talk about perfectionist and patriarchal aesthetics, that comment largely the Roman individual Vitruvian, who conceived Da Vinci’s drawing’s proportions. To talk of the vitruvian body as a phenomenological realm of subjective experience, begins to progress discussion, as it breaks any notion of perfection, if we all experience and conceive the world based on our own subjectiveness, the vitruvian man is no more perfect than you or I.

Extra reading:

I found this article recently about William Utermohlen. William drew self portraits over the last few years of his life with alzheimer’s. Interesting to think of art as a form of communication / identity, but William’s pieces show how fragile our bodies are. There is an article with a series of his pictures and more information here.

B. Farnell. Moving Bodies, Acting Selves Annual Review of Anthropology Vol. 28: 341-373 (Volume publication date October 1999)


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