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  • Writer's pictureErin Clark

#CripRitual embodiment

Yesterday I had the pleasure of a zoom-guided tour of tangled arts exhibit #CripRitual. I highly recommend. Free and easy to book a half hour timeslot, I had my very own docent who wheeled me around the gallery on an iPad clamped to a tripod attached to the base of wheels off an office chair. Perhaps because of my own wheelchair-using affinity, I enjoyed the roll of the video around the gallery. My docent read the descriptions to me, zoomed in an out on pieces I was drawn to. When Maryam Hafizirad’s exhibit had a sculpted hand to touch I asked my docent to describe it to me; was it cold? Were the markings raised? Could you feel the grooves of the wrinkles? Was it heavy? The yellow hand forming the letter “S” in ASL had gold drips down its wrist and I sighed happily while my docent rolled me around to see it from all angles, special attention to the light glinting off the glossy sculpture. Logan and Hannah Quinn’s piece “These Are My Cars” made my cheer at “Play, in his way, is Logan’s ritual of joy and self care.”

Recently my friend Lisa and I have been discussing embodiment and disability in our ritual of WhatsApp chats where we leave each other podcast length voice notes exploring our thoughts on literature and healing and religion and spirit and body.

Lisa wisely said, "I was thinking one of the reasons people see disabled people as disembodied is because embodiment practices are so tied to movement. If embodiment is the new religion, movement is the new liturgy. Movement is about a body moving through space. If we think of a body as space instead, movement can definitely engage that space but it’s not a simple shortcut to embodiment"

I had to admit that so much of how I express myself is through movement. And with most of my usual movements restricted this past two years, I have noticed the impact on my art. But I also agreed, I don't experience myself as a body moving through space, I experience my body as space, experiences move through me. Anyone who has tried a meditation practice that involved sending/visualizing energy moving through your body into the ground understands the idea.

I half-jokingly suggested Lisa and I write The Liturgy of the Disembodied.

If embodiment is not a synonym for movement, what else is it? What of those of us who are not physically present in the room, but are physically in our bodies? Those of us who do not move ––or do not move "correctly"? I thought back to this time last year, when I was at home, in my bed, listening to the Canadian Senate hearings debating whether or not to allow people with disabilities to access assistance in dying even though they were not dying. My social network of disabled people spent that entire winter consumed with thoughts about the nature of suffering, the worth of our lives as defined by our bodies.

I wrote about a Senator reading a letter that described a woman in a body a lot like mine who exclaimed tearfully, "this is not a life" and I, in turn, exclaimed that "my insatiability (for life) is a revolutionary act, glamour is my medicine." I took selfies of my body drenched in sun. And again, I wrote. Listening to more hours of debates, I recorded a video of me brushing my hair, caring for my body, while an activist addressed the abuse and violence and experienced by bodies like mine.

At the beginning of my digital tour at Tangled Arts, my docent read the overview of the exhibit, and one of the categories of ritual the exhibit examined was:

  • Rituals of managing the normate’s perception of difference

Those aren't the words I would have used to describe my long-term practice of taking selfies. But that's what it is. There is first: the ritual of taking up space ––in the physical and digital worlds. Then, the ritual of framing how my presence is interpreted ––the ritual of writing–– which I experience as movement.

Now, there is the ritual of leaving my bed to sit in my wheelchair at my new desk, next to my peace lily who's wide and deep green leaves curl out across half the desk's surface. I set up a small humidifier to spout water vapour at it's undersides.

The website for #CripRitual explains the exhibit and says, "By invoking the word “ritual,” we are referring to crip cultural traditions that center disability as valuable." It also explains that, "Classically, anthropologists define rituals as prescribed action that bring people together to recognize a change in social status through references to shared cultural symbols and an appeal to a higher power (the higher power in this sociological definition may be spiritual, performative, political, or administrative)."

During the ritual of taking selfies and videos, a practice I have always found meditative and soothing, hours can pass with me in my environment, performatively existing and changing social status. A wheelchair is a shared cultural symbol, and I appeal to a higher power that it be known for its sex appeal. A performative higher power is the right kind of higher power for a sexicon.

At the end of my tour, I asked my docent to stand in the center of the space and scan my ipad-self around so I could see each piece in context of the other pieces and the space. Gently, careful to not make me motion sick. I was not in the gallery ––but I was. As a kind of symbolism of being present, Margeaux Feldman's piece titled Soft Magic was a space I recognized. I told my docent, "This display looks like my bedroom." I gestured to the room behind me. A 3-card tarot spread on display was from a deck that I own, the crystals and ceramics on a small altar matched the crystals and ceramics sitting next to me on my desk, the colours and imagery in Feldman's affirmation collages were reflections of my bedroom aesthetic. Though I would not call my magic soft. I wrote my impression of the exhibit at the desk a friend made for me, the raw edge of the wood scratching pleasantly at my soft forearms.

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