Cally Spooner “Deadtime, an anatomy study” at Graham Foundation, Chicago — Mousse Magazine and Publishing

“Deadtime, an anatomy study” begins somewhere deep and unfathomable between the kidneys and the hips, in a large muscle attached to the bottom of the thoracic spine, just along the lumbar. This muscle is called the psoas. Unlike surface muscles—a quad, a bicep, pecs—which pop out and publicize their presence, you cannot flex or release the psoas. It is buried deep inside. The psoas is regarded as an “emotional muscle,” as it quietly supports gut feelings, and activates desires to handle and hold basic psychological and social needs. Yet, the psoas is widely understood to be the most abused muscle in the human anatomy. Only when it is weakened or stagnant, is the psoas is easy to locate, via negative symptoms that present themselves elsewhere: stiff hips, reduced circulation in legs, locking in lower back, feelings of sadness, and unwillingness to move.

The doctrine of “performance” creates a society that becomes stratified by how we perform—economically, socially, digitally. We become ripe for consumption, caught in an economy of perpetual readiness. Performance begins in the individual body, leaks into the social body, and then—like a stagnated psoas—creates negative symptoms, elsewhere: measurement, imaged and tracked selves, divisive comparisons, the creation of human currency and capital, self-management, and exploitation. In this climate, ultimately governed by the chrononormative clock that is Western time, basic needs remain unmet and it is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between what is alive and what is dead.

“How can one study the emotional development of society?” asked the pediatrician Donald Winnicott in 1956, adding that simultaneously “[s]uch a study must be closely related to the study of the individual.” At the Graham Foundation, seventeen artworks—including sound, film, sculpture, painting, and installation—that make up Deadtime echo this question over the three floors of the historic building. Throughout the exhibition the independent works overlap and collide, synchronized to a duration of 43 minutes and 59 seconds. Each floor draws out the tension field between the destructiveness of performance, and the possibility of resistance and repair. The works are attached to an inflamed, red psoas muscle, staged as an anatomical, architectural intervention that sweeps through the building’s internal walls and then, ostensibly, recedes. When a psoas is vibrant, it disappears. It vanishes into a dead time, a condition and temporality that presents no symptoms elsewhere, and, in doing so, restitutes life.

at Graham Foundation, Chicago
until May 11, 2024

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