Earlier in the development of online community, it was easier to imagine the Internet as a space where we’re sprung from our bodies, able to dissimulate our identities or unlink them from attributes like age and gender. But among the Web’s great innovations is the mass circulation of information on health and disease, whether in the authoritative tones of sites like WebMD or the speculative mode of patients’ forums. An explosion of the possibilities of self-diagnosis means that we can endlessly discover new diseases in ourselves, as if they were powers, and refashion our bodies along the lines of new significances. Googling your pain can, subjectively at least, make you ecstatically sick.
Andrea Crespo’s show, titled “sis: somatic systems,” deployed this process of self-transformation in an assortment of works that read like clinical dispatches from a psychiatric frontier: the romantic trope of the crazy artist remixed as technological prowess. Crespo is sensitive both to the liberatory impulse behind the search to give your diseases (and therefore your body) interpretive form and to how constrained this search is by existing categorizations. A series of prints on view features a two-headed figure—based in cartoon Japanese porn, or hentai, and sourced through images on DeviantArt, a user-made art site—superimposed over psychiatric diagnostic charts and textured fabrics. Celinde and Cynthia, as the two heads are named, are shown arguing with each other, taking a selfie and posing in a masturbatory embrace. The diagnostic material points to a self split far enough apart to read its own symptoms, a self looking for itself. A text accompanying the show reads, “We are co-extensive, irreducible to each other. We are also inseparable.” The layered prints, framed under plexiglass, at once evoke a palimpsest and shrug off this effect: there is no depth to the screen apart from the dimension given to it by desire. Celinde and Cynthia refer only to themselves and to the circulation of longing online. They represent a hermetic sexual expression, another new mode of being alone together.
Parabiosis (2015) was screened in a black-box room on a near-continuous loop stitched together by white noise. Campily hypnotic, the video purports to transform us as we watch, conflating the diagnostic/therapeutic procedures of art and psychiatry. It begins with a high-pitched transmission signal and lines of light, as if the viewer is being scanned. Against a meditative soundtrack, Celinde and Cynthia appear and classificatory lists scroll past. “You are a signal,” the video tells us, but the video itself is also a signal: distinctions have collapsed and disappeared; diagnostic technologies demarcate the sum of all relational possibilities.
Crespo’s video additionally appears on the DIS Magazine website, alongside an essay by Jack Kahn. Kahn refers to “those marginalized by psychiatry,” but the identities of these medical outlaws are also created by psychiatry. They want to fill or expand its categories; they petition to be sick rather than well. Crespo claims, via Kahn, that neurodivergent identities and the communities formed around them multiply the possibilities of being human. But these elective affinities are conditioned by a very specific vision of what humanness is, derived mainly from a psychiatric practice for which a baseline of normality has to remain, if only as a hypothetical unmarked center. However endless the perversions, they all reaffirm the ground against which they are figured. It was this tension, between identity’s affirmation and its dissolution, between the body as material and the body as ideal, that animated this remarkable show.