The Film at youtube


distributed by LUX

The Script:

Denial shows a straight shot of Whitehurst continually coming towards and receding from the camera in a powered chair. She doesn't speak on screen but we hear a voice (her voice?) asking a series of questions but there is no reply.

Ann Whitehurst Script for Denial.

You’ve endured continual pain for most of your life. Everything you do is accompanied by pain. You write, it’s “eat pain, sleep pain, sex pain, talk pain, ignore pain.” and “There is no separation between self and pain.” What does this mean to you? What does it feel like; it must have affected you as you grew up; affected your relationships?

It’s said that hospital regimes when you were a child were like concentration camps. I’d like to know more of what happened to you; for instance would you say something about the incidents with the cockroaches in your hair and in your bed? Do you blame any of your experiences for later psychological breakdowns? I know you were deeply affected when you, a seven year old, held the little girl who was dying; blood haemorrhaging from her mouth, not a nurse in sight. What was that like? How did you feel? Does that time make you angry or did you gain anything from it?

You think television exploits people when is shows them in hospital, particularly children. You’d like to see royalty and politicians televised when they undergo medical procedures. Do you think your opinions, which are contrary to the popular view, reveal you as a bitter person?

"Self-inflicted pain is chosen and therefore is about control and power, not a relationship with pain at all; often a self-indulgence for those with the luxury of choice and time." you’ve written. Is its value still questionable, even when it’s a political or philosophical statement?

You’ve said endurance should be reckoned in years, even decades, else it’s touched with superficiality. How do you justify this particularly when considering hostage situations, which tend to be short term? I can understand something of your thoughts with regard to people trekking over continents or scaling mountains but perhaps the lifetime endurance you mean or the incarceration in institutions, is just beyond most people’s comprehension.

You say, "An artist needs a certain degree of power and choice to experiment; to be able to ignore certain things." I think you wrote,"To indulge in experimentation, angst and the profound, would be your desert island luxury." Why can’t you do that now? Are you angry, or envious of those who can?

I wanted to ask about a cure: surely you’d like to be cured? Yes, I know the poster campaign you did said, "A simple cure would be legislation; a simple cure is clean running water and returning health stolen to make our countries wealthy." but seriously, you could do so much with your life couldn’t you then?

When you wrote to a radio programme wanting members of the royal family to come and be your assistants for a while to learn from you; what would you have taught them?

Whenever you write or speak about charity you always identify it with pornography. How can you think that? You’ve written, "They both exploit by creating false images, which they use to further exploit." but surely, charity’s well intentioned? What would we do without it?

Why do you think it a disadvantage for people Not to be Disabled; and how can you claim something so outlandish as to say, "It’s disastrous for the future of the world that leaders tend to be non-disabled?"

"Instead of healing Disabled people, Jesus Christ should have been Disabled; that to have a full understanding of life he should, in fact, have been a Disabled woman." you say, and you add, that "The experience of pain is for a lifetime not a few days." Besides being completely irreligious, why do you think the experiences of Disabled people are so important?

You’ve invented a character, Dr Crazitis Cripplus, to tour the UK curing and I quote, “gruesome environments and grotesque attitudes.” Why is she called that and how have you been received?

I know you appear to be joking but you’ve written more than once, "It’d cause less suffering and cost less to the world if male fetuses, rather than disabled ones, were aborted." You’ve also written, "That if a couple decide to abort on the grounds of disability they should be, and I quote, “Banned from teaching; doctoring; social workering; nursing; researching; or in any way making a living from us when our lives weren’t thought worth sustaining.” What do you really think, though, about abortion when the baby is disabled? Do you believe in the right to choose? you seem to but then many of your statements are equivocal.

You say, "One of the greatest gaps separating disabled people from those not so is the distance of experience that a disabled person has travelled." I think you wrote somewhere, "A disabled child has knowledge that a non-disabled person couldn’t acquire in a lifetime." So you really think there’s no way to catch up as it were? How can we relate then, especially if you won’t say what it’s like?

I’ve got to go now; it’s been... well, it’s been a real pain your not answering. Anyway, I’ll leave a copy of the questions in case you change your mind; perhaps you’d prefer to write your response? It’d be extremely useful for the my thesis if you would.

Info and quotes

Your library should be able to order a copy of Denial; hopefully they'll have one already as it's still quite rare to have the feminist, working class, disabled artist perspective


It's been shown in Europe, US, Japan. I'm not informed of all places, nor had any control of the way it's shown or used. Even when disabled women make work, it doesn't mean we're not assumed to be the counterpart to Kafka's talking ape but hopefully, to those who watch, it will speak for itself.

'See bodies - but what are you looking at?' by Nancy Proctor, about Skint and No Pain, No Gain, in Make

"... By far the most important intervention in popularly received notions of 'the body' came from video artist Ann Whitehurst in her 6 minute piece Denial, made in association with Mike Stubbs. Ann Whitehurst's piece premiered in a 70 minute programme of classic and contemporary video shorts entitled No Pain, No Gain, curated and produced by Film and Video Umbrella and Hull Time Based Arts. An inspired collection, No Pain, No Gain, sets Whitehurst's challenge to the myths and premises of much1970's video-based performance art against the very icons of 'the body under duress' such as Vito Acconci, Marina Abramovic, and Chris Burden. In accordance with modernist conceptions of the artist as a Romantic sufferer, Acconci's and Burden's performance showcase the performance artist as an heroic survivor of self-induced conditions of bodily pain and stress. Abramovic exposes the gendering of the artist-hero in her 1971 Art Must Be Beautiful, and Whitehurst brings the debate into the '90s, revealing that these works, ostensibly about pain, are actually about control and hence power - "ultimately a luxury". If you want to say something about pain she argues, you must live with it for years or even decades, not just the few minutes or hours of an highly staged and controlled performance piece. There is nothing new, and certainly little radical, about narratives of the masculine adventurer overcoming self-induced danger in a Homeric journey to discover and establish his masculine identity..."

ROOT 96 catalogue
Denial 1996 (Part of No Pain No Gain performance video)

The video more than hints at a different experience of both ‘the body’ and ‘pain’. By this, it also provides a critique of accepted concepts, which posit quite a narrow yet dominant body experience for everyone. The video seeks to open up such exclusive ideas, as well as implying that the metaphors they have and continue to produce in the Western Art tradition are sparse and restrictive too; suggesting that an awareness of different experiences might actually enable a far more complex, subtle and constantly changing exploration by everyone, even those whose dominant body view has yet to be challenged.

Ann Whitehurst has used various media - from sewn sculpture, drawing and installation, to digital imaging and telecommunications. Commissioned installations include IDA Agency, a fax communication installation for HTBA/Ferens Gallery, which toured and On the Map Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool & NW Disability Art Forum. She’s been a telepresent performer at the ICA, London and Kannon Hallen, Copenhagen.
For Serious Games, an international exhibition at the Laing and the Barbican, she created NetEscape combining, hangings, floor trails and interactive Internet site. She was awarded an Arts Foundation Fellowship and is on ACE’s Combined Arts Panel."

If you quote or use any of my work, in your writings, seminars, etceteras, remember to credit me and please email me if you do; I'd be interested to know.

Return to Red

Ann Whitehurst

Bodies of Difference
A Different Body Inhabits
A Different Universe