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
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
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
"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.
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
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,
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.
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