Lydia Dresser

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Artist Statement

I make work exploring the connection between crisis and a state of chronic illness. Or more specifically, I examine how illness is a state of the body describing its conditions, and perhaps when a body’s ‘health’ is revolting it is pointing to larger structural and systemic issues.

As a queer person who has lived with chronic disease and pain for a large portion of their life, I am interested in overcoming narratives of “wholeness” especially in relation to ill, sick and disabled people, and how these narratives rely on a conception of functioning ‘correctly’ in systems of capitalism, bureaucratic health-care and gender.

These ideas of “wholeness” I physically explore through a series of ceramic sculptures which consider the broken and fragmented subject/object. I make common everyday objects (traffic cones, eggs, baseballs etc) with ceramic and situate them to have a conversation about how an object is presented inside a system. Specifically in the piece Traffic Cones, I question the rigidity of subtle systems and signs of power that literally direct movement through the world by using bisqued terra cotta to physically manifest their fragility. While on display some objects were broken from environmental incidents. I am also interested in clay for its materiality, it is affected by every push and pull, it holds memory; once fired that memory is solidified and can be seen. Notions and subversions of wholeness and memory of a previous body/form are often woven through the narratives and text of my film and performance, however my sculptural work is an opportunity for a literal translation of brokenness, breaking, and un-wholeness. This way of working with sculpture is a means to question both false narratives of wholeness that exist outside of bodies as well as within and create new narratives about how the value and function of an object is determined.

I rewrite my own trauma and experience with medical and pharmaceutical systems. I have taken solace in sci-fi and speculative fiction through authors that address various societal concerns  because they make space to think possibility and world building presently.[1] I use these genres in forming narratives because it allows me space to fictionalize current conditions, and to envision alternatives in which sick, ill and disabled bodies are prioritized, as well as ways that the body can be radically reimagined. In my film “Dancing Not Drowning”, I attempt to radically re-diagram the limits of a body by how the main character H navigates the world with a hyperbolic negation of their body. They are portrayed through the film as only a pair of wooden hands. Their body was taken away by the state as a form of punishment, and now living without a majority of their body is both a daily labor and act of resistance.

Through my work I examine multiple forms of resistance. One form I analyze is a resistance to the normalization of health, and questioning whose body this conception of health is based on[2]. In my sound project LYDIA AD, I use my own lyrics and computer generated soundscapes to build an imagined virus apocalypse taking place in a city. I focus on a singular contagious sick subject, an alter ego of myself, who is framed as the antihero. Through this character I explore the virused individual as a feared figure in society, their position as a threat to ‘non-virused’ bodies, and the diseased mob that can be seen through an anti-capitalist lens as a collective body resisting norms.[3]

Illness is and has been a pathologized locus and tool of discipline towards minorities and groups of oppressed people, and as a way to gender, racialize, sexualize and feminize bodies without their consent[4]. The Socialist Patients Collective[5] had the slogan of, “Turn your illness into a weapon”. I create narratives in which characters weaponize their sick bodies as well as become transgressive catalysts within their climates of crisis. In my performance piece, i was cast from the body of a dead girl found in the dumpster, I play two characters who are clones of one another. The characters weaponize themselves by denying the strict medical restrictions around their bodies and perform quiet acts of transgression. In the performance I am reading a script and continually changing clothes to signify shifting subject hoods and plot shifts. This work is largely influenced by my own frustrating experiences with illness and medical system, such as situations of being denied coverage of drugs to toxic doctor patient relationships, as well as research I am doing around the medical and pharmaceutical systems. This work is in the process of becoming a film.

Rewriting these narratives and making art is an act of healing for myself and a means of psychic resistance

[1] See: Octavia Butler, Ursula K Le Guin, Samuel Delany, Margaret Atwood, Renee Gladman, Mary Shelley

[2] the white body, the heterosexual body, the male body, the thin body, the reproductive body, the young body etc

[3] For example Reagan-era propaganda of framing AIDS as a sexually transmitted zombie-like virus.

[4]Presently, inter-sex children are operated on without consent. Transgender people still have to be diagnosed formally as having GID (gender identity disorder), and many crucial surgeries are not covered by insurance. The institutionalized racism within the medical system plays out in many ways but one huge way is access. Areas that are heavily populated by minorities tend to be extremely medically underserved.

[5] Founded in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1970. Declared terrorist group by German government.

[6] In March 2010 three people broke into a Eli Lilly and Co. warehouse and stole 80 million dollars worth of pharmaceuticals. A distribution network was set up according to need. Patients who could not afford chemotherapy or antidepressants were given priority. The underground drug liberation was so successful more warehouses were increasingly broken into until a national emergency was declared. Drug companies were going bankrupt and private hospitals were losing patients. The three people that broke into the warehouse to begin with were all suffers of chronic illness who could not afford their prescription.

 

 

CV

Education

2014 B.F.A., Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Arts

Exhibits

2015 The Dog Show, 247 Center Street NYC, group show

2015 “​Four Young Lady Poets”, Kim-Klark Gallery, Brooklyn, reading and performance with Emily Toder, Ana Božičević, and Ashley D’Arcy

2015 Body Party: A Night of Queer Performance Art, Peter Cooper Suite, Cooper Union

2015 Oblivia’s Birthday Party, 266 W. 25th St Gallery NYC, collaboration with Moriah Askenaizer

2015 Opentoe Peepshow #23, ft: Essence Revealed, Boy Doña, Lydia Dresser, & Ceci Pineda, Branded Saloon BK

2014 2 Much Too Soon, 41 Cooper Square NYC, collaboration with Emmanuela Soria Ruiz

2014 Locker Show, Cooper Union, a group show

2014 Art Talk: Alex Velozo, Lydia Dresser, Moriah Askenaizer, Lecture Series at Standard Toykraft Theater

2014 No Questions, Lecture Series at Cooper Union

2013 Boo Yah Baba Yaga, Cooper Union Foundation Building Lobby, collaboration with Moriah Askenaizer

2012 In the Land of Milk and Honey, Indy Artist Space, Indianapolis IN

Prizes

2015 Michael A. Vivo Prize in Drawing from the Cooper Union School of Art

Residencies

2013 Artist in Residence at the Owl Barn Residency, Calmsden, England

Publications

2015 Dancing Not Drowning, Self-Published in conjunction with film

2013 Zodiac Pizza, Self-Published

2013 Boo Yah Baba Yaga, Self-Published in conjunction with show