“Kingdom of the Ill” Museion / Bolzano, Jazmina Figueroa, δημοσίευση στο Flash Art [23/2/2023]Marilena Pateraki
Illness is life-adjacent, a consensus we ought to have reached during the pandemic. Regardless, as Susan Sontag argued, illness is ever fixed to antiquated fictional stereotypes associated with those who have fallen ill. With tuberculosis, Sontag elucidates the English literary canon to illustrate a sort of scarlet lens through which we view a romanticized state of deprivation, one grown out of a lack of status and capital — a bohemian woe resulting from one’s insatiable quest to fulfill their desires. Cancer, alternatively, represents another type of lack: a lack of such desire due to the self-inflicted repression brought on by, or rather within, the affluent class.
Sontag herself underwent breast cancer treatment and problematized the metaphors, victimazation and stigma of her own illness. In her 1978 book Illness as Metaphor she wrote about liberating illness from such ideas and, as she stressed, accepting “one’s residence in the kingdom of the ill unprejudiced by the lurid metaphors with which it has been landscaped.” Characterizing the body in binaries as either ill or healthy is a focal point for the current exhibition “
Kingdom of the Ill,” curated by Sara Cluggish and Pavel Pyś at the MUSEION in Bolzano, Italy. To touch on the aesthetic and structural issues within and surrounding realms of chronic illness, healing, activism, and addiction, the curators cross out “kingdom” in their title. This represents their stance against belonging to either a kingdom of the healthy or of the ill. “We resist Sontag’s demarcation,” Cluggish and Pyś write, “instead drawing attention to the ways that wellness has become an impossible goal under advanced capitalism.”
The structural-material politics of illness and the activist movements initiated by those who have been affected by disability injustice underpin this show, especially how art institutions remain complicit in these injustices. Nan Goldin’s autobiographical and diaristic representations of recent struggles with addiction are shown alongside her advocacy in founding P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now). P.A.I.N. is an activist group that stages die-in protests at museums to highlight how institutions have directly benefited from the current opioid epidemic within the US. The targeted institutions accepted philanthropic gifts from the Sackler family, who are widely criticized for profiting off of the sales of OxyContin. Red banners that read “400,000 DEAD” and “SHAME ON SACKLER” hang from the gallery’s ceiling, marking the institutional responsibility of showing solidarity with those who struggle with opioid addiction. Leading up to P.A.I.N.’s protest banners are a series of works by Goldin, dated between 2013 to 2021, that depict her in various emotional states. Shown together with the evidence of her advocacy, the works offer a kind of reconciliation for the artist, and confirm that those who have experiences with addiction or disability injustice are likely to be the most stringent in enacting the needed change, action, and awareness.