Performance art from beginning of the 90ies to the present day is focused on the issues of transsexual, homosexual and cyber-bodies, biotechnological bodies, sick and disabled bodies. Presenting such identities contributes to breach of a concept of constructed Real — it is a strategy of destroying the normatives. Disabled bodies appear as one of the norm options. They show how social production of bodies can succumb to biological givens and therefore to discrimina-tion.
Polarization between normal/abnormal is biologically/ anato-mically structured and evolves from normalization of body as done by Michel Foucault. Bodies are submitted to surveillance and norma-lization through science, medicine and institutions like prisons and hospitals, which results in self-supervision ensuring normality. In this manner, production of normal bodies succumbs to constant reinterpretation. Invalid body, body with special needs, is interpreted as different in relation to the norm. It is understood as abnormal, traumatic, alien and stigmatized. Such a body used to be either un-acceptable or acceptable only under special circumstances (court jesters, circuses, freak-shows...) Social position of such bodies is in-scribed in the language. The latin word invalidus means incapable. The 20th century developed a greater socio-cultural sensitivity towards diversity.
Disabled bodies are comprehended as dependant, as those in need of special attention, of movement in different time, at diffe-rent pace. Their aesthetics yields to a different kind of beauty cannon. One of the well-known 80ies works by Irish performer Marry Duffy called Cutting the Ties that Bind deals with this issue. Marry Duffy is one of the victims of thalidomide — a medicine that was produced in 1953 in West Germany by Chemie Grünenthal. It was marketed from 1957 to 1961 when it got withdrawn. Thalidomide was used for insomnia and morning sickness in pregnant women, causing deformation of foetal limbs. The best known anomalies of the extremities caused by this “medicine” include amelia (lack of one or more limbs) and phocomelia (from the Greek — seal limbs; denoting extremely short hands or legs). Also, many children were born blind, deaf, with defects of heart, kidneys, genitals and ner-vous system, digestive tract or have died quickly after birth.
Mary Duffy was born without hands. Antique statues we come across today are actually handicapped — they lack hands, legs or even head. However, while these sculptures provoke admiration and embody aesthetic beauty criteria, real bodies with no limbs provoke horror — they are considered insufficient and un-beautiful, hence traumatic. “The presence of the disabled person is problematic in many social situations: he/she threatens a shift in status quo, a momentary visibility of one’s own body or self as potentially different, as one is faced by that which is disruptive”, claims Petra Kuppers in her book “Disability and Contemporary Performance”.
The appearance of the British artist Mat Fraser, who belongs to the live art scene, is also consequence of thalidomide. Fraser has phoco-melia, which has defined a part of his art practice which includes acting, writing, music and performance, all connected to decon-structing the general understanding of disabled individuals. Fraser’s different, extravagant body has became a source of his creativity which can be faced only by the bravest. It is a place of establishing the identity which for “others” proves to be traumatic, but still efficient. Same as Mary Duffy, he has transformed his own dissimi-larity into an advantage.
At his Zagreb appearance, Fraser will present his work called Tali-domida Vale Tudo. This performance begun as a research project in Brazil where pregnant women have been taking thalidomide although it was long banned at the West, so there is a new gene-ration of thalidomiders. The work is “a culmination of and reaction to my research into the lives of thalidomide affected people in Brazil, taking on the physical and cultural barriers of poverty, Body Beautiful, ability, abuse, the Societal expectations VS the real experiences etc... using the cultural language of the Vale Tudo (in Brazilian Portuguese it means ‘Everything Goes’) fight as my visual performance language to personally comment on the oppression of Our People.”, says the artist.