A Bone To Pick

My BAPs colleague recently interviewed artist Jaybo Monk, askng what things in life last the shortest and longest. Monk’s answer, “The shortest would be our life, and the longest our fear to accept it,” has stayed with me. In fact, this insight immediately came to mind when viewing “Dignity,” Barbara Hammer’s latest show at KOW.

Dealing with the C word

Although Hammer is most famous for her experimental films dealing with women’s issues, the show focuses on another concerns of Hammer’s that started to develop in her work around the mid eighties––illness, ageing and death. The first videos I watch as part of the piece “8 in 8” criticize the media’s coverage of breast cancer and document eight interviews with different patients by the artist.

Barbara Hammer KOWJohana Karlsson watching “8 by 8″ in which cancer patients reaccount their ordeals. Photo: C. Phillips

Despite the brave optimism exuded by many of the individuals, the piece is extremely sobering. The issue of media coverage of these more morbid subjects is taken further with the piece “Cancer Bones,” which consists of the transfer of newspaper reports about cancer rates onto a collection of real bones. Headlines such as “Report: Lesbian Cancer Risk Is Steep” and “Should you take oestrogen?” peek out from the disjointed skeleton almost in mocking disbelief, adding a definite macabre tone to the words. 

Showing on the top floor of the exhibition is Hammer’s video, “A Horse Is Not A Metaphor,” which won the Teddy Award (the official queer award at the Berlin International Film Festival) in 2009. Documenting the artist’s own battle with stage three ovarian cancer, this beautiful piece intimately portrays the experience she faces, bravely struggling to embrace and conquer the ordeal. Juxtaposing footage of the artist in a hospital bed, exploring the world anew and spending time with her beloved horses (who ironically also suffer from different forms of cancer) it is truly touching. The images are accompanied by a haunting soundtrack, at times screeching viscerally and at others floating softly as Hammer bathes naked in a lake.

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