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Singing Altogether Now: Unsettling Images of Disability and Experimental Filmic Practices

Abstract

Conventional representations of disability on television and in documentary films often emphasise ‘pity’ or stage their characters as ‘supercrips’. Only a few productions provide alternative framings of disability. Such films can be conceived as a kind of experimental system through which established knowledge about disability can be unsettled. To demonstrate this, this chapter analyses the Singing Lesson by Artur Żmijewski, a video installation interlacing experimentally deaf singing and religious choirs, and Freakstars 3000 by Christoph Schlingensief, a TV docusoap that modifies conceptions of intellectual disability by mocking television casting and reality formats. Both productions open up a space for media participation that creates ambiguity while refusing to give a simple answer to the question of how to model a concept of ‘inclusive art’ or media.

Keywords

  • Singing Lessons
  • Supercrip
  • Christoph Schlingensief
  • Video Installation
  • Cast Television

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    An overview of Żmijewski’s work can be found at http://culture.pl/en/artist/artur-zmijewski (accessed 29 March 2017). Other projects involved people with intellectual disabilities (Ogród botaniczny, (“Zoo”) 1997), paraplegics (Na spacer (“Out for a walk”) 2001) or a woman with osteoporosis (Karolina, 2002) to tackle the exoticisation and spectacle of disability and death. Such video installations question the representation of the other (Żmijewski and Mytkowska 2005, pp. 168–181; Kley n.d.).

  2. 2.

    There, musicians and pupils worked together in order to rehearse and perform the cantata BMV 147 ‘Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life’ by Johann Sebastian Bach at St. Thomas’ Church in Leipzig (Żmijewski and Mytkowska 2005, pp. 113–123; Felderer 2006, pp. 238–241). ‘Artur Żmijewski: Singing Lesson’ in Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig, http://www.gfzk-leipzig.de/?p=714&lang=en (accessed 29 March 2017).

  3. 3.

    The latter is a vital expression of deaf culture, as opposed to the oralism of mainstream culture. For instance, In the Land of the Deaf (1992) by Nicolas Philibert discusses issues of the deaf minority in France. In the long introduction scene, a concert of a deaf choir is shown. Thereby, the importance of the deaf choir as a unique and distinct form of cultural expression is emphasised (Baker 2006, p. 33).

  4. 4.

    The band’s name connotes a dating idea where the men get the bolts and the women the nuts, and they have to see who they match up with. This is a subplot in the show where some of the contestants begin love affairs.

  5. 5.

    The early films by Wiseman are a good example of documentary practice as institutional critique. See Grant (1992); Snyder/Mitchell (2003).

  6. 6.

    See the comment about Żmijewski’s Singing Lesson at http://culture.pl/en/artist/artur-zmijewski (accessed 29 March 2017).

  7. 7.

    They are present not only in the sense that they gather images and voices for television and film; one also often sees camera men and sound technicians. It is a means of reflexivity that reminds us of the artificial nature of the material and challenges the observational mode of documentary filmmaking that pretends to provide an objective vision of the processes filmed. For the different modes of the documentary film, see Nichols (1991) and Bruzzi (2006).

  8. 8.

    See, for example, the contributions by Katie Ellis and Heath A. Diehl in Mogk (2013).

  9. 9.

    In Germany it was above all show host Dieter Bohlen – former member of the band Modern Talking – who tried to become a distinct ‘Behindertenfreund’ (friend of the disabled) in Supertalent. See various entries about Supertalent and Dieter Bohlen on Rolling Planet, http://rollingplanet.net/category/themenschwerpunkte/behindertenfreund-dieter-bohlen (accessed 29 March 2017).

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Acknowledgements

Warm thanks to Pier Stuker Alvarez and Elena Rosauro at the Galerie Peter Kilchman, Zurich for supporting the research for this chapter and providing access to Singing Lessson 2 by A. Żmijewski. I am also grateful to Julia Schäfer at the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig for providing material about the project A. Żmijewski realised in Leipzig.

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Stock, R. (2017). Singing Altogether Now: Unsettling Images of Disability and Experimental Filmic Practices. In: Brylla, C., Hughes, H. (eds) Documentary and Disability. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-59894-3_15

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