Every now and then I try to imagine what other ‘four-eyed’ people like me might be like, based on their spectacle frames. Although primarily a medical device, eyewear is also an accessory, used as a conscious expression of our identity to a lesser or greater extent. For this reason, but also because they are omnipresent and inconspicuous, nobody pays much heed to eyeglasses. On the flip side, this is not the case with a prosthetic arm or leg. A person who wears them is often first identified by that object, not by their personality. But a prosthetic is another medical device similar to spectacles that helps to enable a disabled part of the body.
A short UK film Material Bodies, directed by Dorothy Allen-Pickard strives to raise our awareness of such discrepancy. In so doing, it makes use of the relationship between the body and architecture and objects of different textures and sizes as a visual support for the verbal aspect of the film, where the protagonists talk about their own relationship – and that of society – with their aids.
The film features Mickaella Dantas, from the Candoco Dance Company of disabled and non-disabled dancers, as both a dancer and an interlocutor. The props playing the main supporting roles are the work of Caitlin McMullan, another co-locutor in the film, a jewellery designer and a below-knee amputee, who explores how the sensory and aesthetic properties of materials offered for prosthetic limbs can affect experiences of them. The film also features Daniel Bermingham, assistant curator of Young People’s Programmes at Tate, whose practice concerns queer, disabled bodies in public spaces, and Kat Hawkins, a journalist and a double amputee, who is also one of Candoco’s members.
Everything is a body really, no matter its physical properties – no matter the matter
In this film people and their prosthetic legs are constantly juxtaposed with the stability and hardness of concrete structures, verticals and horizontals of the surrounding architecture and its sharp outlines, as well as with the softness of sponges, rubber elasticity and a variety of fabrics. The outlines of the human body viewed through a glass prism or multiple layers of fabric reveal some quirky bodily forms. The protagonists touch coarse concrete surfaces, move around sharp edges, and squeeze ethereal fabrics. The film is brimming with almost tangible colours and shapes. Everything is seen through the body, the body as matter that may have different physical properties.
Dorothy Allen-Pickard manages to raise our awareness that a human body is not the only body; everything is a body really, no matter its physical properties – no matter the matter. Furthermore, this body, through its relationship with the environment, constitutes a footprint beyond itself. Why wouldn’t then a prosthetic leg, like the one of Frida Kahlo, become a means of self-expression? Or, in the words of Kat Hawkins from the film: ‘I would love to be able to shift to viewing my prosthetics as an accessory. I want to be able to make them look badass.’ ●