Female. Mid-thirties. Short, dark hair. Average build. Large nose. Thin legs. Pierced lip. Right arm amputated at the elbow. Male. Dark eyes. Late fifties. Spindly frame. Short, quick steps. Wears Orthodox Jewish garb. Female, forties…This soundtrack, which is a spewing of societal labels by an automated voice, plays on repeat as a room full of men and women face right, and then left, front, and back. Heidi Latsky and her associates, Tiffany Geigel and Jerron Herman, watch silently as they follow her instructions to slowly move into a sculpture pose. The woman directly in front of me extends her right arm at a striking angle upwards, as she bends her legs at the knees and crosses them over each other—she looks just like discobolus, the ancient sculpture of Myron throwing a discus (British Museum, c. 460 BCE). A seven foot tall man spreads his legs and reaches toward the sky, spraying his fingers. “Slower,” Heidi says, “when this works is when I can barely even see you moving.” The sight is striking: a room of thirty people tensed in absurd positions, the silence is dense. She silently gestures to her company and then they begin to move through the throng of frozen people. Jerron and Tiffany inspect the dancers’ unmoving frames, coming, at times, to less than three inches away from them at eye level. Their stares are deliberately strong and unyielding—testing the artists’ ability to remain fearless under a scorching gaze. Can they hold the pose while “on display”?
Since 2001, Heidi Latsky has explored what it means to be a visibly disabled person performing in artwork as visually dependent as dance, producing works with names like GIMP, BOUND, and DISJOINTED. When a museum curator approached her with a confession: that he finds sculptures with missing limbs aesthetically pleasing and beautiful, but is repulsed by people with the same deformities, Heidi began to wonder how voyeurs might react to living sculptures with visible deformities. Like the Venus DeMilo or the Winged Victory of Samothrace (The Louvre, to name a few) many of Heidi’s dancers do not have four limbs or are visibly disabled and constantly offer themselves up to be visually examined by just doing what they love, and subsequently risk subjection to judgement or pigeonholing.
Lined up for inspection, the dancers stand unperturbed in striking poses—they radiate the same sense of tranquility and timeless beauty of the statue gardens of the Italian Renaissance, despite the spew of an automated voice’s crude words and the hot gaze of the dance company—still as stone, the only movement being the silent roll of tears down some performers’ cheeks.
When the audition finishes, Heidi asks if anyone has questions, and every hand in the room rises.
Movement installments like these are what Heidi calls the “sculpture court” and they have been cropping up all over New York—Latsky “holds court” on the High Line, in Times Square, on Broadway, in China Town, as well as Lincoln Center, and of course, NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. This interactive theatre experience is in honor of the 25th Anniversary of The Americans with Disabilities Act.
What does it mean to offer oneself up for inspection? Is it a humbling act or one that exudes self-confidence? What is the strength in vulnerability, and does offering ourselves up to be labeled it imply ascension from labeling?
New York University’s B.A. Comparative Literature Class of ’17