A field guide emerging from the long-term curatorial project “Sick Time, Sleepy Time, Crip Time: Against Capitalism’s Temporal Bullying” (2017-20). This peripatetic group exhibition was part of a wave of programs that brought discourses on health, disability, and accessibility into the contemporary art mainstream.
Artists within engaged time, rest, healing, disabled life, and care as artistic material and concern. At the project’s core was the pairing of artists with community groups sustaining alternative infrastructures of care with people with chronic illnesses, young single mothers, women transitioning out of the carceral system, refugees and asylum seekers, and activists experiencing burn-out.
A new book, accessible website, and public programs series share a map drawn by involved artists, curators, and on-the-ground cultural and community organizers towards possible emancipatory futures centered on racial justice, healing justice, reparative justice, disability justice, and climate justice. A space for reflection on the project and field guide of approaches, the book includes a series of “tools” or poetic and adaptable regulatory guides towards better care for various parties involved in creative projects, which are contextualized by “case studies” detailing use.
Background context / History of the project
“Sick Time, Sleepy Time, Crip Time: Against Capitalism’s Temporal Bullying” was a peripatetic series of exhibitions, public programs, and community projects curated by Taraneh Fazeli addressing the politics of health and care. Note: “crip” is a political reclaiming by disability activists of the derogatory label “cripple.”
Between 2017–2020, arts organizations across the United States hosted iterations of the project. These were: Red Bull Arts Detroit (Detroit, Michigan), Bemis Center for the Contemporary Arts (Omaha, Nebraska), The Luminary (St. Louis, Missouri), Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Project Space (New York City), Lawndale Art Center and Project Row Houses (Houston, Texas).
Core to the project was the pairing of artists with social service organizations and community groups who were creating or sustaining alternative infrastructures of care in each of those cities. These included: people with chronic illnesses via Canaries support group (multiple locations); groups of young single mothers at Project Row Houses (Houston); women recently involved in the carceral system at Angela House (Houston); refugees and asylum seekers via Lutheran Family Services (Omaha); and activists experiencing burn-out through 4A Project (St. Louis); and local disability communities via Detroit Disability Power (Detroit). The resulting programs and community projects reflected on relief, resistance, maintenance, and the potential for healing and repair. They also addressed the many contradictions with seeking support and waging critique in white-led organizations under capitalism.
Artists involved were Navild Acosta and Fannie Sosa, Ava Ansari + Poetic Societies, Fia Backström, Berlin Feminist Healthcare Research Group, Canaries, Jesse Cohen, Danilo Correale, Wayne Curtis, Carolyn Lazard, Jen Liu, Jordan Lord, Zavé Martohardjono, Park McArthur, Sondra Perry, Carrie Schneider, Owólabi Aboyade (Will See), Katya Tepper, Cassie Thornton, and Constantina Zavitsanos.
In different ways, the methods and outcomes of many of the artists in the project centered ethics of care rooted in disability justice and racial justice. The curatorial proposition valued interdependencies and dependencies as the basis of ethical relations, countered the over-valorization of independence in US society, and examined how globalized racial capitalism has produced debility in many populations while creating bureaucratic infrastructures that support very few. The project proposed that better incorporation of the states and temporalities of debility, disability, healing, and rest into society could be resistive to oppression and provide possibilities for rethinking collectivity. Individual artworks addressed infrastructure, care, ancestral healing, illness, fitness, sleep, somatic sustainability, debt, dependency, crip or de-colonial temporalities, and wellness culture. Taraneh’s own chronic illnesses, which are inextricable from the effects of American imperialism and other racialized oppressions on her family, and her previous work in institutional critique were the impetus to explore illness as a by-product of societal structures while also using curation and cultural production as a potential place to re-imagine care. Taraneh practiced a complex care ethics in the way she curated and commissioned the exhibitions and projects. For example, access needs of artists and communities were foregrounded, commissioning timelines were longer than normal, fee structures were transparent, and each hosting institution was called upon to make longer term changes regarding accessibility, anti-oppression, and decolonizing practices.
Current context / Project as book and website
Sick Time, Sleepy Time, Crip Time: Against Capitalism’s Temporal Bullying — a field guide will gather the richness and depth of the long-term curatorial project into a different temporal relation with audiences – that of publication. It will be co-edited by the exhibition’s curator, Taraneh, and artist and editor, Katherine MacBride. Project documentation, reflective essays, different types of creative and practical care tools, and conversations around applying tools in institutional spaces and community organizing will be gathered together in a printed book and, funding pending, an accessibly-designed website.
The publications serve as a space for reflection on the project and as a field guide of approaches drawn by artists, curators, and on-the-ground cultural and community organizers towards possible emancipatory futures centered on racial, healing, reparative, disability, and climate justice.
The project considered disability, race, and access together in ways prescient to the conversations that emerged out of the synchronous COVID-19 pandemic and uprisings against anti-Black racism in the US and beyond. The publications will address in depth the overlaps and tensions between these different sites of struggle and will significantly contribute to emergent discourse in this area; discourse that preceded the pandemic and will continue after it. They come at a key moment in global thinking on health and its relation to racism and climate breakdown, amidst a reckoning with institutions of all kinds on their roots in carceral, colonial, racist, and patriarchal systems. It demonstrates firmly the importance of the arts as a site where ideas, practices, and tools for the complex challenges of the present are being developed.
The project is highly interdisciplinary and intersectional. In addition to drawing on US healing and disabilty justice frameworks, queer/post-colonial theorist Jasbir Puar’s articulation of how certain racialized populations are pre-ordained for injury and targeted maiming, while disability identity is simultaneously seen as a site of creative embodiment and resistance in the Global North is an important reference that connects the local focus of the project to transnational concerns.
A unique contribution that these publications will make is to address the limits of universal ideas of open access. Instead they offer practices rooted in the depth and complexity of doing access with multiple different sets of lived experiences at the center that may not necessarily engage in dominant Western accessibility discourses. They weight accessibility practices that are rooted in partiality, mutability, and identity-based separatism.
Interdisciplinary in nature, rooted in creative community work, and speaking to and bridging different communities of knowledge and practice, they will think through the importance of non-universal processes for addressing different oppressions and needs, and also the necessity of practices of solidarity between different groups and their processes of care, mutual support, and access.
As with the rest of the project to date, the intended readership of these publications extends beyond contemporary art audiences. It connects praxis-based knowledge rooted in the arts with that rooted in grassroots organizing. These publications will be of interest and use to arts workers who want to learn about accessibility, artists who have to advocate for their own access needs and those of their communities when working with institutions, and anyone who is interested in the affinities and tensions between struggles for disability justice and healing racialized trauma.
The printed and digital forms of the publication will center accessibility in the design process. The choice to work in both print and digital recognizes the immense problems of energy use and digital exclusion in online-only projects, but also the complexity of economic access to printed matter.
Commissioning is underway in stages depending on confirmed funding. Table of contents and working list of contributors to come here after more confirmations.