27 Sep 2019 — 16 Nov 2019

FREE EVENT

GALLERY HOURS:
Tues-Sat 10am-5pm

VENUE: UNSW GALLERIES

Step into the world of Debra, an artist and disability activist with dwarfism.

The Big Anxiety Commission – World Premiere.

About

As an artist, psychologist and academic, Debra’s work focusses upon the personal/social impacts of disability. She uses 2D and 3D art methods to represent the manifestation of dignity in the disability aesthetic. Debra has exhibited in group and solo exhibitions and her work is held in a number of private collections. Debra lectures at Western Sydney University in Humanitarian and Development Studies, her first PhD was in Psychology on the subject of Dehumanization. Debra is currently studying for her second PhD in Visual Arts at Art & Design UNSW, her research focuses upon developing a Critical Disability Aesthetic through the representation of the female dwarf.

 

For The Big Anxiety, Debra presents two new works: Being Debra & #belittled

Artist Biography

Debra Keenahan

As an artist, psychologist and academic, Debra’s work focusses upon the personal/social impacts of disability. She uses 2D and 3D art methods to represent the manifestation of dignity in the disability aesthetic. Debra has exhibited in group and solo exhibitions and her work is held in a number of private collections. Debra lectures at Western Sydney University in Humanitarian and Development Studies, her first PhD was in Psychology on the subject of Dehumanization. Debra is currently studying for her second PhD in Visual Arts at Art & Design UNSW, her research focuses upon developing a Critical Disability Aesthetic through the representation of the female dwarf.

Volker Kuchelmeister

Volker Kuchelmeister is lead immersive designer and research fellow at the UNSW felt Experience and Empathy Lab (fEEL). He is an expert in presence, embodiment and place representation for immersive applications and has worked extensively in cinematography, interactive narrative, experimental imaging, spatial mapping, interactive systems, immersive visualisation and in the performing arts, exploring and exploding the boundaries of the cinematic image. His work at fEEL includes collaborations with Debra Keenhan (on the embodied experience of disability) and Uti Kulintjaku (NPY Women’s Council), as well as the Confabulations project for The Big Anxiety. For the 2017 Big Anxiety festival he was lead immersive designer on Parragirls Past, Present. He has established and directed leading media-art research labs (ZKM Centre for Art and Media Karlsruhe Germany – Multimedia Studio; UNSW iCinema Centre Media Lab and the UNSW National Institute for Experimental Art – and his interactive installations and experimental video projects are exhibited in museums, galleries and festivals around the world.

Being Debra

Being Debra, 2019
Virtual Reality on headset
Duration, 12 mins

Employing Virtual Reality (VR), Being Debra offers the audience a taste of the embodied experience of being a dwarf in contemporary Australian society (with all its challenges, ugliness and triumphs). Shot from a first-person perspective with a 180 degree camera, the project was initiated by artist Debra Keenahan who lives with achondroplasia dwarfism. The VR experience includes flashbacks to Debra’s memories of school, dating, and engaging with authority figures, including doctors, as well as her routine daily encounters in a park.

Over 70 years ago psychologist Alfred Adler described empathy as “seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another”. This project explores how technology can help promote empathy by affording the viewer an embodied experience of disability and its public reception. But Keenahan’s research also takes a critical view. The notion of VR as the ultimate Empathy Machine, as proclaimed by Chris Milk in 2015, remains contentious. As Wendy Chun suggests, “If you walk in someone else’s shoes, then you’ve taken their shoes”. Is the empathy machine a mechanism of cultural appropriation or is it the means to respectful mutual understanding? VR of course cannot enable us to “be” Debra — but in this work Keenhan reveals in a powerful way what it is like to be the object of looks, glances, abuse and stigma each time she walks in public. By experiencing each of these events through VR, all of which have happened, and many of them much more than once, you will come to an understanding of what it is like to be Debra. That is, how those who are a different kind of different can be treated in this society which ironically places great value on individuality.

Credits

Artistic Director: Debra Keenahan
Art Director and Production Design: Volker Kuchelmeister
Screenplay: Debra Keenahan, Katrina Douglas, Sarah Keenahan
Director and Casting Director: Katrina Douglas
Producer and script consultant: Jill Bennett
Audio Recording, Sound Engineer, Production Assistant: Louis Pratt
Sound Track: Damien Everett

A fEEL production for The Big Anxiety

‘Being Debra’ has been created with the support of funding from: The Australia Council for the Arts; Western Sydney University.

#Belittled

#Belittled 2019
Digital video
Duration, 18 mins

Dwarfism is a readily recognisable physical difference. Throughout history dwarves have experienced the full spectrum from social reverence and assimilation to tokenism, isolation and exclusion. Despite some high-profile exceptions, dwarfism remains, in the words of Peter Dinklage – “one of the last bastions of acceptable prejudice”. Such derision manifests in negative treatment with the majority of dwarf people having experienced violence in their lifetime directly related to their dwarfism. Using social media, this work examines day-to-day interactions that challenge the esteem of dwarf people, their strategies for stigma management and self-affirmations.

Social media, while an effective avenue for communication and developing on-line communities for support and social activism, also presents as an avenue for anonymous abuse. In the video Debra, a woman with dwarfism, reads Tweets by others with dwarfism as well as their internet trolls. Tweets reporting belittling behaviour are interspersed with accounts of stigma management and self-affirmations.

Credits
Artistic Director: Debra Keenahan
Screenplay: Debra Keenahan
Video and Audio Recording and Editing: Louis Pratt