Posted by Nicole J. Caruth on November 16, 2012
In 2011, Beatriz da Costa underwent brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Her video triptych Dying for the Other gives us glimpses into her life in the three months following the procedure. The artist is shown at different times moving about with the support of a walker, exercising her motor skills, stretching her limbs, sorting her daily medications, and chopping kale. The moment when da Costa is asked to spell words like truck and picture is telling: she’s unsuccessful and seems completely unaware. Footage from a New York City lab for breast cancer research is juxtaposed with these difficult moments in da Costa’s life. Bald female mice aged four to six-weeks old are being weighed, prodded, injected and dissected. Rarely do I feel sorry for the city’s vermin but this is awful to watch. It’s hard to distinguish the live mice from the dead ones. You have to wonder if there’s not a better way. Then again, does it matter if it saves human lives? In the years since her surgery, da Costa has explored this question about the price of sustaining life. Her projects in the series The Cost of Life have taken a variety of forms, from this video triptych to a demonstration garden and most recently a cooking class.
Dying for the Other is on view at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons, where it is included in the exhibition Art, Environment, Action! The theme of the environment has become a fall tradition at the Center. They’ve paid particularly close attention to the role of art and design in food systems, urban agriculture, and climate change. With this show, curator Radhika Subramanian wanted to present an exhibition that went beyond art that’s explicitly about nature. She says of da Costa’s video, “It’s not just about illness of the planet but asks what is the relationship of our body to the world outside?” Oftentimes when people talk about the environment it sounds abstract, like something we exist at the side of, instead the force on which our lives depend—and to which art almost always, in some way, responds. Da Costa’s work brings the conversation, says Subramanian, “back to the body.”