Sunday, January 27, 2013



Yesterday, I went to the Constructing James Castle Exhibit. James Castle was a deaf artist (1899-1977) who did most of his work with found materials. (Soot, packaging, paper, matchboxes etc.) most of his work reflects his life as a deaf man in rural Idaho and his experience at the Gooding School for the Deaf. (1910-1915.) Even though in his day he was labeled “uneducable”; if you look at his work, you know that’s not true.

The first pictures I saw were of his house in Idaho, drawn on matchboxes with soot. The attention to detail was so realistic, from texture to depth, to lighting, that I felt as if I had entered a turn of the century house. Things like drawers, and stoves, old grammophones, were drawn on the notches of the matchboxes so they appear to be open. Also, he paid great attention to doors; (either an as idea, or a physical concept.) so that you could really enter the room and take note of the textures. Here was a man who was really inviting you in: and on the top of the back he’s written “Jim”.

Keep in mind this was mostly done on soot. I have trouble even drawing with a pencil! Yet, a few of his later “Dream House” paintings appear to be in watercolor. Perhaps he had a stroke of luck and found some, and the painting shows his happiness. His work was all done with what he found. There are sections of paper dolls with different expressions, held together by string and molded into human figures with often squared heads. It made me think at first of the Lego exhibit, only more expressive, because it was carefully made out of scraps.

His depiction of the school was most affecting to me. He made booklets out of matchboxes and cigarette packages, paper scraps, that show his daily life there. What struck me was that the depictions of the deaf students were often those short expressionless or sad squared figures, while the faculty was drawn tall, straighter, and with more vivid expressions; smiling faces, glasses, school uniforms etc. Was this how the administrators saw the deaf students? It seems so.

The students in the classrooms (again drawn with soot!) always sat in a semicircle, wooden rough chair vividly depicted. The drawing showed a deaf girl struggling to learn. (she did not look happy.) I marveled at how someone could draw a chalkboard and the classroom with such clarity in soot! Also, again, many of the students were faceless blockheaded figures. One could say that this was coincidental, but in another work called “Knucklehead”, there is a man who’s head is represented by a fist in the shape of the word “dumb” (as in “deaf and dumb.") in sign language. Clearly, this was the “uneducable” and “illiterate” artist trying to demonstrate his frustration with able-bodied faculty through his grasp of colloquialisms.

Castle’s grasp of language went beyond signing, and I also saw that his notes included sophisticated linguistic notation which he may well have learned at the school. Perhaps he was not so uneducable as his teachers once thought! I saw for example in his notes he would phonetically sound out words. Such as: “Ie Zi AI SED” (possibly sounding out “I said.) or “P!D”  (Differentiating breaths in “p and d” sounds.)

Other pieces from the school period of his art include booklets made out of cigarette cartons, matchboxes, and different packages, where he would draw in things like the dormitories; a single bed with an enormous window; again, an amazing understanding of light and depth, and again his obsession with doors. In various matchbox pictures, such as a depiction of a country road, I even saw the scribbling of long-division: Was this so he could get the dimensions right, something he had been learning, or both?

That must’ve been because his supplies demanded it, and because he was illustrating his own deaf worldview, and fascination with doors.   Several other happier pictures include depictions of his teachers in kaleidoscopic formations. According to the exhibit, one of his teachers had once shown him kaleidoscopes and he became fascinated. Some of these were even on paper! One of them was lined, which probably means it came from the school. Also, James Castle was enthralled by black and white contrast, owing to his medium, soot; particularly in the school uniforms. One depiction shows a student in uniform raising his hand, with headphones nearby. I recognized this as an old hearing test, and Castle had drawn the student in black and white uniform, behind a black gate. I didn’t know if the students were actually separated for the tests, in those days, or if it reflected his fascination or frustration. Perhaps both.

One of the distinguishing factors in Castle’s work is the ability to make art out of whatever he found, and throw his emotion onto his re-creations. Several of his later works from the 60s reveal a much more colorful selection as he began using magazine covers and cereal boxes, and re-created a Valentine’s Day ad with a toy soldier in it. Probably, he could imagine the vibrations of the toy flute, just as he could feel the vibrations in the comings and goings of open and closed doors. I was vaguely reminded, in his later period, of Andy Warhol, though the resemblances probably stop in that they are reflective of the cultural media of the ‘60s. Castle’s from the Deaf perspective.  Because of the magazine paper, his re-creations and art probably were allowed to be more colorful; and were certainly more in abundance by the 1960s, and color was no problem. Suddenly, an artist who drew in soot was in full color.

Though much of his work in the exhibit was in that school period, the color productions later on were some of my favorite. The others from the school period show a counter-narrative as well as a deaf life world. (I.e. “Knucklehead” and the hearing test; showing he was only “uneducable” because had a different worldview.) Perhaps once his teachers’ agendas were gone he constructed for himself through his art, a Deaf Culture, and was happier. One sees the counter-narrative disappear and become more representative of (as always.) deaf life experiences.

I’m extremely happy that I got to see all these pieces. It is proof that both a Disability Culture and life experience can be recorded by art. Too often, I think as it is represented in media, we must chose one or the other. Yet, here was a man, who had the ingenuity to both create and represent his world, with only his environment as his palette, and hence is probably not widely recognized in mainstream art today. The idea of Deaf Culture was probably not even recognized in Castle’s time, and he made it himself!  There’s no doubt in my mind that he understood that he simply had a different sensory experience. Yet, his linguistic knowledge represents an attempt at understanding the alien speaking world; similar to how I try to understand the walking world through rhetoric and linguistics.

Lastly, if there’s anything that art does, it is to create something beyond oneself, and beyond one’s mortal existence. I felt as if James Castle was keenly aware that his perception was unique. Just as I feel my cerebral palsy is a unique sensory experience. But, to have that awareness of deafness as a social problem rather than a strict medical one, at the turn of the century, is amazing as technology is ultimately the driving force behind increased accessibility and mainstreaming. I can’t speak for James Castle, but think that maybe we can glimpse so of that idea in his obsession with doors. Coming and going: pictures of things like grammophones, or things that he could hear vibrations of, might also have glimpsed the idea that he could adapt to the world.

REMEMBER: Nobody gave him a pencil or paper. He didn’t expect to be famous. He did most his drawings with soot. James Castle found all those things, he adapted the world around him into his art. He made the world see his voice, even if he couldn’t hear. He wasn’t “uneducable”; He wanted people to see. I saw: I was moved by his creativity and brilliance. He constructed his own world. From paper dolls, to scraps of junk molded into soot sketches, James is the Unheard Master of Disability Culture in the 20th century. The exhibit is open until Feb. 24. See it if you can! (PS: Google images couldn’t find “Knucklehead”, although it is a fascinating piece!)

 (Paper doll.)

                                                   (School period matchbox booklets.)

                                                                (Inside of House.)

                                        (Self-portrait, year unknown; source of color unknown.)

(On matchbox, Side of House.)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ohayocon 2013

                                                                       Ohayocon 2013:

   Yesterday, I went to Ohayocon 2013 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center with my best friend Aaron. Ohayocon is a Japanese anime and pop culture convention that lasts from Jan 18-20. But, we didn’t stay a whole day. Nevertheless, it was a chance for me to suit up as Iron Man once again (Recycling my Halloween costume!) and meet new people, and pick up a few souvenirs. I think the best part was just people watching. Costumes from videogames, animes, (Many of which we didn’t recognize.) American comics, TV shows…the whole place felt a little surreal as if we had stepped into a videogame…a dream come true for me!

   The main floor had plenty of space, and elevators, and I saw quite a few people in wheelchairs, costumed and not. Everyone was very friendly. Within 5 minutes two girls already wanted pictures with us. I was pretty popular in that costume! But, Aaron joked that he got to take the pictures so he had fun to! Really, for me, it was a chance to hang out, and look at costumes, talk about comics and sci-fi, (I even met a much better version of Iron Man and had to take that picture of us together.) and buy some cool things like a Japanese anime Star Trek graphic novel (a.k.a. Manga!) and a classic anime DVD: Space Adventure Cobra!

    On the 3rd floor dealer’s floor it was crowded. It was a bit like a people jam, as opposed to a traffic jam, with costumed characters slowly moving in waves inch by inch from Dealer Table to Dealer Table. I had to watch out for people in tall costumes, or with masks that might’ve kept them from seeing me! I almost ran over The Stay Puft Marshmellow Man! Without Aaron as my guide (always in front!), I probably would’ve gotten trampled, or at least ran over people! And of course we met more people who wanted a picture with me. At least, since Aaron wasn’t costumed, I think it was me. For my first anime convention, I must’ve looked well-prepared! Very cool when you get to dress up as a hero, and be recognized as such, and the wheelchair doesn’t even matter!

    The salesmen and saleswomen were very nice, and were also fellow enthusiasts! I took some pictures posing with some merchandise on the Dealer Floor: A wizard staff, and a nice wide-brimmed fedora that reminded me of Tom Baker’s “4th Doctor” hat in Doctor Who. I saw a lot of things from Doctor Who, actually. Basically, if it involved fantasy/sci-fi; I saw it. I think I’m still recovering from the excitement of my new Star Trek Manga! (Which came with a nice poster, for a nice souvenir!) Finally, we went back up to the main floor and had a break, watching all the costumes go by. On our way out, we saw a couple dressed as Ryu and Chun Li from Street Fighter II!

   The convention was about the most fun I’ve had this year! The good thing about the convention was (for me.) that the wheelchair didn’t matter, and for the day, I was Iron Man! (Well, Mark VI at least. That Mark VII Iron Man was a very impressive costume!) And there was enough room on the main floor that, if I needed a break, Aaron and I could just go back up and chat. The Convention Center itself is huge, and actually hosted two events that day: This and America's Got Talent Try-Outs. So, we had plenty of space from the Dealer’s Floor, (2 floors!) and accessibility aside from the crowded areas!

I had a fantastic time! One for the Ages! I didn’t hardly think about the accessibility issues; except for taking notes, and trying not running folks over, of course. I got to talk comics, and animation, and be with my best friend and be Iron Man! What could be better? Definitely something I’d encourage people with disabilities to come check out: I loved it!
                                                          (Aaron and I hanging out!)

                                                          (Arriving at Ohayocon!)

                                                   (Check it out! Iron Man Mark 6 & 7!)

                                                      With Snake Eyes (From G.I. Joe.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Columbus Museum of Art Visit

                                                     Columbus Museum of Art Visit:

Last weekend, I went to the Columbus Museum of Art with my dad. We saw the Lego Exhibit, several 19th -20th  century pieces, a couple art prints, and the Lod Mosaic, a Roman piece dating back 1700 years. The Roman Exhibit was the biggest and probably most exciting. First, a trip to ancient Rome! Nearly two millennia ago.
 I learned how its builders laid tessellations in the stone before placing them, like giant puzzle pieces. This ancient mosaic was found in Lod, Israel and probably belonged to a wealthy maritime merchant, hence it was decorated with fish and sharks. Also, the bottom of the mosaic has whales on it, but since very few Romans had seen sharks, they are half-real, half-mythology! They have horns and giant eyes and look like sea monsters. The museum walls told me that ancient Romans of 200 AD had a fascination with exotic animals; tigers, elephants, etc. shipped across the empire that colored the mosaic. It prompted questions in my dad such as “How did they put elephants on ancient Roman boats?” I suggested they bought them as babies.

    We had entered the museum hoping to see Impressionist works. Unfortunately, they cleared out the Impressionist gallery to make room for the Mark Rothko 1940-1950 Exhibit. I think the other gallery will return soon. The more modern works I saw included August Rodin’s “The Abduction of Hippodamia”. It depicts a centaur from mythology kidnapping Hippodamia, a girl. As an amateur mythologist, I’m fascinated by mythological scenes, even neoclassical style.

    There were elephants made of metal and an Egyptian oil lamp…we didn’t know if they made wicks for them or not, for none were present. However, I like the sort of art that invokes history, such as a later work I saw by Man Ray “Madonna”. (1914) It turns into a smoking cannon if you look at it sideways, but it’s actually Mother Mary with baby Jesus! Another conflicting World War I piece was ironically titled “Berlin Ante War”. As a German scholar, the conflicting theme of praying knights in stained glass in World War I was a particularly intriguing artistic paradox between war and peace, much like Man Ray‘s piece. We also saw Depression Era pictures of corner markets and people picking up coal from a railroad, which my dad explained would’ve been a precious commodity.

   One of the first exhibits we saw was actually not in ancient Rome or the Depression Era, but actually the modern era, right here in Columbus. The Lego Exhibit. Paul Jensen’s replica of the OSU Stadium was made with a million Lego pieces. There’s even an interior! I commented that I sometimes can’t even connect basic Lego shapes! It’s mind-boggling to even think of a million Lego pieces. (For me!)  Over in the next room was an entire city; in the next, a duck pond with a dozen or so sticky notes encouraging people to write their own narratives to the pond, which they did! The last room we saw was a room of custom Lego people! Neat-o!

   The last thing to really grab me though was a pencil print showing Jimminy Cricket in various stages of being drawn. While other colorful prints were there, I can’t remember all the names, and nothing quite grabs me like a Disney print. Lastly, I happened to see a section on facial expressions and the many emotions that the human face can convey. Dad commented that one of the marks of autism is to not be able to make the link between facial expressions and emotions. I didn’t know if that was true. However, being an intercultural investigator, I remarked that many of these faces could cross culturally be lost in translation. (I once had a Hungarian professor who nodded in disagreement, and shook his head in approval. ) Though I’ve no doubt that autism (while being on a spectrum.) does affect the ability to recognize expressions.

  Art speaks to all of us differently. It instructs, it uplifts, it forces us to look within our bodies to create something beyond what already exists. As I left the building, I reflected that I’d always wanted to go to the museum and I was glad dad came with me. Art brings people of all experiences together in search of the human experience throughout time. Although, I joked, since there were no Impressionists, it could’ve made a bigger “impression”! Maybe next time!  

                                                  (August Rodin's The Abduction of Hippodamia.)
                                                               (The Lod Mosaic)

                                                                     (Dad and I.)

(Lego OSU Stadium.) 

                                                  (Marsden Hartley's Berlin Ante War.)
                                                                 (Man Ray's Madonna.)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hyde Park on Hudson Review

                                                          HYDE PARK ON HUDSON:

   FDR, we are told by his fifth cousin Daisy in a narration, was just a man who wanted to relax. He is old yet spry as he charges through the forest in a specially-adapted automobile, which he explains is a lot easier to drive. This is just one of many getaways that Roosevelt arranges to unburden himself from the public eye. Bill Murray as FDR portrays a man who is happy, confident, smiles, and walks with a jaunt. In private, however Roosevelt was a quiet, sad, man who did not walk, but in fact used a wheelchair, and sometimes crutches because of polio.
The film shows Roosevelt’s struggle with disability and intimacy away from his public duties as president. His private getaway is called Hyde Park on Hudson, where his mother and many of his caretakers live. The movie hints strongly that Eleanor and FDR’s mother took care of him largely, and that he resented it. Eleanor was always sending out “spies” (caretakers and wait staff.) to see if he had his eye on another woman. This time it was Daisy.

   Publicly, as the film opens England is struggling in the war and FDR announces his intentions to help. The King and Queen visit FDR in Hyde Park. Much of the film’s comedy comes from the culture clash of England and  America at the time. FDR has scheduled that they eat hot dogs at the meeting. FDR reassures the King of course, that it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a picnic.

    Now, here we see FDR as a master of public perception. The King has a speech impediment, and is worried that he’ll look weak. “You know how I know they don’t see that in us?” FDR says smiling, as he shifts from his chair to behind a desk, so that he creates the illusion of standing. “Because that’s not what they’re looking for.” It was a heartfelt moment.

FDR had his own kind of escapism, aside from his life dominated by caretakers and a perception of weakness; he made himself a hero for the nation. In one scene, for example, you see FDR being carried to his car, and reporters actually wait to take photos of him inside the car with the king.

   Of course, at the heart of the film is FDR’s private affair with Daisy. The meeting with the king is only the public side. The film seems divided in two, and addresses both parts from the standpoint of disability issues. How can FDR remain strong, in spite of his polio? How can he maintain intimacy, and a private life, despite being hen-pecked by Eleanor and his mother. At one point, his mother angrily suggests that he shouldn’t be drinking a martini in his condition , and he screams: “I’m the President!” He just wants to be allowed to do what everyone else is, especially with being the president and being in power publicly.
   I felt that the message of the film was not so much that FDR had affairs, but that everyone has their own demons, but he still made people see him as a leader. He simply ignored England and America’s past, and made a bright future. He knew how to project a strong image. He was perpetually leaning against a wall, sitting in a chair or behind a desk. Most importantly, he knew how to make people see what he wanted. It was very inspiring to see him manage his own image as strongly as he did; even as he cursed his polio and the king cursed his speech impediment: they related by getting beyond their struggles and creating something greater.
   Finally, a note on Bill Murray (my favorite.) as FDR. FDR was probably taller than Murray, but other than that he seems to be the perfect choice. You really buy that he’s FDR. I was worried going into the film that I’d only see him trying to be FDR. But, he pulls it off. Those sad eyes, and that cheerful way of smiling made me believe his role. This role makes use of Murray as a comedian and a dramatic actor. And even presents a president who was in historical fact, a strong disabled man: a rarity in contemporary film when only super-powered mutants and aliens present me, with almost the same comparison: There is no trace of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter here. Only FDR triumphantly conquering his own true inner demons to inspire others.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Images of Disability

My Top 10 Negative  Disability Images:


9. JOE




(2007; Magic sorority girl inspires “retarded” guy named “Pumpkin” to walk out of love.)







("I've noticed that there are very few roles for people in chairs... I would like to see people with disabilities featured sympathetically.")


(Cure muscular dystrophy; don’t give it meaning.)

My Top 10 Positive Disability Images:

10. Daredevil (Marvel)

(Blind crime fighter.)

9. Forest Gump

(Symbolized American history; mentally disabled.)

8. Rory O’Shea (From Rory O’Shea Was Here.)

(British “punk” who lives independently with MD; depicts independent living well.)

7. John Nash (A Beautiful Mind.)

(Successful economist living with schizophrenia.)
6. Christie Brown (My Left Foot.)

(Successful artist with cerebral palsy.)

5. Geordi La Forge (Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

(Blind Chief Engineer in Star Trek: The Next Generation.)
4. Rain Man

(Well-rounded depiction of life with autism; neither too sentimental nor harsh.)

3. Deadpool (Marvel)

(Schizophrenic super ninja with regenerative powers.)
2. Homer

(Author of The Odyssey epic; father of Western civilization’s poetry; blind.)

1. Professor X (Marvel)

(Physically disabled founder of The X-men; powerful psychic mutant.)

MEDIA REPRESENTATION OF DISABILITY IS STILL OVERWHELMINGLY NEGATIVE. Many of the positive images to me, are within the sci-fi genre. Images to add? Debate welcome.