The Cage Went in Search of a Bird
“The Cage Went in Search of a Bird” explores how tuberculosis captured America and Europe’s collective cultural imagination during the 19th century, creating an image of an illness that affected both the body and the spirit. A person who was consumptive could have been terminally ill with a deeply debilitating bacterial, or could have been someone who was simply solitary, artistic, and dramatic. As a result, much of the medical apparatus and the treatments developed at this time display an imaginative resonance that goes far beyond the medical reality. If the spirit was perceived to be in peril at the same time that the body ailed, then surely the disease itself must embody the link between the mortal soul and the body’s contamination.
This exhibition imagines a conversation between Charlotte Brontë and Franz Kafka who were both diagnosed with tuberculosis (even though this diagnosis is now assumed untrue in Charlotte’s case). Ultimately, many 19th century artists and writers were assigned the label of “Consumptive” whether or not they were actually infected with tuberculosis, just as the popular imagination at the time linked the disease to many literary characters. “The Cage Went in Search of a Bird” interweaves excerpts of texts and letters by Brontë and Kafka to explore how the body reflects the climate of the soul or indeed how the soul might communicate with a body under siege.
“The Cage Went in Search of a Bird” culminates in an interactive installation where the presence of human breath triggers an experience of sound and text within an environment of glass objects, video, intimate photographs, and large-scale drawings. The work privileges the medium of glass due to its ability to be shaped and formed by human breath. Blown glass balls, or “breaths,” are combined with laboratory glass to explore how literature can inform the stories of medical artifacts. Similarly, fused glass wallpaper pieces fossilize human breath, echoing the destruction caused by tuberculosis in human lungs.
Peters Projects, Santa Fe, New Mexico, July 1 – August 6, 2016