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Text by Joseph Liatela

Our bodies are ours, yet they are not solely our own as they are the medium for our interfacing with the world. As a transgender individual, I see the limitations of embodiment, projection, gender, and visibil-ity as sites rife with potential. These elements inform my practice in which I question insti-tutional, cultural, and medico-legal notions of what constitutes a “complete” or “correct” bodily formation. Utilizing what “marks” my body as a dissenting body—such as surgical scars, hormone replacement therapy, and medical technology—I make work that examines issues of representation, biopolitics, and the questioning of authenticity.

My background in printmaking fostered an interest in how the manipulation of a surface—such as scars on skin or embossing on paper—alters how it is perceived, and has informed my approach to creating politically grounded, identity-based work. Conscious of the ways history and cultural production manifest in the trans body, my work combines theory and practice in order to examine the processes of identification, and the social conventions and cultural conditions that uphold and perpetuate these processes.

Working from a lineage that includes artists and writers such as Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) and Judith Butler, I am inspired to utilize queer and feminist approaches to phenomenological concepts of human embodiment. For example, my endurance performance Bound (2017), performed for Clifford Owens’s Performance Art Seminar at the Denniston Hill Artist Residency, contemplates how the social constructs that are projected onto dissenting bodies often require the constriction of one’s physical form while moving through public space. In it, I reference my past relationship with the daily ritual of chest binding by suspending myself from a single-point shibari rope tie around my chest until I am no longer able to safely remain in suspension. I ask the viewers to “help me,” resulting in the audience untying the rope to reveal bruises which align with my scars from gender-affirming surgery. Utilizing the body as material, both Mendieta’s Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints) (1972) and my piece Bound (2017) aim to distinguish between the physiological components that make up bodily existence, and the social connotations the othered body takes on in the context of lived experience.1 Through manipulating the surface of my physical form in order to distort gendered signifiers, my work considers the sedimentary nature of the histories assumed by, and impressed upon, the othered body. In doing so, my work examines the performative nature of identity, demonstrating how it is perceived and enacted at the level of the body.

Joseph Liatela is a multi-disciplinary artist based in New York City working in performance, video, and sculpture. He is currently an MFA candidate in New Genres at Columbia University.

1 Judith Butler, “Performance Acts and Gender Constitution,” Theatre Journal 40, no. 4 (1988): 519-531.