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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318


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Exhibiting Illness:
CURAtorial Encounters with Disease, Care, And Diagnosis  

by Conor Moynihan and Natalie Fleming, University of New York at Buffalo-SUNY


In this project, we discuss our three-part exhibition series that explores questions of illness, care, and diagnosis using an interactive website format. While this project officially began in 2017 when Conor Moynihan curated the exhibition Ill at Ease: Dis-ease in Art at the University at Buffalo Department of Art Gallery under the direction of Natalie Fleming, it was first conceived during the winter of 2014-2015 when Moynihan received in-patient, high-dose chemotherapy for the treatment of recurrent metastatic cancer. During his treatment, he was struck by the way in which his illness inspired strong, affective responses in others. In response, the exhibition was laid out so that visitors confronted, confirmed, or challenged their own expectations about what illness meant, where it was located, and how it intersected with the spaces they navigated in their daily lives. What the exhibition raised was the consciousness of how illness, disease, and pathology exceed individual corporeal limits and structure affective intersubjective, interobjective, and interspatial experiences. Recognizing that illness was only the beginning, we planned two more curatorial iterations of the project: one on care and the other on diagnosis. Three Acts, Three Scenes: Your Care, My Care, Careful Care was realized in 2018 and responded to Ill at Ease by focusing on what it meant to “ask [viewers] to consider how we extend care to others, take ownership of our own care, and navigate the precariousness of the world” (Fleming and Moynihan 2018). This has led us to the final part of this project: an exhibition, tentatively titled Showing and Telling: The Limits of Vision and Speech, that explores diagnosis by probing the limits of knowing based on seeing. To do so, we have sought to display art from a variety of media—from traditional paintings and live performances to mechanized dresses and sartorial videos—that solicit viewer involvement. Our exhibitions have been committed to drawing attention to issues of illness, collective care, and disability through participatory engagement.

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