The Remover of Obstacles

Javier TellezOn last weekend’s visit to the Shivananda ashram I chanted away life’s worries while imagining an elephant effortlessly clearing obstacles from its path.

Om gam ganapataye namaha! [*]

The elephants returned this weekend on my visit to Boston. I spent a wonderful afternoon biking around the city, inhaling the streets, waterways, and parks and internalizing its expanse.  I visited the ICA, a great new museum designed by the same crew that just finished New York’s great new High Line park.  The main attraction at the ICA was the Shepard Fairey exhibit, but I was much more drawn to the “Acting Out: Social Experiments in Video”

Does contemporary art have any visible social impact? Film is a way to intervene, fight for something, inform, educate, update knowledge, tell fairy tales, persuade, call attention to problems, critical junctures, etc. [*]

There were only a few video installations, but there was one in particular that really stuck with me for its simplicity and brilliance. Javier Téllez’s Letter on the Blind For the Use of Those Who See (it premiered at the Whitney Biennial ’08, but I missed it) is a reenactment of the ancient parable of the 6 blind wise men and the elephant (various sources).

The parable is a classic, and I even recently encountered a free-software remix – Six Tuxes and the Elephant. But I was really moved by the personal and philosophical perspectives that Tellez’s film captures.  When you actually situate real humans into a living context, something amazing happens.  Their subjectivities spring to life as the magnificent Elephant animates their fears and desires. Most of them had never before touched an elephant (ha!), and the encounter evokes vivid visceral reactions from everybody involved (audience included).

The reintroduction of subjectivity into our theories of everything is a project that will likely extend beyond this century, even if we survive it.  This film manages to  capture the central themes I encountered in Disabilities Studies, and how obnoxious it is to rely on these coarse, crude metaphors without vividly imagining their underlying reality.  It also highlights the myopia of cleaving objective reality from subjective experience.

A reviewer at the Boston Globe shared my enthusiasm for this piece, and their story describes the film in more detail that I do here.  Hopefully we can arrange to screen this doc sometime at DisThis

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