CONTRAINDICATIONS OF THE CROSS
24/03-09/04/22 | PALLAS PROJECTS/STUDIOS
The Seventh Circle - Performance to Camera, 20 mins
Chronic pain disorders in their invisibility manifest a lived dissonance between body and world. Following the COVID-19 pandemic in a post-Truth world, questions surrounding the definition of health and what is real run rampant.
In the Biblical book of John, Jesus came to the pool of Bethesda, where the ill would gather. Here, he came across an invalid man unable to enter the pool. The man asked Jesus to heal him, to which Jesus replied: “Do you want to be made well? Take up thy mat and walk,” and the man was healed, and told to sin no more. In Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, queer souls, or ‘sodomites’, were relegated to the seventh Circle of hell, that of the sins of Violence, whereupon they would run upon burning sands for all Eternity. Conversely, self-destruction itself is a form of violence, a self-judgement, that characterised the artist’s actualisation of their emerging queer identity.
Before they developed chronic pain, which would leave them bed-ridden for years, the artist went for runs, under the watchful eye of their religious father, a former runner himself. The relationship was long complicated by the artist’s queerness and the father’s Christian fundamentalism. Both their health and their Father would be lost in the following years, beginning an ongoing journey of self-rediscovery in the face of these twin griefs. To the principle patriarchal figure in their life, they had to prove the experienced reality of their gender and sexuality; to the state, and even to themselves, they had to prove that their chronic pain was real, in the wake of its ever changing parameters and lack of response to treatment.
Here documented, the artist steps onto holy ground, infusing a canvas of industrial sandpaper with the materiality of a queer sick body. Priming its surface with the shedding of blood and dead skin cells, the queer sick body approximates a biological reproduction through self-destruction - one that is onanistic, and in vain. The artist runs across its length in a dynamic rhythm of changing time signatures. The footage is augmented to depict a portal that the body penetrates back and forth, reflecting an eternal recurrence, and the perpetual feedback loop of its psychological self-narration.
The sandpaper is then interpolated in an accompanying triptych of paintings, Three Studies for the Foot of a Bed, votive images illustrating the intersections of queerness, illness, and faith.
‘Three Studies for the Foot of a Bed’
Painting triptych: acrylic; oil; spraypaint; charcoal; chalk; blood - 1x2m x3
Across a sandpaper canvas split into a trinity, the artist renders a personal iconography, illustrating the psychologically lived intersections of queerness, illness, and faith.
In lieu of the heteronormative reproductive paradigm, the queer sick body may yet produce futurity in the reproduction of its subjectivity through language. In that queerness may be socially constructed, so may it be reproduced socially as opposed to biologically. A theoretical shadow of this in the history of psychiatry is the myth that homosexuality is a dysfunctional result of trauma. This sentiment was reflected in the artist’s Christian upbringing, secretly pursuing conversion therapy at fourteen years old following sexual assault upon discovering their sexuality, to “pray away the gay” - a traumatic practice that remains legal in Ireland to this day. So again are these sentiments tangentially, if darkly, reflected in the idea that “hurt people hurt people”. Pain, in its fundamental incommunicability, necessitates language, its DNA ever present in its cultural dramatisations, spreading from each human vector to the next.
Charged with the biological artefacts of flesh and blood onanistically intermingled with the grain, the images visualise a speculative, automatic history that is still in the making. The self-destructive act of their priming invokes a queer variant of the death drive, a jouissance or self-obliteration in a will towards a blissful, inanimate state - a homeostasis achieved in the still image following the violent kinesis of performance. Each panel, left raw and exposed, is a window into a parallel afterlife: the Heavens, Limbos and Hells inhabited on Earth.
‘Pain Time’ - Sculpture: Ixprim blister packs x120
Prescribed synthetic opiates every day for chronic pain over five years, the subjectivity of a queer sick body was mediated through pharmaceutical intervention. The opioid, Ixprim, is produced by Grünenthal. This pharmaceutical superpower was responsible for the thalidomide scandal in the 1960s, in which over ten thousand children of the mothers prescribed it were born deformed. The medical diagrams lining the office of the doctor who prescribed them were also manufactured by Grünenthal. Here, opened blister packs of the orally taken pill act as artefacts measuring the passage of time lived through pain, their chemistry and history absorbed and counted in a body.
‘A World Without Chloroform’ - Sound, 30 minutes
A stream of consciousness written in the depths of illness, here dramatised and performed as an oral history, detailing an inner life of queerness, illness, and faith.
‘Bed Time’ - Performance, 1 hour
The artist is positioned atop a blood-red mattress clad in many large cable ties, assuming the psychosomatic geography of their time eclipsed by chronic pain. An accompanying recording of the artist’s stream of consciousness mythologises the isolated body’s experiences back to itself aloud. The work exists as a public mantric exchange between the past and present selves of a queer sick body: a covenant of an automatic faith or self-actualisation, the audience its witnesses. The artist then rises and sheds their flesh and blood across a length of sandpaper, inscribing words of salvation into its grain with chalk
The passage of time behaves differently for all of us. Subjectivity produces self-mythologies in the primal language of one’s perception that, in the mutual dynamic tension between the individual and thecollective, produce histories. These auto-mythopoeses act as localised units of temporal measurement, and are told - or performed - in lives lived out, embodied in self-fulfilling prophecies.
Queerness, illness, and their intersecting histories, deviate from normative social narratives as socially inscribed through Judeo-Christian ideology, where deviance of sexuality and ability may be conflated in accordance with sin, or, paralleled in the history of medicine, as pathologies. Acutely individuated by virtue of its existence, and lacking the narrative template of itself reflected in culture beyond romanticised martyrdom, the queer sick body must author its own survival. It must convince itself of itself in an imposed narcissism where the self is externally, spatially absent. The digital space offers promises, false or otherwise, of where these subaltern identities may yet be formatively constructed and memetically reproduced in ways physical space cannot initially facilitate, but whose subsequent navigation may yet emulate that of the digital. Our traumas, our pain, become a way of measuring time, ourselves, and reality itself. In masochistic fixation, we emulate Messianic imagery: our crosses to bear, our sacrifices, become coded as our capital and our salvation.
In Contraindications of the Cross, Magee presents a series of votive multimedia chronicling the lived intersections of queerness, illness and faith, prospecting the raw material of their experiences. Raised in fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity, and socialised as male, they navigated the traumas of conversion therapy and sexual violence, each intermingled with the inception of their queerness. In adulthood, they would go on to survive the ravages of chronic pain, chemically mediated through opioids.
Bedbound and isolated for months, sometimes years, unable to work or physically practice identity or intimacy, the chronic pain patient is limited to guide one’s self, moment to moment, through the onslaught of neurological pain. Where time then becomes meaningless, and their condition necessitating hypervigilant self-surveillance, screens become one’s only means of experiencing the outside world and representing the self. Chronic pain disorders themselves are often diagnoses of exclusion, requiring faith on the part of both doctors and the state where pain’s source is otherwise unquantifiable. The invisibility of the illness renders it suspect under social stigma. The Christian notion of faith as analogue for the responsibility for one’s own salvation is reflected in this plight, ever wavering between victim and martyr for their individual cause - to live. To the sick man at the edge of the pool of Bethesda praying for healing, Jesus simply said, “Do you want to be made healed? Take up thy bed and walk”.
Here, a queer sick body makes their bed, and lies in it. Documenting the parallels in their own life to the greater implications in medicine and political faith during the pandemic, they saw the world share a glimpse of their isolation. From this psychic vantage point is gleaned a personal iconography of their own death drive, rendered across physical and digital multimedia, weaving a history from which futurity may yet be divined.
Special thanks to Cian McLoughlin, Martin O’Brien, and Padraig Regan.