Summary: In this four minute video from the Swiss company Pro Infirmis, five people with visible disabilities arrive at an artist's studio. After introductions, the artist begins measuring the dimensions of each person's body. His team then begins sawing into a collection of store mannequins, and once dismembered, the mannequins are reconstructed so they more closely resemble the body designs of the artist's new models. After some polish, the new mannequins are unveiled and eventually displayed in stores along one of Zurich's main streets, just in time for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The project's title is a rhetorical question and a command, "Because Who Is Perfect? Get Closer." Indeed, no one is perfectly able-bodied. Whether visible or invisible, on some level it is true that all bodies can be said to have "malfunctions," but the deeper reason no one is perfect is because the idea of what constitutes perfection is itself elusive. Yet, most people go about their daily lives seduced by the illusion that distinguishing "able-bodied" people from "disabled" people is as straightforward as distinguishing apples from oranges. For instance, there is a Thor fandom that celebrates Chris Hemsworth's shirtless body as the epitome of perfection. Mall shoppers too routinely evaluate clothing for themselves and others by first seeing it draped over what is supposed to be a mold of a perfect body. Capitalist institutions, from the Hollywood film industry to clothing retailers, routinely place the able-bodied ideal on a pedestal, implicitly exalting a particular type of body as the standard by which all bodies must be evaluated, and it is on this point that the Pro Infirmis video is both refreshing and subversive, for it takes what are assumed to be imperfect bodies and places them in a space typically reserved for perfect bodies. These new mannequins of unfamiliar proportions stop passersby in their tracks and encourage them to reconsider the types of bodies that belong in storefronts, but while the video captures a useful disruption in the usual discourse on bodies, in my view it fails to truly provoke onlookers to reassess their casual assumptions about bodies as either working or broken, and as either worthy or unworthy of representation. No, the video leaves this binary cultural logic unscathed. For instance, one finds in the video that "able-bodied" mannequins are the clean slate from which "disabled" mannequins are born. There is a manufacturing montage that puts to rest any radical doubts as to whether these two species of mannequin have anything in common. Finally, when displayed in the Zurich storefronts, the altered mannequins remain almost hermetically sealed from the original mannequins, which have been scuttled away for the event. To truly "get closer," as the video commands us to do, I think it is important to collapse this casual, Manichean distinction between the able-bodied and the disabled. A truly radical video might instead show the old mannequins displayed alongside the new ones, and the displays would be left in place long after the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was over.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist