Dolly Sen: Experiences in CRIP TIME


“You don’t need to be fixed, my queens – it’s the world that needs fixing.” The quote from artist Johanna Hedva opens up the exhibition CRIP TIME at the Museum of Modern Art (MMK) in Frankfurt, Germany.  Review by Dolly Sen

A screen suspended in a dark area showing the head of a woman with a shocked look on her face

Liza Sylvestre – MMK

CRIP TIME is an exhibition of works by artists with a lived experience of disability. It is a concept arising from disabled experience that addresses the ways that disabled/chronically ill and neurodivergent people experience time (and space) differently than able-bodied/minded folk.

Why am I in Frankfurt? The Museum of Modern Art flew me over for the opening on the 17th September as a last-minute addition to the show. My short film Broken Brain or Broken Heart (2015) questions whether the world drives you mad or if psychosis is only a biological glitch. I offer that the outside world broke me more than I can ever do to myself.

The exhibition text of CRIP TIME puts on the table its message: “The violence inherent to normative conceptions of the body [and I would add mind] …. is fatal. Human beings are constantly restricted and disabled by social barriers.”

MMK is a prestigious art establishment, but it is not run by disabled people. I was interested in how the exhibition was conceived and birthed, and if a smooth and nourishing adoption by the disabled artists took place. I discovered the show was conceived by MMK’s directors Susanne Pfeffer and Anna Sailer, and birthed through conversations with most of the living artists involved in the show, with significant input from disabled artists Constantina Zavitsanos, Shannon Finnegan and Judith Hopf.

The CRIP TIME space also holds the work of those who don’t experience time at all. Artists like Felix Gonzales-Torres who died from AIDS in 1996, and who was reknowned for bulldozing barriers, including obstacles inherent in art itself. Fuck the ‘do not touch’ that wants to privilege everyone except the public. His work ‘Untitled’ (1993) is a ton of sweets in a corner anyone could help themselves to, a work he did many times when he was alive. He abandoned his authority over the artwork once installed in a space and literally gifted it to the public the confectionery and control of its changing contours. I took two sweets and began my tour of the works.

I don’t know enough about the German art world, or where it is with disabled curators and decolonising its domain, to make an in-depth critique.  But walking around the space I saw a couple of examples of the painful quicksand of inaccessibility that excludes. There was a door to a room stating it was inaccessible. I thought it should have been an exhibit in the showcase! There were also no large print versions of the exhibition’s booklet.

I loved that some of the artists returned fire on the space by incorporating into their artwork. Shannon Finnegan annexed some stairs leading up to a viewing spot and turned them into a seat, calling it ‘The only thing I like about stairs is that they can be used as a place to sit in a pinch (2021)’I loved the seditious seating Finnegan created in the form of blue benches with slogans such as ‘This Exhbition Has Asked Me To Stand For Too Long. Sit if You agree’. Like Gonzales-Torres, the public becomes part of the artwork. These impudent benches were all over the gallery, with messages in both English and German.

a blue bench sits against a white wall with the words 'it was hard to get here - rest here if you agree'

Shannon Fineggan – MMK

I always say there are not enough dogs in the artworld, I was meaning as artists and curators, but I was delighted to see Emilie Louise Gossiaux’s Dancing with London (2021) playful but profound sculptures of dancing dogs, celebrating the bond and partnership a blind person can have with their dog.

two models of white dogs standing on their hind legs face each other against a white background.

Emilie Louise Gossiaux – Dancing with London (2021)

The exhibition also shows that medicine is more political than curative through works like Carolyn Lazard’s Pre-Existing Condition (2019), which presents the brutal and visual bureaucracy of testing new drugs on disabled Black inmates in the not too distant past. Are you ok with taking a pill that has the bitter taste of racism, ableism and inhumanity?

a tall pile of paper sits in a neat stack on a wooden floor

Emily Barker – photo by Dolly Sen

Emily Barker’s Death by 7865 Paper Cuts (2019) – a pile of greedy paperwork of her hospital bills to treat her condition stands both provocative and serene. It is a shocking and overwhelming work. It looks like one of the Twin Towers, but in this case who does the terrorism belong to? Health, medicine disability are political. If you can’t build these towers, you just die.

Liza Sylvestre’s ‘Wha_ i_ I _old you a _ _ory in a language I _an _ear’ (2014) shares her exclusion with a cogent and compelling video work offering the hearing audience fragmented subtitles as the only form of communication. How about having even a few seconds of frustration? Deaf people are expected to endure a lifetime’s worth without complaint.

I absolutely loved Christine Sum Kim’s Degrees of Deaf Rage (2018) which rage is brilliantly turned into the mathematical images of angles, acute, obtuse and always right about the bullshit Deaf people have to face.

I do wonder what do the gallery want from the ‘normals’ who view the art? Appreciation of art? A call to action? Awareness raising? Will the visitors be enraged about the world the disabled are expected to be caged in?

I don’t know the answers to the big questions, I am just left with the personal response to it. The exhibition does have a devastating charm and beautiful boldness, but it is also full of the poignancy, defiance, pain, beauty and rage of being disabled in this world. I left MMK wanting to curate the next step, where ‘the normals’ shoulder the burden of poignancy and pain for their role in a disabling world. I wonder if the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt would be for ready for that.

It was wonderful to see some disability art outside of the UK and I asked myself why we didn’t know much about each other’s work. I will change that.

Crip Time is on show at the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt, Germany until until Sunday, 30 January 2022. Accompanying the physical exhibition is an online exhibition, which includes audio guides in English and German, describing a selection of the exhibits.