Through layers of white voile draped over their faces, two members of Hexus Collective maintain the semi-autonomous nature of the performance art group even over Google Meet.
“I think by remaining anonymous, we actually draw attention to ourselves,” one figure says, their faces stacked one on top of the other in the chat window. “It’s a strategic tactic to emphasize the invisibility of disability in society.”
The Collective’s current exhibit, Zones of Invisibility (Holy Body Bag), now on display at east window in Boulder, expands on this tactic. In the 8-by-5 window chamber, the Collective presents a multi-layered piece that attempts to breakdown the physical, mental and spiritual experience of living with chronic illness: A transparent image pasted on the window creates a sort of spectral shadow for a hovering, white, papier-mâché sculpture that resembles a body bag, while mirrors behind the sculpture reflect the exhibit and the viewer’s own face. The body bag would float away, it seems, were it not tethered down, raising questions about what a disabled body could do were it not held down by society’s notions about its worth or capability. The mirrors create an alternate reality in which you can both see the body and your reaction to it, offering — for those willing to look — a moment of introspection about how we react to and interact with those around us who live with chronic illness.
Mental and physical disability is a uniting factor for members of Hexus Collective, which formed in 2018 while the two members speaking over Google Meet were completing graduate degrees in art history at the University of Denver.
“We were friends first before we started working together and just realized that even though some of us have mental illnesses and some of us have physical illnesses, it’s all invisible illness and we have shared experiences, like people asking questions like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or, ‘You don’t look sick,’ or just not believing that you’re experiencing sickness — even doctors saying that to us,” one of the figures says. “We came together on all of those shared experiences and just started channeling artworks.”
The name Hexus is both a nod to the collective’s pagan beliefs and an homage to the international, interdisciplinary Fluxus art community that arose during the 1960s and ’70s, counting Yoko Ono as one of its members.
Ono — arguably one of pop culture’s most maligned artists — is a common influence for the Hexus Collective. In 2019, Hexus performed Shine Piece (After Yoko) at The Temple in Denver, evoking Ono’s classic 1964 performance of Cut Piece, wherein the artist invited viewers to cut pieces of her clothing while she sat silently.
Shine Piece flipped the concept around, asking audience members to offer performers objects as part of a ritual of sorts, symbolically healing the performer’s body and mind.
Ono’s pariah status in pop culture — her mere existence as an Asian woman working in America in the post WWII years, forever associated with the demise of one of the world’s most beloved, white, male musical groups — captures the patriarchal, racist undercurrents that unconsciously drive much of the Western thought processes that Hexus seeks to undermine.
“When someone denies your lived experience — like a doctor telling you [your experience is] not as bad as you say it is — it’s all part of a patriarchal system,” one figure says, “which is something that we touch on a lot in our work. When women deny other women’s lived experiences, it’s part of patriarchal thought.”
Intersectional activism is at the root of Hexus’s work, examining the overlap between marginalized groups, and the ways in which collectivity can act as a strategy to resist and overcome “socially dominant ideas about the productive bodymind within patriarchal capitalism.”
“We work against linear time,” one figure says. “We work on crip time. … It’s the notion that the disabled body operates on a different timeline. We like to think of time as a scribble instead of a straight line. Crip time disrupts the medical idea of time leading to a body getting better, the notion that if you’re sick, you’ll take this medicine and get better. But we know that it doesn’t work like that: You might get better for a day, then get worse for two years, then get better for a month. … We have chronic illnesses that are not curable, so there’s no end point.”
But life with a chronic illness is still life. Despite its allusion to death, Zones of Invisibility is about life, its white body bag perhaps better envisioned as the death of preconceived notions about disability, the spectral shadow a symbol of the biases that cloud our vision of what it means to be healthy, whole… able.