Creative Work: Say It In Stone (Clay, Wood, Bronze…)

I stumbled across an article on RE/FORMATIONS, an art show featuring disabled women artists that was exhibited last year, and promptly started playing hopscotch across the Internet, looking up sculpture by disabled artists. I’ve always really loved sculpture because it’s such a tactile art form to me, and one of the greatest experiences of my life was going to a gallery where people were actively invited to touch and handle the sculpture. Usually we are told to keep our hands to ourselves, and I feel like I miss out on an element of the artwork by not being able to physically interact with it; I feel more connected to the artist and the work by touching it.

This being the Internet, I’m afraid none of us can touch the sculpture, but we can look at it. Here are some interesting pieces I found in my travels.

A wall mounted motor moves book pages splotched with ink and attached to guide wires. The piece is suggestive of the wings of a bird flapping.

‘Amerika,’ by German artist Rebecca Horn. Her bio from the RE/FORMATIONS site:

Rebecca Horn’s sculptures illuminate how the work of an established artist, traditionally defined as feminist/performance art, can be re-interpreted from a disability perspective. Like many artists with disabilities, Horn’s impairment has been relegated to the biographical, or perceived as a deficiency overcome, instead of an identity embraced.RE/FORMATIONS will investigate the dialogue Horn creates from the lived experience of her lung impairment, and how it intersects with other aspects of her identity. Rebecca Horn’s disability, like her gender and nationality, has invigorated her aesthetic – structurally and thematically.

A female torso, done in black terra cotta. The right breast is missing, and replaced with a mastectomy scar.

‘Black Torso,’ by American artist Nancy Fried.

Nancy Fried began creating terra-cotta torsos of women who had undergone radical mastectomies in 1986 following her own mastectomy. She subsequently chose not to have her missing breast reconstructed. It is Fried’s subtle use of nostalgia, and her ability to bridge the divide between the loss and pain of a mastectomy and the pride and power of diversity, that sets her apart from the majority of her colleagues. Fried’s embracing disability as an identity not to be “overcome” is what makes her work art and not therapy. Fried says she hopes to help “redefine female beauty,” and her torsos do this by virtue of their honesty and power.

A sculpture showing a group of men in loincloths, balancing on oversized mechanical parts. They are heavily muscled and the image suggests power and activity.

I used to walk past this sculpture, ‘The Mechanics Monument,’ pretty regularly when I lived in San Francisco, without really looking at it. Public art often goes unappreciated when you’re scurrying around about your business, and the next time I am in the City, I’m going to try to make more of a point of noticing it, because there’s some very cool stuff right there in public for everyone to enjoy (and touch). This piece is by Deaf sculptor Douglas Tilden; you can read more about him at If These Hands Could Speak… if you’re interested!

About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

One thought on “Creative Work: Say It In Stone (Clay, Wood, Bronze…)

  1. I keep going back to look at that torso. It could be so clinical, but it’s so detailed and solid and textural that it is nothing like a medical model at all. Thank you for posting this artwork!

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