How are we defined, and who has the right to define a human being? Is disability a weakness, and is anyone truly whole? These questions and more are tackled on Molly Joyce‘s ambitious Perspective, a musical collage incorporating 47 interviews with persons labeled as disabled.
Joyce’s own journey is the beginning of the story. At the age of seven, her left hand was nearly severed in a car accident. Many years later, the artist was asked why she referred to her left hand as “weak.” After resisting the term “disabled” for years, Joyce made peace with the word; she plays a vintage toy organ with her weak hand.
The multi-media aspect of the project is apparent in the videos, designed for persons of different abilities. To watch and/or listen is to be educated, chagrined, angered, heartbroken and encouraged, in differing measures. “What is weakness for you?” As Shakespeare asks, “What’s in a word?””Weakness, gosh, that’s so loaded …” Wordless song and organ create a framework for the responses. The words of the (disabled) apostle Paul come to mind: when I am weak, then I am strong. But not everybody is strong, one of the points Joyce makes: internal stamina plays a role, as do the reactions of others. The same conditions, viewed from different perspectives, are received in radically different fashions.
Each topic opens a new avenue for discussion: “Strength,” “Assumption,” “Interdependence.” When asked, “What is control for you?” the first two respondents laugh. A rapid techno beat surprises in the background, like an out-of-control heart. While this would be an odd club song, the incongruence poses more questions, especially when the topics turn to sex and love.
While this too is an “assumption,” the tone of many speakers seems to be one of relief that the opportunity is afforded to broach these subjects. The overall effect is that of an open discussion that turns into a therapy session. The musical choices have something to say as well; “Cure” is especially cheery, though many of the responses are dark; “Cure is hope,” one man responds, a counter-balance that again has everything to do with perspective. In “Connection,” a woman responds, “feeling like you’re safe and seen and heard, and that you can just be your completely full self”, an astonishing statement due to the use of the word full; such answers suggest further interviews and linguistic discussions.
The choice to end with “Darkness” must have been difficult, but it would have seemed maudlin to give Perspective a forced, happy ending. “Darkness” is, despite its title, not all dark, but like all of these tracks, it is naked and honest. When one person answers, “I have no fear of the darkness, because I’m blind,” the perspective shifts again, throwing the challenge back to the listener. As the famous saying goes, “there are none so blind as those who will not see.” Despite its dark cover and the name of its closing piece, Perspective is a source of light. (Richard Allen)