Sarah CrowEST's ankylosed bodies

Text by Matthew Lorenzon

I see these ankylosed bodies in the street, shuffling along hunched and bowed. I know I am looking into a possible future, but how far? Ankylosing spondylitis has its own tempo marked by an ache that carries you, like a minute hand that barely seems to move, towards its mark. T. S. Eliot writes that

Old men ought to be explorers,
Here and there does not matter,
We must be still and still moving,
Into another intensity,
For a further union, a deeper communion.
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

Ankylosing spondylitics do just that, moving inevitably through painful intensities of union and perverse communion. In ankylosing spondylitis a hyperactive and misdirected immune system attacks its own body. To stabilise the swelling tissue around the spine, the sacrum (“sacred bone” or “cross bone”) fuses to the hip bones.

Then the vertebrae grow into each other, drawing the head down into a hunched prayer to the deformed core.

One becomes, in short, a mound, still and still moving. As an immobilised patient, socially speaking, one moves outside time along with the sick, dead, and distressed. As Mark R. McCullogh quotes from Sebald’s Austerlitz in his article “The Stylistics of Stasis:”

“The dead are outside of time. the dying and all the sick at home or in hospitals, and they are not the only ones, for a certain degree of personal misfortune is enough to cut us off from the past and the future.”

Being outside social time gives you a certain freedom to move amongst the timelessness of forms. Not that you are gifted with any remarkable insight: pain is pain and one would prefer to be outside in time rather than inside and out, staring at the ceiling. Unwillingly, perhaps, one adopts the stiff body and whirring mind of ankylosed time, and with that, a change of priorities.

It seems that, at some point, the artist Sarah CrowEST moved into ankylosed time. She suffered under a diverse arts practice, a swelling of identities. As a reaction she is now dedicated exclusively to moundmaking. Through this physical restriction she has proliferated forms that seem to inhabit the timeless spaces of the hospital, museum, and church.

Warmly lit and smooth, glimpsed only through holes, some mounds are hospitalised. They are objects of wonder and pity, cathartic for the pitying viewer. Others are strewn with candles as objects of worship, asking the viewer to step outside time and apprehend their actuality. Still others confront with their size and colour, refusing to be part of the everyday. My favourite, however, are the mounds with eyes. They are the ankylosed bodies of CrowEST’s earlier creations: the sympathetic stuffed creatures. Beset by gravity, the ankylosed bodies stare out from Crowest past into Crowest future.