“The BoundedSelf Exhibition,” a study on the fluidity and the fixity of human identity, is being held at the Media Union Gallery until this Sunday. The exhibit consists of five separate stations set up in a labyrinthine structure, with each station exploring a different aspect of societies” ideas on and the boundaries of “self.”
The five members of the BoundedSelf group all participated in an interdisciplinary seminar this past summer called the Rackham Summer Interdisciplinary Institute (RSII), which brings together graduate students, post-doctoral students and professors at the university to share ideas and methods of inquiry across disciplinary divides while discussing a particular theme. With their varied backgrounds in natural science, social science and the humanities, the members of BoundedSelf explored the idea of “the boundaries of the individual,” from which grew this elaborate exhibit to display their ideas.
The first station of “BoundedSelf” is the “Boundedness Computer Kiosk,” created by Christopher DeFay. Participants take an anonymous online survey game, which is a series of questions pertaining to self-definition through gender, sexuality and race. The survey then goes beyond these standard forms of identity, raising questions on species-identity, as well as opinions about genetic engineering and body-manipulation. Based on their answers, which are then compared with the answers of other respondents, participants are given the opportunity to discover their “Fluidity-Fixity Index Score,” illustrating how the participant feels about the increasingly modifiable human body and the instability of human forms.
Another interesting station, “Dispensing Identities: Physical Appearance and the Self,” created by Laura Citrin, offers a glance at the paradoxical language of choice, freedom and individuality. The station examines ways in which societal forces such as racism, classism and ageism have shaped cultural notions of attractiveness. Participants are able to see how a language of uniqueness is utilized, through a sample of advertisements collected throughout the 20th century. This sample was actually aimed at convincing the consumer that there is a correct or most beautiful way to look. Also, because the sample of advertisements spans an entire century, participants are able to see how advertisers manipulated language in order to appeal to the times, yet still sell the same products as before.
It seems possible that every participant who walks through the BoundedSelf labyrinth could have a different experience. The exhibit is altogether disturbing, joyful, bewildering, melancholy and dark. It also seems possible that some participants will walk away from “The BoundedSelf Exhibition” without a full understanding of what they just experienced. Citrin, however, believes that this reaction is acceptable. “We didn”t want every part of the exhibition to be opaque. We didn”t want to spoon feed, or worse, force-feed, these ideas on anyone. We wanted to leave some work to the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions.” In this goal, the BoundedSelf team succeeded.