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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Fine Arts

‘BodyCast’ projects a story of self-image onto another body

Just as Suzanne Bocanegra’s body began to blossom into womanhood, she spent two years in a cast. From the tip of her chin to the top of her thighs, a lumpy white mold was plastered to her.


With various images supplementing Suzanne Bocanegra’s out-of-body spoken autobiography, viewers were engaged in a story about body image they hadn’t heard before. | Karis Johnson/The Cougar

“Those years shaped me,” Bocanegra said.

Now a New York-based performance artist who won the Rome Prize for visual arts in 1991, Bocanegra displayed “BodyCast” April 18 and 19 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston as part of the CounterCurrent Festival. Through the performance, Bocanegra retold the cast-burdened story of her life as an artist and as a girl in a comic memoir filled with text, video clips, song and dance.

However, Bocanegra doesn’t recount the story herself. Softly, she whispers it into a microphone onstage.

The audience learns about Bocanegra from actress Lili Taylor, who has starred in “The Conjuring” and “The Haunting.”

“I wanted to frame that story somewhere outside myself,” Bocanegra said at the beginning of the show, just before Taylor’s cheery vocals took control of the sound system.

Taylor dramatized Bocanegra’s life as if from memory, flipping from scenes of childhood dress-up games to tours of Rome and obsessions with tartans to an interesting fascination with the Balanchine body.

Through Taylor’s voice, Bocanegra flippantly summarizes various ideals of beauty, juxtaposing them in her thoughts and her art.

“At (ballet’s) core is a belief in the human divine and physical perfection,” Bocanegra said through Taylor.

Bocanegra also mused on the more modern feminist ideas of the natural beauty of a woman’s body. Bocanegra summons the memory of early women’s health book “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” which, according to the phantom words of Bocanegra passed through Taylor’s lips, became the Bible of radical girls at her Catholic high school in 1975.

“It questioned everything we had been told about our bodies,” Bocanegra/Taylor said. “I stopped shaving my legs and armpits. I wanted to be a natural woman.”

For Kristen Haney, biochemistry junior, BodyCast inspired a nostalgic sentiment, humorously romanticizing Texan girlhood.

“As a native Houstonian — as a native Texan — I like how she spoke to the Texan girl in me,” Haney said, recalling a moment where Bocanegra, a Houston native, showed images of her childhood self in long, draping gowns inspired by the rose festival dresses of Tyler. “I don’t know if it was my favorite favorite part, but it was one of the moments.”

Marisa Simon, sitting next to Haney, enjoyed the mixed media art forms depicted in the show.

“I also like how she kind of rearranged certain art forms,” Simon said, referencing a few works Bocanegra showcased that transformed visual art into music or motion.

“Like, she combined the math with the music and the dance to re-represent different things.”

At the end of Bodycast, which was originally presented as a performance in the 2013 Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music starring a different storyteller, Bocanegra and Taylor retell the failure of the cast. After two years of lugging the ugly frame around her shoulders, she had to have two metal rods surgically placed in her back. Then, finally, the doctors removed the cast.

“I think that the main idea was challenging preconceived notions of beauty,” Simon said. “I’m really interested in reconstructing beauty from your own perspective instead of how society has brought you up to view yourself.”

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