Carolyn LazardPain Scale, installation view, Icebox project Space, Philadelphie, 2019.
Photo : courtesy of the artist & Maxwell Graham/Essex Street, New York

Pain Scale: Carolyn Lazard and the Immeasurability of Black Pain

Rouzbeh Shadpey
I can exhibit pain, as I exhibit red, and as I exhibit straight and crooked and trees and stones. — That is what we call “exhibiting.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein,
Philosophical Investigations

How do we, living with chronic pain, protect our pain when we create and when we work? When our life’s work is about pain and the myriad ways it de-creates the body to which it is beholden? This is the question we ask ourselves as patients and poets who are both the subject and the object of our bodies, of their research — that study of continuous loss given in and through measure, which is carefully dosed yet never doused in care. This is the question we must ask ourselves when the work that supports us is displayed within the confines of the artistic institution, whose tireless work in disabling us is as tireless as our fatigue of it, of us — our pain. The art exhibition is the doctor’s office when both are spaces of pain’s scrutiny, which is to say, pain’s unmaking. This is a process we complicitly call “exhibiting,” one that Carolyn Lazard has negotiated since the release of their visceral essay “How to be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity” in 2013.1 1 - Carolyn Lazard, “How to be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity,” Cluster Mag (January 2013); currently available as a PDF via the “How We Do Illness” symposium program, Triple Canopy (September 2018), accessible online. I first encountered Lazard’s work in a moment of bodily unravelling similar to the one they narrate in “How to be a Person” — a moment now become a life, a life that sometimes bears the name pain.

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This article also appears in the issue 106 - Pain

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