Last year, I forgot I had a body. I was deep into working from home at my 9-5 government job by day and reading and writing for my low-residency MFA program by night—all during the chaotic uncertainty of the pandemic. My days were spent alone in my small studio apartment staring at screens for up to 15 hours with any remaining time spent frantically digesting stacks of books to fulfill the requirements of my writing degree. My body became a stranger to me, a vessel that housed my brain. I knew this was all too much, but I was desperate to find a way out of my job as a marketing and communications officer at a Los Angeles transportation agency, a coveted position I had held for a decade and outgrown but couldn’t find the courage to leave. I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of something else. So, I turned into a brain with eyeballs and a mouth, occasionally closing those eyeballs to sleep and shoving takeout into my mouth to eat. As soon as my body realized I was ignoring it, retaliatory signals appeared. It started with insomnia, then an eye twitch, then eczema, then arm-length carpal tunnel that forced me to wear those dorky Velcro gloves, then a stress-induced panic attack which led to projectile vomiting on my drive home from the rare hang with a friend, to my boyfriend calling EMS. I was neglecting my body, the very thing that housed my consciousness and allowed me to exist.
The Useless Bodies? exhibition ran from March to August 2022 at the Fondazione Prada, also known as the Prada Foundation in Milan. Scandinavian artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset took over nearly the entire museum covering four galleries and the courtyard with thematic installations and sculptures critiquing our bodies in the post-industrial age. The exhibition posed the questions: Is our physical presence losing its centrality? What do we do with our bodies when so many of us live constantly online?
I traveled to Europe the summer I forgot I had a body. A trip my boyfriend and I had planned long before the Velcro gloves and projectile vomiting panic attack. First, we visited Berlin where we walked 20k steps a day, danced in dungeon-y basements, ate juicy chicken kebabs, and sat by the Spree at dusk watching swans and their graceful bodies simply exist, reflect onto the silver river water. Due to miscommunication with friends, we ended up spending a few last-minute days hopping around the various coastal beach towns of Cinque Terre—the Instagrammable Italian Riviera, you know the one with the candy-colored buildings stacked high on cliff sides on the edge of the Ligurian sea. Sunkissed, rested, and stuffed with focaccia we eventually made it to Milan. After lunch with a friend at the Wes Anderson-designed café, Bar Luce, we headed to Fondazione Prada. The noxious heat wave had given in to a summer rain so strong we were drenched by the time we reached the entrance to the museum.
Of the exhibition spaces that made up Useless Bodies?—the empty swimming pool, the classical marble and bronze statues of lonely men and one pregnant woman, the mirrored courtyard signs to nowhere, the empty chair-less futurist apartment and black dog-like robot with a camera as an eye, the sickly locker room—I was most drawn to the open floor plan office space that so resembled my pre-COVID cubicle zoo. I wandered the installation, a maze of identical desks with matching swivel chairs and monitors and a grid of fluorescent lights overhead. There was small yet significant clues about who once occupied each space: loose candy, postcards, family photos, a sweater left on the back of a chair, a post-it note reminder. The absence of these bodies and my recent awareness of my own—still wet from the rain and sore from so much walking—was jarring. I lingered longer than the others, walked up to each desk tenderly taking in each missing occupant as if I were visiting my own grave.
I graduated from grad school and quit my job in January 2023. Though a latecomer, I am a member of the Great Resignation, also known as the Big Quit. The period of time beginning in early 2021 when a mass majority of American workers from all sectors (education, hospitality, service, healthcare, office workers) all quit their jobs due to burnout or perhaps in search of something better. When a swarm of bodies decided to move away from the capitalist beehive—if only for a moment—to take care of themselves. I have since reconnected to my body and left behind the ailments it accumulated when I tried to do everything all at once. My body is no longer just a vessel that houses my brain, it is a stand-alone organism, part of the collective, finding its way across the silver river water of time.