[-empyre-] response to Robert's first post

Robert Nideffer nideffer at gmail.com
Fri Feb 8 15:54:25 EST 2013

Hi Renate, I don't know about Vimeo, but this is probably the best link to
the video:


Again, if you scroll to the bottom you'll see a video excerpt with a
password protected link to the full version. Type "humans" to access the
longer video.

Thanks Christiane, Antoinette and Claire for both of your insightful


> I often thought how difficult dealing with terminal cancer must be for
people who do not have Shani's amazing abilities and
> experience as a researcher. (And sharing her findings was of course her
motivation behind the Anti-Cancer Survival Kit, her last
> project).

Yes, as well as being sensitive to the difficulties friends and families
(i.e., loved ones) of those suffering from the disease have as well. So I
think the kit, as was the case with so many of her projects, was/is also a
means to empower and create/maintain/strengthen community. BTW, I never
heard her talk about the Artport project, so that was interesting to see!


> I wonder what Shani wished she had that she didn't? (Apart from more
time, the need for which must have hung over her like a
> sword.)  Perhaps it was one of her gifts not to think that way?

Yes, that hung over her like a sword, more than ever toward the end. But
spending time wishing for something she knew she couldn't have was, like
being sentimental or feeling guilt over what had been, so far as I could
tell, not something she did much of. She certainly didn't externalize it if
she did. The time she did have, and figuring out what she could do with it
was simply too precious. This of course put a lot of stress on her, and
created an incredible need to always be feeling productive. In the last
couple months of her life, on several occasions she said to me that she
wished she could just 'relax and do nothing... ' That was an interesting
shift. Partly she was just tired and aware that her body was, as she put it
'shutting down.' But she may also have felt there was something worthwhile,
perhaps even healing and regenerative, about allowing herself the space to
just be, and not always be doing.


> thus i really miss her when i read

And I really miss her when I write! But it does somehow feel as though it's
an important part of the process.

> But your post makes me think of the life examined by an other, in this
case, Shani's life well observed by you. Which has
> everything to do with love. It is obvious that you saw her clearly -- how
could you not? She was so definite. Your lens is
> unflinching, but generous

This passage raises so many questions for me, about the notion and nature
of "observation," "love," "clarity," generosity," I don't  know where to
begin. I really appreciated your comments and the spirit with which they
are offered... and yet so much of my current "process" involves constant
and at times painful interrogation of all of those things. I don't want to
derail the discussion of Shani's creative work by moving this into such
solipsistic navel-gazing (one thing I can say for certain is Shani would
HATE that!), so it's probably best I stop before starting... but "lens" is
perhaps the most interesting word to me here, since it carries with it the
notion of a kind of mediation, a looking through something, which can be
filtered in so many ways, and that which gets observed/reproduced through
it is always so contingent and contextual.


As to other work she was thinking about and planning, well... that's a
complicated and sensitive subject, and I'm not at all sure, or confident,
about how to approach it. This is partly because I'm insecure about how
comfortable she would be with my publicly sharing things which were so
early in her development process.

Simply going through her various computers, the terabytes upon terabytes of
external disks, attempting to organize things, back stuff up, etc, was a
very interesting and revealing process for me. In a very general (yet
highly personal) sense, one's computer(s), the applications, the folder
names and file structures, the organization of media, the projects and
documents, the bookmarks, all serve to provide a fascinating kind of
portrait... I suspect much more could be discerned about personality by
analyzing these sorts of things than, for instance, hand writing.

The amount of effort Shani put into project planning was pretty incredible.
Even things that she was just beginning to think about had a high degree of
clarity. I'll mention just a couple, and risk her wrath. Hopefully I won't
butcher the concept. She wanted to create her own cell line, so that
various chemotherapy agents could be tested on them, in effort to ascertain
effectiveness. She actually wanted her neurosurgeon to take a sample from a
tumor in her brain while she was under anesthesia during her last surgical
procedure on December 6th, when she had a port implanted in her spine for
drug delivery (her third, the first was in her chest, and the second her
skull). He was not willing to do this, but he did take a sample of her
spinal fluid, which he said could be used for the same purpose. I've been
thinking I should contact him about this. I think it would have been an
amazing project. She may have had a working title for it, but I can't find
it right now.

She was working on a book ("The Train We Thought We Should Have Been On")
of short passages/stories, to be accompanied by photos, about various
happenings from her daily life: her dog's being almost supernaturally
sensitive to her emotional state/need; the perceptual shifts in hearing,
thinking and seeing that were triggered by swelling in her brain, accounts
of what it's like to be pushed and pulled around the city with a body
becoming increasingly out of control; the loss of memory, among many other

"The Unlikely Dancer," a project inspired by seeing Herzog's film on Pina
Bausch and the idea of using untrained dancers. She wanted to develop a
piece in collaboration with a choreographer about her progressive loss of
control of her balance and her body. In fact, in what would become the last
week of her life, she wanted me to mount a video camera in the apartment
and start shooting footage of us walking to the bed, the bathroom, the
table, and so on. I bought her a light kit for her camera as a Christmas
gift to do it, but it was not to be. It's another piece I can really feel,
as I still have such a bodily memory of the intricate steps that were
required to get from one place to another, and the manner and method with
which she would prompt my movement and participation, and vice-versa.

She also had begun "nose work" training with her service dog, a wonderful
companion named Lucinha (Portuguese that roughly translates as "little
bringer of light"), because she had been reading about the possibility of
training dogs to sniff cancers for early detection.

There were many others. The last I'll mention for now, just because it
represents a work that was not about her illness, was  "Nostalgia in the
Post Colony." Shani's father was from Goa, India, a former Portuguese
colony. Some of her family on that side remain there in a home that they
have had for many years, and which held a special place in Shani's heart,
and around which many interesting stories could be told. I never had the
chance to go there with her (though we'd started making plans to do so this
past Fall). She had been in communication with her aunt, and was planning
to do a video piece (that would have been part of a larger installation
including an architectural model of the house, and multiple projection
screens) documenting their stories.

Apologies for the length of the post!


On Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM, Renate Ferro <rtf9 at cornell.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Thanks Robert and Christiane.
> Robert_ For some reason I can not find Dying for the Other on Vimeo
> anymore.  I was able to see a portion of it a few days ago and I must
> say that it was very difficult for me to watch.  There was such a
> straightforward yet vulnerable tension throughout the portion I
> watched.  If you have the direct link and could pass it on that would
> be good.
> Thanks so much for sharing with us your recollections of visiting Dr.
> Schneider as well.
> To both of you_ As long as this is our first week it may be good if
> you wouldn't mind talking generally about Beatriz as well as other
> projects she was working on most recently. Any links that you could
> pass would also help. Establishing a good base this week will lay the
> foundation for the rest of the month when our other guests join us.
> I have posted her website link below:
> http://www.beatrizdacosta.net/
> And the Irvine announcement
> http://news.uci.edu/briefs/studio-artist-beatriz-da-costa-dies-at-38/
> I also noticed that some of her work is archived in the Rose Goldsen
> Archive of New Media Art today as I was doing a bit of searching.
> I will be introducing two new guests on Friday so anything you can add
> would be great.  This month's discussion will be archived.
> Hope you will freely share.  Many thanks again.  Renate
> On Mon, Feb 4, 2013 at 7:04 PM, Robert Nideffer <nideffer at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> >
> > ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> > Thanks for your comments Renate. I was able to locate the password to
> view the full length video for those that are interested. From your first
> link, at the bottom of the trailer you'll see a "To view full video...
> click here" which takes you to a pass protected page -- just enter "humans"
> to gain access.
> >
> > I also was struck by the immediacy of Dr. Schneider's response. I went
> with her to that first meeting at his lab. A number of others would follow.
> The specifics of much of the initial conversation escape me now. It was
> background about the nature of his research, some discussion of Shani's
> most recent history with cancer, and of course her project ideas. I do
> remember his being quite taken by Shani, If I had to guess I'd think it in
> part due to her deep knowledge of her disease, the considerable research
> she'd done on laboratory practices involving mice, her directness and
> openness, her motivations, and her desire to translate her experience into
> something she could creatively offer to others while in the midst of
> dealing with her own terminal illness. He introduced us to the researchers
> working with the mouse models in his facility (exclusively women as I
> recall, at least the ones we met and who became featured in the video), and
> essentially granted her access on the spot.
> >
> > Walking out I remember turning to her and expressing my amazement at
> what had just happened, since it's very rare to be allowed access to film
> inside an animal research facility, especially for a visual artist. If she
> was surprised, she hid it well. I do know she was very happy... and
> immediately began planning what to do next.
> >
> > On Sun, Feb 3, 2013 at 4:07 PM, Renate Ferro <rtf9 at cornell.edu> wrote:
> >>
> >> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> >> Dear Robert,
> >> Thank you so much for agreeing to be our guest during such an
> >> emotional time for you. I wanted
> >> to respond to you sooner but your post was so compelling yet complex I
> >> found myself reading
> >> it and then rereading it over again.  I post the URL to the website
> >> "Dying for the Other" for our subscribers
> >> and those who may not be familiar.
> >>
> >> http://beatrizdacosta.net/Dying_for_the_Other/
> >>
> >> Also this on Vimeo
> >>
> >> http://vimeo.com/33170755
> >>
> >>
> >> The timeliness in which Dr. Schneider responded to her first query
> >> seems remarkable.  I look forward to your sharing not only this
> >> completed project but also the ones that were in progress.  Can you
> >> let us know if there
> >> are any online resources for the video project?  This month's
> >> discussion may be a good place to begin to help assimilate these
> >> resources.
> >>
> >> Many thanks again to both you and Christiane.  Looking forward to
> >> hearing from both of you.
> >> Renate
> >>
> >>
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > empyre forum
> > empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> > http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> --
> Renate Ferro
> Visiting Assistant Professor of Art
> Cornell University
> Department of Art, Tjaden Hall Office #420
> Ithaca, NY  14853
> Email:   <rtf9 at cornell.edu>
> URL:  http://www.renateferro.net
>       http://www.privatesecretspubliclies.net
> Lab:  http://www.tinkerfactory.net
> Managing Co-moderator of -empyre- soft skinned space
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu/
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empyre
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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