Precarity is a live performance of the artist balancing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) on their head. The gesture is reminiscent of finishing school exercises aimed at improving the posture of young women. Initially deployed in the Victorian era, these tropes were resurrected in mid-20th century America amidst post-war anxiety about gender roles. Women in the United States, having flooded into the workforce necessarily during World War II, were under pressure at war’s end to return home.
Popular culture, aided by advancements in technology, championed women’s return to the domestic. It was common to see images of women balancing books on their heads in movies, on television, and in literature and advertising. Around the same time, the American Psychiatric Association formed a task force to produce a standardized psychiatric classification system resulting in the publication of the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1952.
For more than 20 years, Homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder in the DSM until the early 70’s when it was removed and replaced by gender identity disorders related to non-conforming behaviors. Currently, Gender Dysphoria is the required diagnosis one must achieve in order to have access to hormonal and surgical interventions on the body. This places the trans and gender non-conforming body always in relation to medicalization and pathology. This durational performance demonstrates the perpetual, delicate balance trans and gender non-conforming people maintain between identity and diagnosis.
Kris Grey is a New York City based gender-queer artist whose cultural work includes curatorial projects, performance, writing, and studio production. Grey earned a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a Masters Degree in Fine Art from Ohio University. They perform, teach, and exhibit work internationally. In addition to their individual practice, Grey collaborates with Maya Ciarrocchi under the moniker Gender/Power. Grey’s writing has been published in print and on the web for Huffington Post and Original Plumbing. Their latest writing, Trans*feminism: fragmenting and re-reading the history of art through a trans* perspective, written in collaboration with Jennie Klein, was published in Otherwise: Imagining Queer Feminist Art Histories.