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Freeing the ghost within: Cartesian mind-body dualism in art powered by disability

‘I fear being trapped in the statue of my own body, whilst my mind gazes out.’

The 20th-century British philosopher Gilbert Ryle was a critic of ‘mind-body dualism’ – the idea first formulated by the 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes that there exists a clear distinction between physical and mental phenomena. Ryle argued against this idea in his book The Concept of Mind (1949), using the phrase ‘the ghost in the machine’ to describe Descartes’s theory. The Australian filmmakers Sophie Hexter and Poppy Walker borrow Ryle’s phrase for the title of this short documentary, which explores a powerful performance-art piece by the Papua New Guinea-born, Australia-based artist Jeremy Hawkes. Affected by a degenerative condition known as spondylosis, which has given him the symptoms of early onset Parkinson’s disease, he ceases the treatments that subdue the chronic pain, shaking and tremors for each iteration of his performance. Surrendering to his condition, he guides his left hand while his right seemingly ‘moves of its own volition’, engendering a provocative meditation on mind, body and the still-uncertain boundaries between them.

Directors: Sophie Hexter, Poppy Walker

Website: H W Collective

11 March 2019

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