Vari(A)bilities V: Exhibiting Humanity;
Inhabiting the Body

June 10-12 // Hosted on Zoom
Email to receive Zoom Info

We invite the public to attend these free public keynote,
workshop, and performance events associated with the conference.

“Contortion Act”: Costumed acrobat balanced on one leg with other leg over arm, smoking hookah

About Vari(A)bilities:
The materiality of the body confounds us; it forces a reconsideration of the “linguistic turn,” perhaps even the “social constructionist” turn, by which we understand the world and identity as linguistically or socially constituted. But how do we look at bodies –our own, the first bodies exhibited to us as children, the bodies of clowns and circus performers, or even the bodies of everyday folks with impairments—people who are like us but also somehow different? And what knowledge do such encounters create or reify?

Co-Hosts New College of Florida and John and Mable Ringling Museum’s historical connection to the Ringling family and the circus, invites us to think about how the full range of humanity has been and is still exhibited and performed. We turn explicitly to the experience of specific and variAble bodies and their humanity.

“Exhibited, with the Season’s Greetings”: Booted man center with snake wrapped around body flanked on left by Tom Thumb (person of short stature) in general’s uniform, on right by young girl in pink dress and lifting long white hair.

Sometimes seen as inherently in conflict, the circus and its progenitors (collections of wonders and monsters, exhibits of exotics, carnivalesque fairs, freak shows) and the experiences of variously abled persons may be productively considered as intersectional. Not only have extraordinary-bodied persons been exhibited; they have also seized control over their own presentations under a variety of circumstances and historical moments. Both academic work on impairments and circus seek to reach multiple audiences—a general public, advocates and activists, historians and cultural critics. Institutions like circuses also provided a platform for performing the self and framing the action of looking—one that is complexly intertwined with the agency of the extraordinary body.

Linking embodiment, performance, self-presentation, and exhibition—circus studies provide another insight into the ‘impaired’ body, its applications and acceptances within the wider society. We are particularly interested in the knowledge and affordances of the variable body and the negotiated agency of variAble persons.

Images curtesy of the Tibbals Collection, Ringling Circus Museum

Public Keynote: June 10, 2021
12:00 pm – 1:15 pm (US East Coast Time)

Panel Discussion: Revisiting Cultural Spectacles and Extraordinary Bodies in 2021


Rosemarie Garland Thomson

Professor Emerita of English and Bioethics, Emory University

Author of Staring: How We Look (2009) and Re-Presenting Disability: Agency and Activism in the Museum (2010); co-editor of About Us: Essays From the Disability Series of the New York Times

Michael Chemers

Professor of Dramatic Literature, Theater Arts, UC Santa Cruz

Author of The Monster in Theatre History: This Thing of Darkness (2017), and Staging Stigma: A Critical Examination of the American Freak Show. Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History. (2009)

Analola Santana

Associate Professor of Spanish & Portuguese, Dartmouth College

Author of Teatro y Cultura de Masas: Encuentros y Debates (2010) and Freak Performances: Dissidence in Latin American Theatre (2018)

Public Workshop: June 11, 2021
11:00 am – 12:15 pm (US East Coast Time)

Inhabiting the Body: Gut Botany: A Poetry/Performance by Petra Kuppers

“Gut Botany charts my body / language living on Indigenous land as a white settler and traveler,” Petra Kuppers writes in the notes of her new poetry collection. Using a perfect cocktail of surrealist and situationist techniques, Kuppers submits to the work and to the land, moving through ancient fish, wounded bodies, and the space around her. The book invites the reader to navigate their own body through the peaks and pitfalls of pain, survival, sensual joy, and healing.  “The collection embraces inclusivity and entanglement; nothing and no one here functions in isolation. Kuppers invites readers to consider their own somatics: what is it to be in this body, here, now? At turns beautiful and provocative, Gut Botany is a tonic against loneliness.” Addie Hopes: Books about Caring, from a Distance.

is a disability culture activist and a community performance artist. Her third poetry book, the ecosomatic Gut Botany (2020), was named one of the top ten poetry collections of 2020 by the New York Public Library. She is also the author of the queer/crip speculative short story collection Ice Bar (2018). She is the Artistic Director of The Olimpias, an international disability culture collective; teaches at the University of Michigan and at Goddard College; and co-creates Turtle Disco, a somatic writing studio, in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Public Event: June 12, 2021
11:00 am – 12:15 pm (US East Coast Time)

A Faux Memoir: Sex Work/Disability/Fetish/Capital by Amber DiPietra

Amber DiPietra
is a poet, performance artist, bodyworker, and organizer for disability and sex worker rights. Her book Waveform, with collaborator Denise Leto, came out from Kenning Editions in 2011. Other writings have been published in anthologies such as Poetry and Work (Palgrave) and Beauty Is a Verb: the New Poetics of Disability (Cinco Puntos). Her one-woman show, the “Opposite of Evolution Dance Studio” premiered at the Tampa International Fringe Festival in 2018.  She is a founding member of two social justice collectives; the Tampa Bay Area chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (2013) and the Disability and Sexuality Access Network (2016).  Find out more about her work at

Vari(A)bilities V is Co-Hosted by New College of Florida, John and Mable Ringling Museum/Tibbals Collection, and University of Winchester

Support for this event was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

New College

Connecting the ARTS + HUMANITIES

New College of Florida has been awarded a $750,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of New College’s initiative “New College: Connecting the Arts and Humanities on Florida’s Creative Coast.”

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Previous Mellon Grant Events

A list of past events brought to you by “New College: Connecting the Arts and Humanities on Florida’s Creative Coast.”

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